Adventures Among Ants Book Review

Adventures Among Ants:  A Global Safari with a Cast of Trillions is the newest book by photographer/scientist/adventurer Mark Moffett from the University of California Press.adventures-among-ants

When I heard that consummate storyteller Mark Moffett was working on a book about ants, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would it be a coffee table book full of his wonderful macro photographs, like one of his famous National Geographic articles simply expanded? Or would it be a hardcore scientific treatise going back to his Harvard roots?

Turns out it is a little of both, with a bit of “extreme entomology” thrown in. Adventures Among Ants:  A Global Safari with a Cast of Trillions is truly a unique science book that is complex and multilayered, with something for almost everyone who picks it up.

Myrmecologists (ant specialists) will love his comprehensive discussion of ant species most of us only dream about seeing, from the relatively unknown marauder ants to the tiny Camponotus schmitzi swimming in pitcher plants to the supercolonies of Argentine ants in California. Nature lovers will appreciate the beautiful photographs and descriptions of habitats in many continents. Those interested in anthropology may want to consider Moffett’s many comparisons of ant and human societies. And armchair travelers will definitely get a vicarious thrill from Moffett’s sometimes extreme adventures, culminating in a wedding ceremony that is not for the faint of heart.

Although chock full of scientific detail, the author does throw out a few bones for the layperson reading the book. For example, I was a bit surprised to see on page 7 that he writes that ants have “three primary body sections: head, thorax, and abdomen…” If you follow the footnote to the sentence to the notes section in the back, he then corrects the statement by indicating that the parts are modified in ants, and are called trunk, petiole and gaster, the terms more commonly used by myrmecologists.

Alternating often humorous anecdotes with fascinating natural history and science, this book has a friendly, personal feel. His chapter on marauder ants is a particularly personalized account of his graduate studies. I couldn’t believe how he became a photographer for National Geographic almost by accident when as a literally starving graduate student he asked them to pay for the development of some of his photos. Mary Smith saw the results and immediately asked for more, leading to a successful long term relationship with the magazine.

As an amateur photographer, I was hoping for a bit more information about how Moffett takes those superb macro photographs of ants. Beyond admitting that he learned his techniques by studying a book on how to photograph supermodels and that he uses flashes, he remains remarkably coy about how he does it. Maybe it has more to do with his personal relationship with the ants rather than any equipment he uses. In any case, the results are even more remarkable when you take into account how very difficult ants are to capture on film.

Mark Moffett says, “It’s all about telling stories.” Adventures Among Ants is an amazing collection of stories that you won’t want to miss. Pick up a copy today!

More information:

For more reviews, check Amazon. (I have never seen so many 5 Star reviews of a book at Amazon, including one by ant scientist, Walter Tschinkel.)

A  silent video of Moffett’s photographs

His National Geographic Live! lecture is available on DVD.

Other places to Find Mark Moffett’s Photographs/Interviews:

Smithsonian National Museum’s The Hidden Life of Ants – Photo Gallery

Tracking A ‘Sisterhood’ Of Traveling Ants at NPR (Fresh Air) has an interview and photographs from the book

Pirates of the Sagehen, video taken at UC Berkeley’s Sagehen Creek Field Station.

Another NPR interview, this one from KJZZ, a local Arizona station prior to his National Geographic presentation in Mesa, AZ

National Geographic website Photographs of Bulldog Ants, and Field Notes.

National Geographic website Able Bodies photographs and Field Notes.

National Geographic website Army Ants photographs and Field Notes.

National Geographic Magazine Articles, (often available at used bookstores and library sales):

Marauders of the Jungle Floor. August 1986, pp. 273-286.

Trap-Jaw Ants:  Set For Prey. March 1989, pp. 394-400.

All Eyes on Jumping Spiders. September 1991. 43-63.

Leafcutter Ants. July 1995, pp. 98-111.

Ants and Plants:  A Profitable Partnership. February 1999. pp. 122-132.

Ants and Plants:  Friends and Foes. May 1999, pp.100-112.

Ants and Plants:  Tree Fortresses.  May 2000. pp. 84-97.

Army Ants: Inside the Ranks August 2006, pp. 138-148.

Lone Huntress:  The Bulldog Ant. May 2007, pp. 140-149.

Able Bodies. August 2007, pp. 140-150.

Review copy provided by publisher.

What did you think of this book?

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