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  • What We Do

    We're on a mission to connect social studies of humans and our other neighbors, like ants, bees and meerkats


    Mission: Learners + Discovery + Social Conscience

    Antropology empowers educators and learners with the information and resources they need to pursue investigations in social systems through models of ants. The models provide items to think with. Like considering gears (Papert, 1981) considering ants can be a powerful means to think about social systems.

  • Model 1: One queen

    Why do most colonies of ants have one queen?


    Hölldobler and Wilson, two world experts on ants noticed that most ant colonies contain a single queen. As they said, “Although precise data are not available for enough species to assess the Formicidae [ants] as a whole, it is our impression from a good deal of field experience that the mature colonies of the majority of species are strictly monogynous [single queen]. It is reasonable to suppose that properties in colony organization tend to bias species toward monogyny in the course of evolution, and that the tendency is revered only when special ecological constraints are imposed on the species” (Hölldobler and Wilson, 1991, p. 211).

    The model to think with

    Playing with a modeling of this special ecological condition, we can see something interesting, TWO queens are not stable, most of the time. Polygynous [multi-queen] nests demonstrate the equilibrium and constraints that means if you dug up most ant colonies in the world today, you'd only find one queen.


    In the model below, let's investigate this phenomena. In model 1, when we press setup, we see a big open black chamber. We see two queens. We also see some eggs and some forager ants. When we press go, the queens star reproducing larva. The ants, when they find these baby ants, move away from the queen, and set them near other eggs. Meanwhile the larva simply grow into adult ants. To model how queens deal with sister queens, the foragers in this model care for the larva of their color, but attack their sister queen's eggs. In biology, this process is called "kin selection". As a result of this process, ant colonies stay mostly related to the queen with the most workers.

    Give it try. Press setup and go. What happens? What happens if you do it five times? Was the ratio of clans .5 to .5 or do you see one color of ants win by getting a ratio of .8 or .9? Why do you think it sometimes stays at .5 but other times one of the clans wins?

  • Model 1: Why do most colonies only have one queen?

    We investigate why most colonies of ants contain a single queen (hint: its a balancing act, like tightrope walking)

  • Model 2: Oscillators

    How do reproductive ants know when to come out?


    Ants mate in lots of ways. The most common is the mass nuptial flights, where thousands of males and females emerge from their colonies, take wing, and form large balls. These balls, full of copulating ants, bounce and role across the tumble weeds of Arizona and the Amazon floor. Hundreds of males copulate with each female. The female has a specially modified pouch, the spermatheca, that holds the sperm in stasis for up to 20 years. On the one hand, After receiving her reproductive material for the rest of a nests life, the queen falls to earth, borrows into the ground, molts off her wings, lays some eggs and a nest is born. On the other hand the male simply dies after copulation.

    The model to think with

    How do the males an females know when to come out? They all have to emerge at the same time, or they will miss each other. But they do not have cellphones. So, how do they know when to emerge? This model shows, its a dynamic equilibrium, emerging through social interaction. So, no matter what time each colony starts off send males and females, the ones that survive will be the ones that sync up with their neighbors well enough.


    Set up the model with the setup button. Press go. Watch the histogram. Overtime we notice that no matter what the starting distribute of emergence time was, the model ends up with all the colonies having similar cues. Why does this happen?

  • Model 2: Dynamic Oscillation of Reproductive Emergence

    Why do ants send up all their reproductive at one time, most of the time?

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  • Acknowledgments

    The representations were built in NetLogo and deployed using NetLogo Web

    NetLogo: Built by Uri Wilensky

    an agent based platform

    NetLogo Web: Built by Uri Wilensky

    A web deployed agent based platform