Edinburgh Fringe Festival: The Ants

The Ants
The Ants

She’s a cast member from The Ants – a production by the American High School Theatre Festival – being performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

As it says on their website, in 1994 the American High School Theatre Festival (of Charlottesville, VA, Edinburgh Scotland, and London England):

… was developed with the help of high school and college drama professionals. Our festival is designed to complement high school drama programs and allow our nation’s drama students to showcase their skills within an international forum.

I came across this cast member with about seven others, maybe more, walking in a snaking single file up the Royal Mile and then gathering together and standing in a circle.

They were all dressed in the same striped blazers and with the goggles.

In a street packed with several thousand people, the ants stood out by their zingingly-clean, tailored clothing and attention to detail.

As they say in their flyer, they or their namesakes outnumber humans by a hundred million to one. And in the The Ants, in words and physical theater – the humans look at the ants and the ants look at the humans.

The play is based on the works of entomologists E.O. Wilson and Bert Hölldobler who won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction for their book The Ants.

You can see E.O. Wilson and Bert Hölldobler discuss super-organisms in this video from the Drexel Interview series.

They define super-organisms as having a complex division of labour with specialised roles, such as having only one or a few members who reproduce, and the mass of the population that does not reproduce.

They have studied various species of ants, from an ancient Australian species that has the most rudimentary organisation through to leaf-cutter ants that have a hugely specialised organisation with assembly line agriculture that enables them to farm fungi.

There are several parts to the interview, and in the later parts the talk turns to altruism and the nature-versus-nurture aspects of human nature.


‘Super-organism’ is a description that would fit honey bees, with one queen who lays eggs, many female worker ants who forage for nectar, and drones whose role it is to be ready to fertilise the queen and then die.

A couple of weeks ago, Tamara and I saw a bee colony at the Royal Horticultural Society gardens at Harlow Carr in Yorkshire. The hive had been placed between two sheets of glass so that anyone who wants to see ‘bees at home’ could do so.

We saw the bees doing their waggle dance, showing their fellow worker bees in which direction the nectar they had found was located and how far away it was.

It reminded me of something I had thought before, which is that their is something heart-rendingly honest about the efforts of the bees in dancing in little figures of eight to tell their compatriots ‘the story’ of their nectar finds.

It contrasts sadly with humans – or some of them – with enormous power and yet who seem not to care at all about others or about the consequences even for themselves of what they do.

That lack of care and will to destruction is nicely expressed by Kurt Vonnegut in the book, The Last Interview, which I finished recently.

As a final note, if you come across a reasonably-priced copy of E.O. Wilson and Bert Hölldobler’s The Ants – grab it, because second hand copies are going at around £100.00 on Amazon and on eBay…