Communication In Society
The Qur'an supplies an interesting piece of information when talking about Prophet Sulayman's armies and mentions that there is an advanced "communications system" among the ants. The verse is as follows:
Then, when they reached the valley of the ants, an ant said,'Ants! Enter your dwellings so that Sulayman and his troops do not crush you unwittingly.' (Surat an-Naml: 18)
The scientific research made on ants in this century has shown that there is an incredible communications network among these creatures. In an article published in the National Geographic magazine, this point is explained:
Huge and tiny, an ant carries in her head multiple sensory organs to pick up chemical and visual signals vital to colonies that may contain a million or more workers, all of which are female. The brain contains half a million nerve cells; eyes are compound; antennae act as nose and fingertips. Projections below the mouth sense taste; hairs respond to touch.7
Even if we do not notice it, the ants have quite a different method of communication in virtue of their sensitive sensing organs. They employ these sense organs at every moment of their lives, from finding their prey to following each other, from building their nests to fighting. They have a communication system which astonishes us, as human beings with intellect, with their 500,000 nerve cells squeezed into their bodies of 2 or 3 millimetres. What we should keep in mind here is that the half a million nerve cells and the complex communication system mentioned above belongs to an ant which in bulk is almost one millionth of a human being.
In research done on social creatures like ants, bees and termites, who live in colonies, the responses of these animals in the communication process are listed under several main categories: Alarm, recruitment, grooming, exchange of oral and anal liquid, group effect, recognition, caste determination…8
The ants, who constitute an orderly social structure with these various responses, lead a life based on mutual news exchange and they have no difficulty in achieving this correspondence. We could say that ants, with their impressive communication system, are hundred percent successful on subjects that human beings sometimes cannot resolve nor agree upon by talking (e.g. meeting, sharing, cleaning, defence, etc.)
News Exchange Between Groups Of Ants
First, scout ants go to food source that has been newly discovered. Then they call other ants by a liquid they secrete in their glands called pheromone (*). When the crowd round the food gets bigger, this pheromone secretion issues the workers a limit again. If the piece of food is very small or far away, the scouts make an adjustment in the number of ants trying to get to the food by issuing signals. If a nice piece of food is found, the ants try harder to leave more traces thus more ants from the nest come to the aid of the foragers. Whatever happens, no problems arise in the consumption of the food and its transportation to the nest, because what we have here is perfect "team work"
Another example relates to the forager ants who migrate from one nest to another. These ants advance towards the old nest from the newly found nest by leaving a trace behind. Other workers examine the new nest and if they are convinced, they also start leaving their own pheromones (chemical traces) on top of the old trace. Therefore, the ants going between the two nests increase in number and these prepare the nest. During this work, the worker ants do not stay idle. They set up a certain organization and division of labour between themselves. The tasks assumed group-wide by the ants who detect the new nest are as follows:
1. Acting as gatherers in the new area.
2. Coming to the new area and keeping watch.
3. Following the guards to receive the meeting instruction.
4. Making a detailed survey of the area.
Of course, we cannot take it for granted without pondering at all that this perfect action plan has been in practice by the ants since day one of their existence, because the division of labour required by such a plan may not have been applied by individuals who thought only of their own lives and interests. Then the following question comes to mind: "Who has been inspiring this plan in the ants for millions of years and who ensures its application?" Naturally, great intellect and power are needed for the incredibly superior group communication required by this action plan. The truth of the matter is obvious. Allah, the Creator of all living beings and possessor of infinite wisdom, shows us the way to being able to comprehend His power by displaying to us this systematic world of the ants.
All of the communication categories listed above may be grouped under the heading of: "Chemical Signals". These chemical signals play the most important role in the organization of ant colonies. Semiochemicals is the general name given to the chemicals the ants utilize for the purpose of establishing communication. Basically, there are two kinds of semiochemicals: Their names are pheromones and allomones.
Allomone is a material used for inter-genus communication. Yet pheromone, as explained before, is a chemical signal which is mostly used within a genus and, when secreted by an ant, can be perceived by another as a smell. This chemical is thought to be produced in the endocrine glands. When an ant secretes this fluid as a signal, the others get the message by way of smell or taste and respond. The research done on ant pheromones has revealed that all signals are secreted in accordance with the needs of the colony. Also, the concentration of the pheromone secreted by the ants varies in terms of the urgency of the situation.9
As one can see, an in-depth knowledge of chemistry is needed to manage the tasks performed by the ants. We human beings can resolve the chemicals the ants produce only by tests we perform in laboratories, plus we go through years of education to be able to do this. Yet ants can secrete these whenever they need to, and have been doing so since the day they were born, and they know quite well what response to give to which secretion.
The fact that they accurately identify the chemicals right from the time they are born shows the existence of an "Instructor" who gives them chemistry education at birth. To claim the opposite would mean that the ants have learned chemistry over time and that they have started making experiments: this would be in violation of logic. The ants know these chemicals without having had any education when they were born. We cannot say that another ant or another living creature is the "teacher" of the ant either. No insect, no living creature – including human beings – has the capacity to teach ants how to manufacture chemicals and establish communication by these substances. If there is an act of teaching before birth, the only will which would be able to achieve this act is that of Allah, Who is the Creator of all living things and "the Lord (Educator)" of the heavens and earth.
Many people do not even know the meaning of "pheromone" – something that ants secrete continuously in their daily lives. Yet, each new-born ant performs in a perfect social communication system because of these chemicals; a social communication system which leaves no room for doubting the existence of a Creator with infinite power…
There are basically a few endocrine glands where the complex chemical reactions we have talked about so far take place. Secretions produced in six endocrine glands provide this inter-ant chemical correspondence. However, these hormones do not display the same characteristics in each species of ant; each endocrine gland has a separate function in different species of ants. Now let us take a close look at these endocrine glands:
Dufour's Glands: The hormones produced in these glands are used in commands for alarm and meeting for attack.
The Venom Sack: An extensive formic acid production takes place in the venom sack. Also the venom which is produced to be used during attack and defence is formed here. The best example of this hormone is found in the fire ant. The venom of these ants may paralyse small animals and hurt human beings.
In a forest inhabited by ants who produce formic acid, researchers found formic acid at a level that could not be explained. All theories that were set forth were proven wrong and all research done produced no results. Eventually scientists concluded that formicine ants may be responsible for much of the formic acid found in previously unexplained quantities in the atmosphere above the Amazon forest and other habitats rich in these insects. It is estimated, very roughly, that formicine ants may release 1012 grams of formic acid globally each year. That is, these micro-creatures are able to produce formic acid on a scale that can even influence the atmosphere of the region they live in without any harm coming to themselves and this perplexes the researchers.10
Pygidial Glands: Three different species of ants use the secretions produced by these glands as their alarm system. The large desert harvester ant transmits this hormone in the form of a strong smell and issues a panic alarm; and the Pheidole biconstricta, which is a species of ant living in south America, utilizes the secretion it produces in these glands in chemical defence and attack alarms.
Sternal Glands: The secretions here are used during colony migrations and tracking prey and in gathering the "soldiers" together. The most original function of this secretion is to lubricate the seventh abdominal area of the ant that it frequently has to rotate when spurting out venom. Thus, the turning of its body for spurting venom becomes easier. Without this gland, which is a microscopic lubricant production centre, the defence system of the ant would be inefficient.
Yet this is not so, because there is a faultless design in place: How a tiny ant would turn its body to spray venom has been established, just as it has been pre-determined where and how this lubricant needed for reducing strain while rotating this body shall be produced.
Let us not forget that an ant does not know how to protect itself from microbes and does not even know of the existence of the microbes. Yet, its body produces the drug against its enemies without its knowing. The fact that there is always an antiseptic hormone in the body of the ant in an amount of 1.4 micrograms is a detail which has been worked out with great precision. Because He Who created the ant is the One Who caters for all the needs of all the living beings He created in the greatest detail, and who is indeed "Gracious".
As demonstrated, all endocrine glands mentioned in this chapter are units that have vital functions for the ants. A lack of or the insufficient functioning of any of these has adverse influences on all of the social and physical life of the ant. In fact, it makes it impossible for it to stay alive.
This demolishes absolutely the claims of the theory of evolution, because evolution claims that living beings have developed in stages and that starting from a primitive form, they have become more advanced gradually as a result of a series of beneficial coincidences. This would mean that the ants during the previous stages did not have part of the physiological characteristics they have today and that they acquired these later on. However, all the secretions of the ants we discussed above are vital and without them it is impossible for an ant species to survive.
Gracious is Allah to His servants: He gives sustenance to whom He pleases: and He is the Most Strong, the Almighty. (Surat ash-Shura: 19)
The conclusion from all this is that the ants were created at the outset with these endocrine glands and vital functions. That is, they did not wait for the development of the necessary endocrine glands for hundreds of thousands of years in order to have a defence and communications system. Had that been so, it would have been impossible for the ant genus to have survived. The only explanation is that the first ant species which existed on earth did so in the same complete and perfect form as it is in today. A perfect system cannot be other than the artwork of an intelligent designer. If we are able today to talk about an ant society with a population of billions, then we must admit that a single Creator has created these all at once.
The Identity Card of Ants: Colony Odor
We had mentioned previously that the ants can recognize each other and distinguish their relatives and friends from the same colony. Zoologists are still investigating how the ants can recognize their relatives. While man cannot distinguish between the few ants he may come across, let us see now how these creatures who are so completely alike can recognize each other.
An ant can easily detect if another ant is a nestmate or not. A worker ant casually sweeps her antennae over the other's body to recognize it, in case it enters the nest. It can immediately distinguish nestmates from strangers by virtue of the special colony odor it carries. If the ant who enters the nest is a stranger, the hosts attack this uninvited guest with extreme violence, locking their mandibles on body and appendages while stinging or spraying with formic acid, citronellal, or some other toxic substance. If the guest is a member of the same species but from a different colony, they can understand that too. In this case the guest ant is accepted in the nest. However, the guest ant is offered less food until it acquires the colony odor.12
How is the Colony Odor Obtained?
The source of the odor by which kin are recognized has not been identified with certainty. However, as far as it has been discovered, ants use hydrocarbons for the odor distinguishing process among themselves.
The experiments performed have shown that ants who belong to the same species, but to different colonies, identify each other by hydrocarbon differences. An interesting experiment was carried out to understand this. First, the workers in one colony were washed with solvents containing extracts of workers from alien colonies of the same species. It was observed that other workers from the focal colony reacted aggressively to them, whereas the responding workers reacted in a neutral or at most a mildly aggressive manner to workers washed with extracts of their nestmates.13
Has the Colony Odor Evolved?
A very significant point which has to be carefully considered with regard to the colony odor is the matter of evolution. How do the evolution mechanisms explain the fact that ants or members of other insect colonies (bees, termites etc.) can recognize their friends by their exclusive pheromones?
People who try to defend the theory of evolution in spite of all kinds of impossibilities claim that pheromones are the result of natural selection (The preservation of beneficial changes occurring in living beings and elimination of harmful ones). Yet, this is out of the question for any insect species including ants. A most striking example on this point is the honey bee. When a honey bee stings its enemy, it produces a pheromone for notifying the other bees that there is danger. However, it dies right after this. In this case, this means that this pheromone is produced only once. Then, it is impossible for such a "beneficial change" to be transferred to the following generations and become propagated by natural selection. This explanation indicates that it is impossible for the chemical communications between insect species that have the caste system to have evolved by the method of natural selection. This characteristic of the insects, which rebuts the theory of natural selection completely, demonstrates once more that the One who establishes the communications network among them is the One "who creates them for the first time."
Call of the Ants
Ants have a level of self-sacrifice which is very advanced and, due to this characteristic, they always invite their friends to each source of food they find and they share their food with them.
In such situations, the ant that discovers the food source directs the others to it. The following method is used for this: The first forager ant that finds the food source fills its crop and returns home. As it returns, it drags its tummy on the ground at short intervals and leaves a chemical signal. Yet its invitation does not end there. It tours around the ant hill for a short while. It does this between three to sixteen times. This motion ensures contact with its nestmates. When the forager wishes to return to the food source, all its mates that it has met wish to follow it. Yet only the friend which is in the closest antenna contact may accompany it outside. When the scout reaches the food, it returns immediately to the hill and assumes the part of the host. The scout and its other worker friend are joined to each other via continuous sensory signals and the pheromone hormone on the surfaces of their bodies.
Ants may reach their target by following the trail that goes to the food, even when there is no inviting ant. Because of the trail that successful foragers leave from the food to the nest, when the forager comes to the nest and does the "rock dance", its nestmates reach the food source without any help from the inviter.
Another interesting side to ants is their production of many chemical compounds to be used in the process of invitation, each one with a different task. It is not known why so many different chemicals are used to be gathered around the food source but, as far as one can tell, the diversity of such substances make sure that trails are different from each other. Apart from these, ants transmit different signals when sending messages, and the intensity of each signal is different from the others. They increase the intensity of the signal when the colony gets hungry, or when new nest areas are needed.
This solidarity among ant societies at such a high level may be regarded as behaviour that is worth considering and that can be taken as an example for men. Compared to human beings who unhesitatingly violate the rights of other individuals on account of their own interests – which are all they think about - the tremendously self-sacrificing ants are much more ethical.
It is in no way possible to explain the totally unselfish behaviour of ants, in terms of the theory of evolution. This is because evolution assumes that the only rule existing in nature is the fight for survival and the accompanying conflict. Yet, the behavioural characteristics that ants and many other types of animals display disprove this and show the reality of sacrifice. The theory of evolution, in fact, is nothing other than an attempt by those who wish to legalize their own selfishness to ascribe this selfishness to the whole of nature.
The Role of Touch in Chemical Communications
The communications by ants by touching each other with their antennae in maintaining intra-colony organization proves that there is in use an "antennal language" in its fullest sense.
The antenna signals created by touching in ants are used for various purposes like commencement of dinner, invitations and social meetings where nestmates get to know each other. For instance, in one type of worker ant species living in Africa, workers first touch by the antennae when they meet each other. Here, "antenna shaking" means just a salute and an invitation to the nest.
This invitation behaviour is even more striking in certain ant species (Hypoponera). When a pair of workers meet face to face, the inviting ant tilts its head sideways 90 degrees and strikes the upper and lower surfaces of the nestmate's head with its antennae. Often the solicited ant responds with similar antennation.14
When the ants touch the bodies of their nestmates, the goal is not to give them information but to receive information by detecting the chemicals they secrete. One ant beats the nestmate's body very lightly and rapidly with its antennae. When it gets close to its nestmate, its goal here is to bring the chemical signals as close as possible to the other. As a result, it will be able to detect and follow the odor trail its friend has just laid and reach the food source.
The most striking example that may be set forth for tactile communication is the exchange of liquid food from the crop of one ant to the alimentary tract of another. In an interesting test made on this subject, various parts of the bodies of worker ants of the Myrmica and Formica species were stimulated by human hair and were thus successfully induced to regugitate. The most susceptible ant was the one that had just finished a meal and was looking for a nestmate with whom to share its crop content. Researchers noted that certain insects and parasites were aware of such tactics and they were having themselves fed by practising this method. What the insect had to do to attract the ant's attention was just to touch the ant's body slightly with its antenna and its front leg. Then the touched ant would share its meal, even if the creature in contact with it is of a different type.15
The ability of an ant to understand what the other one wants by a short antenna contact shows that the ants may, in a sense, "speak" among themselves. How this "antennal language" used among ants is learned by all ants is another subject to think about. Are they undergoing training on this subject? To talk about the existence of such training, we must also talk about the existence of a superior Almighty Who provides it. Since it cannot be the ants who can provide such a training, this Almighty is Allah Who, by way of inspiration, teaches all ants a language with which to communicate.
The sharing behaviour practised among ants is a specimen of self-sacrifice that cannot be explained by the theory of evolution. Some evolutionists who see the adage "Big fish swallow small fish" as the key to life on earth are forced to withdraw such words when confronted with such self-sacrifice as is displayed by ants. In an ant colony, instead of the "big ant" developing by eating the "small ant", it rather attempts to feed the "small ant" and make it grow. All ants are ready to accept the food - that is, the "provision" - given to them and definitely make sure to share the excess with other members of the colony.
As a result, what all these examples show us is that the ants are a society of living beings who have submitted to the will of the Creator and who act under His inspiration. Therefore, it would not be right to regard them as organisms which are totally unconscious, because they do have a consciousness which reflects the will of their Creator. Indeed, Allah draws attention in the Qur'an to this interesting fact and notifies us that all living things are, in fact, a community among themselves, that is, they live under a Divine order and in accordance with inspiration.
There is not an animal that lives on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but forms communities like you. We have not omitted anything from the Book, and they will be gathered to their Lord. (Surat al-An'am: 38)
Accoustical communication is another method used frequently by ants. Two forms of sound production have been identified, body rapping against the substratum and stridulation, that is, rubbing of specialized body parts together to produce a "chirp".16
The sound signal produced by body rapping occurs most commonly in colonies that occupy wooden nests. For instance, carpenter ants communicate by "drumming". They start "drumming" in the face of any danger approaching their nests. This danger may be a sound that causes disturbance or a touch that they feel or a suddenly developing air current. The drummer ant strikes the substrate with its mandibles and gaster while rocking its body back and forth. This way, signals easily may be carried through the thin wooden shells of the nest for several decimeters or more.17 The European carpenter ants send vibrations to their nestmates who are 20 cm or even farther away by tapping with their chins and bellies on the woodwork of rooms and corridors. It must be taken into account here that 20 cm for an ant is a distance that would correspond to 60-70 metres for a human being.
Ants are almost deaf to vibrations transmitted through air. However, they are very sensitive to sound vibrations transmitted through objects. This is a very efficient warning signal for them. When they hear it they quicken their pace, they move towards the place where the vibration comes from and they attack all moving living beings that they see around.
No disobedience to this call by any of the members of the colony is an indication of successful organization of the ant society. One must admit that even a small human society responding to an alarm call collectively, at the same time, without any exception, and without anarchy developing, is a very difficult thing in practice. Yet ants are able to do what they are ordered without losing any time and so they are able to lead their lives without interrupting the discipline within the colony even for a moment.
The production of chirps is more complex as a system than drumming. The sound produced is created by rubbing certain parts of the body together. Ants produce this sound by rubbing together the organs at the rear of their bodies. If you get your ear close to the worker harvester ants, you may hear them produce a high pitched voice all the time.
Three major functions of stridulation have been discovered in various species. These may be listed as follows:
1. Acoustical communication in leaf cutter ants serves as an underground alarm system. It is usually employed when a part of the colony is buried by a cave-in of the nest. Workers start moving to perform rescue excavations in response to received sound signals.
2. High pitched voices are used in some species during mating by queens. When young queens gather on the ground or vegetation for mating, and have obtained enough sperm, they produce high pitched sounds to escape from the swarms of males chasing them.
3. Yet in other species, sound is used to enhance the effectiveness of pheromones produced during the gathering of nestmates to find food or new nest sites.18
For An Eye That Sees…
With their various communication methods, ants may be compared to men who can speak several foreign languages. They are able to communicate with 3-4 different languages among themselves and they are able to pursue their lives in the least problematic manner. They are able to subsist their colonies with populations of hundreds of thousands or sometimes millions, and survive all their lives without causing any confusion.
Yet this communication system we have been describing so far is just one of the miraculous features of the animal world. When we analyse both people and also all other living beings (From single-celled to multi-celled) we can discover characteristics that are different from each other, with each being a separate and individual miracle with its place in an ecological order.
For an eye that can notice all these miracles that are created around it, and a heart that can feel, it will be sufficient to look at the extraordinary communication system of the ant of millimetric dimensions to appreciate the infinite power, knowledge and wisdom of Allah Who is the sole Owner and Sovereign of all living things. In the Qur'an, Allah refers to these people who do not have this capability and who may not appreciate His might:
Have they not travelled about the earth and do they not have hearts to understand with or ears to hear with? It is not their eyes which are blind but the hearts in their breasts which are blind. (Surat al-Hajj:46)