Ants Cannot Talk

At length, when they came to a valley of ants, one of the ants said: “O ye ants, get into your habitations, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you (under foot) without knowing it.”

So he smiled, amused at her speech; and he said: “O my Lord! so order me that I may be grateful for Thy favours, which Thou has bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may work the righteousness that will please Thee: And admit me, by They Grace to the ranks of Thy Righteous Servants.”
— Sura An-Naml [The Ant] (27):18-19

But then there are these Amazing Facts About Ants that in contradiction to the Qur’an, ants do communicate using smells, not modulation of sounds. Solomon could not have heard any talk since ants do not produce any.

Additionally, to imagine that ants communicate such sophisticated information as the Qur’an claims seems rather to belong into the land of fairy tales than science (e.g. an ant being able to distinguish between Solomon and a soldier).

Even though basically all communication between ants is through chemical signals, there are, however, a few subspecies of ants which do use some sound communication. But of what kind and complexity is it?

The use of vibrational signals is weakly developed in ants in comparison with communication by pheromones. … Two forms of sound production have been identified., body rapping against the substratum and stridulation, the latter employing files and scrapers clearly evolved for a communicative purpose. … [p. 255]

It has long been known, thanks to the experiments of … that ants are nearly deaf to airborne vibrations but extremely sensitive to vibrations carried through the substratum … [p. 257]

No evidence exists to rank the chirps of stidulation as anything more than simple unitary signals. In other words, ants do not “talk” by modulating sound through time. … sounds … do not appear to vary within species or within the repertory of one worker ant through time. … stridulation in ants produces a monotonous series of chirps with limited meaning. [p. 257]

The signaling pattern is independent of the triggering stimulus. That is, the ants do not modify the drumming to identify the category of danger to the nest. [p. 256]

All the above is taken from:

Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson
The Ants
Cambridge, Mass., Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1990. xii, 732 p.,
ISBN 0674040759, Library Call Number: QL568 .F7 H57 1990

Chapter 7, pages 227-297 speak about communication. Page 228 gives a table of different signals in communication between ants. Of the 17 “messages” listed 14 are chemical, 2 are tactile, 1 is “chemical or tactile”. In all the intensive studies of ants, “speech” (modulated sound of complex meaning) has never been observed.

When a live ant is marked with the chemical [one that develops in dead ants], i.e. sending the message that this ant is dead, the struggling ant is nevertheless taken by the others and carried out to the rubbish dump. Chemicals take the precedence over anything else. Surely no intelligent speech communication as claimed in this Qur’an passage. Action is blind reaction to the chemical message [pheromones]. (See From Gaia to selfish genes : selected writings in the life sciences, edited by Connie Barlow, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1991, 273 p, the chapter “From ants to anthropology” by E. O. Wilson, page 153-154.)

A recommendation I got: The great Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson has spent his life studying the captivating ants. See your local bookstore for his several works available on his studies of ants. If you live near a Barnes and Noble bookstore, they stock his books.


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