Guest Post: Review of Amazing Adventures of Ants by Mark Moffet

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | January 26, 2011 12:40 pm

Guest post by Vanessa Woods

It was in Uganda that I encountered one of Africa’s most dangerous predators. I was counting chimpanzees in the Ugandan jungle, when I felt a sharp pain on my forearm. I pushed up my shirtsleeve. Attached to my skin was a giant ant the size of my toenail. Its head was so big I could see the serrations on it pincers that had dug halfway into my skin.

I flicked it with my other hand. It didn’t move. I brushed it, harder. It just wiggled all six legs and bit more deeply. I started to panic. I grabbed the ant between two fingers and pulled as hard as I could. Its body came off in my hands and its head was still firmly embedded in my arm, blood pooling around its knifelike jaws.  As if on cue, a thousand kindred mandibles sunk themselves into my flesh. I looked down. I was covered in them.

And so I learnt one of Africa’s most valuable lessons: ignore ants at your peril.

I wish Mark Moffet’s book had been around at the time, because then I would have understood how impressive, wondrous, and magnificent ants truly are. They weigh * of the world’s biomass…

For those who have never thought much about ants besides brushing them from your socks, Moffets tells some astounding tales. The Amazon ants abduct * ants at birth, storming * nests to abduct the pupae. Named after the female warriors who were rumoured to steal children and bring them up as their own, the Amazon ants take their captured quarry back to their own nest, * slaves take over, raising the larvae as slaves. Amazon ants are surprisingly helpless, they depend on their slaves to find food * and *. Without their slaves, they would perish. All their energy goes into battling * colonies and abducting the next generation of slaves.

An image that stays with me is of Moffet describing how on the last part of the raid, the slaves run out to meet the returning Amazons and hoist them on their shoulders for the rest of the journey home, while the Amazons lounge on the shoulders of their carriers like conquering heroes.

One of the most striking features of the book is the photographs. Moffet travelled all over the world to bring, what Owen Wilson rightly claims are some of the best photographs of ants in the world. The photographs bring the ants to life with skill that have proudly graced the pages of National Geographic. They pull you in, holding your attention with the loving detail that you miss when these creatures crawl off into the distance with parts of your sandwich.

The Amazing Adventures of Ants is more than a natural history book, although it is an excellent one at that. It is the journey of a remarkable man with the mind of a scientist and the excitement of a boy doing what we all dream of – running to the most exotic places in the world chasing the unbelievable. The tales spread throughout the book will make you want to follow him, and give you a new appreciation for the world’s most overlooked inhabitants.

Vanessa Woods is author of Bonobo Hadshake: a memior of love and adventure in the Congo. She works at Duke University in North Carolina and Lola ya Bonobo in Congo. Read about what she’s up to at her Psychology Today blog.


Comments (6)

  1. Peter Ellis

    What a * review! I was amazed by the * and * of the reviewer’s *, and her readiness to *. This truly gives me * to think about.

  2. sHx

    That’s exactly * I was going to say, Peter. You * me to it*. Why would any* would use lots of * so gratuitously? A * review?

  3. RobertC

    Well, personally, *

  4. ThomasL

    I would guess because generally when you bracket something by using “*” the result is that everything in between is put into bold type set… but not here. Instead it seems to be cutting the word out and replacing it with a single * instead…

    As it always seems to happen where a word would be emphasized I would assume it is a formatting issue between systems or programs…

  5. Ah, my old buddy Mark. I could tell stories! But I’ll keep my mouth shut.

    Moffet is probably one of the most talented nature photographers of our age. The fact that he knows a lot about his subject makes it so much better. Check out High Frontier for his rainforest canopy work.

  6. I think the reviewer gave the book five *s. At least.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry.Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.comFor more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


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