What are some good ant documentaries.
May 12, 2011 4:10 AM   Subscribe

Looking for quality documentaries (and/or books) about ants and other colony insects.

When I was young my absolute favourite kind of nature documentary was anything involving ants. I was (and am) fascinated by the complexity of their societies and the way the interact with one another and the outside world.

I really enjoyed the "Supersocieties" episode of Life in the Undergrowth, it kind of resparked my interest.

So I'm looking for other recommendations for good ant docs. I've googled around but it's difficult to separate the quality. My general preference in nature documentaries would be ones that don't involve people too much. I'm not looking to see the presenter superimposed into an ant tunnel.

Bees and termites and other colony insects are also of interest.

Book suggestions are also good!
posted by distorte to Science & Nature (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
It's been a long time since I saw it, but Insectia wasn't too bad, if I recall correctly.
posted by Solomon at 4:16 AM on May 12, 2011

For book recommendations, I enjoyed Ants At Work by Deborah Gordon. She appears to have a newer book as well, Ant Encounters (though I have not read it).
posted by maybeandroid at 4:21 AM on May 12, 2011

Best answer: Deborah Gordon did a fascinating TED talk. One of my favourites. I love ant documentaries too!
posted by panaceanot at 4:41 AM on May 12, 2011

(However it's the opposite of "don't involve people too much"... but super interesting information)
posted by panaceanot at 4:42 AM on May 12, 2011

Response by poster:
(However it's the opposite of "don't involve people too much"... but super interesting information)
No, wow. This looks very interesting. Thank you.

I suppose my objection on the people front is when they have a Steve Irwin-type travel back in time to shout enthusiastically at me about ammonites. Unnecessary narrator appearances. The cult of celebrity invading nature documentaries. Not this.
posted by distorte at 4:51 AM on May 12, 2011

Regarding: "I'm not looking to see the presenter superimposed into an ant tunnel."

You're talking about an earlier Attenborough series The Trials of Life from 1990, aren't you.

I remember watching that when if first aired and thought it was remarkable.

The series took over three-and-a-half years to film, during which time Attenborough travelled almost a quarter of a million miles. The production team sought to further push the boundaries of natural history filmmaking, following on from the advances made in The Living Planet, and were provided with several new challenges.

... a bivouac of army ants in Panama was able to be filmed internally with the aid of a medical endoscope. Furthermore, a new type of camera lens enabled tree ants to be filmed in enlarged close-up just in front of Attenborough — with both subjects in sharp focus. This gave the illusion that the insects were much larger than their actual size.

The inside of a termite mound proved especially challenging for Attenborough: it was so cramped that he could only face in one direction. He therefore had to slowly crawl backwards out of shot when performing re-takes.

posted by panaceanot at 4:54 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

> The cult of celebrity invading nature documentaries. Not this.

Ah I see... surely you can leave room for a bit of David Attenborough in your documentaries though ;]
posted by panaceanot at 5:00 AM on May 12, 2011

One last recommendation... Microcosmos is incredible and the narrators stay right out of the picture.

Using revolutionary cameras, the directors of this French film (with minimal English-language narration) have made an amazing chronicle of the insect world. There are at least a dozen fascinating, memorable images, and the carnage is held to a minimum. Some favorites include a caterpillar traffic jam, a frog's bout with a rain storm, and a bird that turns into Godzilla for a bunch of ants. Then there's the snail mating scene that must be seen to be believed.

Ignore the dodgy re-release DVD cover... I saw this in the cinema as an adult and it's stunning.
posted by panaceanot at 5:08 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Aha, panaceanot, I had that image in my head, but I'd forgotten it was Attenborough. He's the one person who might get a free pass on documentary appearances. There's always room for David Attenborough.
posted by distorte at 5:10 AM on May 12, 2011

Best answer: Definitely, definitely read Journey to the Ants. Too. freaking. cool.
posted by threeants at 6:15 AM on May 12, 2011

The Fire Ants.
posted by contessa at 6:46 AM on May 12, 2011

There's E O Wilson's Pulitzer winning book "The Ants" and a documentary on him called Lord of The Ants.

There's also Sim Ant
posted by empath at 7:16 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you're interested in blogs about ant science and photography, Alex Wild is a great starting point.

Also, you might be interested in investigating some of the solitary bees that don't exhibit the really complex eusocial behavior of ants -- it's neat to get a sense of what earlier ant societies might have looked like, and how other kinds of social insect societies work, like where a few sisters share a communal nest without sharing food or egg-rearing duties. They don't get a ton of attention, but Christopher O'Toole's Bees of the World is really interesting.
posted by toxotes at 7:28 AM on May 12, 2011

If you're not ready to drop $50 or $100 on Wilson & Holdobler's "The Ants", they published a lighter version called "Journey To The Ants" that is also superb, with much of the same information and illustrations.
posted by newmoistness at 8:14 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Steven Johnson's Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software uses ants as a jumping off point, but still fascinating.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 11:07 AM on May 12, 2011

Response by poster: There are some great suggestions here, both documentaries and books. I'm going to see what I can find at the library and/or bookshop. Thanks everyone! This will turn me into an ant obsessive.
posted by distorte at 1:45 AM on May 13, 2011

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