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Meat ant (Iridomyrmex purpureus) feeding on honey

Myrmecology (/mɜːrmɪˈkɒləi/; from Greek: μύρμηξ, myrmex, "ant" and λόγος, logos, "study") is a branch of entomology focusing on the scientific study of ants. Some early myrmecologists considered ant society as the ideal form of society and sought to find solutions to human problems by studying them.[citation needed] Ants continue to be a model of choice for the study of questions on the evolution of social systems because of their complex and varied forms of eusociality (social organization). Their diversity and prominence in ecosystems also has made them important components in the study of biodiversity and conservation. Recently, ant colonies are also studied and modeled for their relevance in machine learning, complex interactive networks, stochasticity of encounter and interaction networks, parallel computing, and other computing fields.[1]


The word myrmecology was coined by William Morton Wheeler (1865–1937), although human interest in the life of ants goes back further, with numerous ancient folk references. The earliest scientific thinking based on observation of ant life was that of Auguste Forel (1848–1931), a Swiss psychologist who initially was interested in ideas of instinct, learning, and society. In 1874 he wrote a book on the ants of Switzerland, Les fourmis de la Suisse, and he named his home La Fourmilière (the ant colony). Forel's early studies included attempts to mix species of ants in a colony. He noted polydomy and monodomy in ants and compared them with the structure of nations.[2]

Wheeler looked at ants in a new light, in terms of their social organization, and in 1910 he delivered a lecture at Woods Hole on "The Ant-Colony as an Organism", which pioneered the idea of superorganisms. Wheeler considered trophallaxis or the sharing of food within the colony as the core of ant society. This was studied using a dye in the food and observing how it spread in the colony.[2]

Some, such as Horace Donisthorpe, worked on the systematics of ants. This tradition continued in many parts of the world until advances in other aspects of biology were made. The advent of genetics, ideas in ethology and its evolution led to new thought. This line of enquiry was pioneered by E. O. Wilson, who founded the field termed as sociobiology.[2]

Interdisciplinary application[edit]

Ants often are studied by engineers for biomimicry and by network engineers for more efficient networking. It is not known clearly how ants manage to avoid congestions and how they optimize their movements to move in most efficient ways without a central authority that would send out orders. There already have been many applications in structure design and networking that have been developed from studying ants, but the efficiency of human-created systems is still not close to the efficiency of ant colonies. Furthermore, there are efforts to use ant algorithms and the behavioral strategies of ants in modern management.[3]

Myrmecologists in fiction[edit]

The black and white 1954 Warner Bros. movie Them! describes the visiting expert Dr. Harold Medford (played by Edmund Gwenn) from the Department of Agriculture in Washington DC as a myrmecologist.

Dr. Hank Pym is a fictional character appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

List of notable myrmecologists[edit]

Note: Names are listed alphabetically.

Contemporary myrmecologists[edit]

Related terms[edit]

  • Myrmecochorous (adj.) dispersed by ants
  • Myrmecophagous (adj.) feeding on ants
  • Myrmecophile (n.) an organism that habitually shares an ant nest, myrmecophilous (adj.), myrmecophily (n.)
  • Myrmidons (n.) ant-men in Metamorphoses and in Homer's Iliad, where they are Achilles' warriors

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Deborah Gordon (2010). Ant Encounters Interaction Networks and Colony Behavior. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 143. ISBN 978-0691138794.
  2. ^ a b c Sleigh, Charlotte (2007) Six Legs Better: A Cultural History of Myrmecology. The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-8445-4
  3. ^ Fladerer, Johannes-Paul; Kurzmann, Ernst (2019). The Wisdom of the Many: How to create Self-Organisation and how to use Collective Intelligence in Companies and in Society From Management to ManagemANT. BOOKS ON DEMAND. ISBN 9783750422421.

External links[edit]