【词汇】雅思阅读常用词(031)- Ant Intelligence

Cambridge 07 Test 3 – Passage 1: Ant Intelligence

When we think of intelligent members of the animal kingdom, the creatures that spring immediately to mind are apes and monkeys. But in fact the social lives of some members of the insect kingdom are sufficiently complex to suggest more than a hint of intelligence. Among these, the world of the ant has come in for considerable scrutiny lately, and the idea that ants demonstrate sparks of cognition has certainly not been rejected by those involved in these investigations.

Ants store food, repel attackers and use chemical signals to contact one another in case of attack. Such chemical communication can be compared to the human use of visual and auditory channels (as in religious chants, advertising images and jingles, political slogans and martial music) to arouse and propagate moods and attitudes. The biologist Lewis Thomas wrote, ‘Ants are so much like human beings as to be an embarrassment. They farm fungi, raise aphids* as livestock, launch armies to war, use chemical sprays to alarm and confuse enemies, capture slaves, engage in child labour, exchange information ceaselessly. They do everything but watch television.’ However, in ants there is no cultural transmission everything must be encoded in the genes – whereas in humans the opposite is true. Only basic instincts are carried in the genes of a newborn baby, other skills being learned from others in the community as the child grows up. It may seem that this cultural continuity gives us a huge advantage over ants. They have never mastered fire nor progressed. Their fungus farming and aphid herding crafts are sophisticated when compared to the agricultural skills of humans five thousand years ago but have been totally overtaken by modern human agribusiness.

Or have they? The farming methods of ants are at least sustainable. They do not ruin environments or use enormous amounts of energy. Moreover, recent evidence suggests that the crop farming of ants may be more sophisticated and adaptable than was thought.

Ants were farmers fifty million years before humans were. Ants can’t digest the cellulose in leaves – but some fungi can. The ants therefore cultivate these fungi in their nests, bringing them leaves to feed on, and then use them as a source of food. Farmer ants secrete antibiotics to control other fungi that might act as ‘weeds’, and spread waste to fertilise the crop.

It was once thought that the fungus that ants cultivate was a single type that they had propagated, essentially unchanged from the distant past. Not so. Ulrich Mueller of Maryland and his colleagues genetically screened 862 different types of fungi taken from ants’ nests. These turned out to be highly diverse: it seems that ants are continually domesticating new species. Even more impressively, DNA analysis of the fungi suggests that the ants improve or modify the fungi by regularly swapping and sharing strains with neighbouring ant colonies.

Whereas prehistoric man had no exposure to urban lifestyles – the forcing house of intelligence – the evidence suggests that ants have lived in urban settings for close on a hundred million years, developing and maintaining underground cities of specialised chambers and tunnels.

When we survey Mexico City, Tokyo, Los Angeles, we are amazed at what has been accomplished by humans. Yet Hoelldobler and Wilson’s magnificent work for ant lovers, The Ants, describes a supercolony of the ant Formica yessensis on the Ishikari Coast of Hokkaido. This ‘megalopolis‘ was reported to be composed of 360 million workers and a million queens living in 4,500 interconnected nests across a territory of 2.7 square kilometres.

Such enduring and intricately meshed levels of technical achievement outstrip by far anything achieved by our distant ancestors. We hail as masterpieces the cave paintings in southern France and elsewhere, dating back some 20,000 years. Ant societies existed in something like their present form more than seventy million years ago. Beside this, prehistoric man looks technologically primitive. Is this then some kind of intelligence, albeit of a different kind?

Research conducted at Oxford, Sussex and Zürich Universities has shown that when desert ants return from a foraging trip, they navigate by integrating bearings and distances, which they continuously update in their heads. They combine the evidence of visual landmarks with a mental library of local directions, all within a framework which is consulted and updated. So ants can learn too.

And in a twelve-year programme of work, Ryabko and Reznikova have found evidence that ants can transmit very complex messages. Scouts who had located food in a maze returned to mobilise their foraging teams. They engaged in contact sessions, at the end of which the scout was removed in order to observe what her team might do. Often the foragers proceeded to the exact spot in the maze where the food had been. Elaborate precautions were taken to prevent the foraging team using odour clues. Discussion now centres on whether the route through the maze is communicated as a ‘left-right’ sequence of turns or as a ‘compass bearing and distance’ message.

During the course of this exhaustive study, Reznikova has grown so attached to her laboratory ants that she feels she knows them as individuals – even without the paint spots used to mark them. It’s no surprise that Edward Wilson, in his essay, ‘In the company of ants’, advises readers who ask what to do with the ants in their kitchen to: ‘Watch where you step. Be careful of little lives.’

  • ape 英 [eɪp] 美 [ep] n. [脊椎] 猿;傻瓜;模仿者

  • scrutiny 英 [‘skruːtɪnɪ] 美 [‘skrutəni] n. 详细审查;监视;细看;选票复查

  • demonstrate 英 [‘demənstreɪt] 美 [‘dɛmən’stret] vt. 证明;展示;论证 vi. 示威

  • repel 英 [rɪ’pel] 美 [rɪ’pɛl] vt. 击退;抵制;使厌恶;使不愉快

  • chant 英 [tʃɑːnt] 美 [tʃænt] n. 圣歌;赞美诗

  • slogan 英 [‘sləʊg(ə)n] 美 [‘slogən] n. 标语;呐喊声

  • propagate 英 [‘prɒpəgeɪt] 美 [‘prɑpə’get] vt. 传播;传送;繁殖;宣传 vi. 繁殖;增殖

  • aphid 英 [‘eɪfɪd]美 [‘eifid  n. [昆] 蚜虫

  • livestock 英 [‘laɪvstɒk] 美 [‘laɪvstɑk] n. 牲畜;家畜

  • ceaselessly 英 [‘si:slisli] 美 [‘si:slisli] adv. 不停地

  • herd 英 [hɜːd] 美 [hɝd] n. 兽群,畜群;放牧人 vt. 放牧;使成群 vi. 成群,聚在一起

  • sustainable 英 [sə’steɪnəb(ə)l] 美 [sə’stenəbl] adj. 可以忍受的;足可支撑的;养得起的;可持续的

  • cellulose 英 [‘seljʊləʊz; -s] 美 [‘sɛljulos] n. 纤维素;(植物的)细胞膜质

  • strain 英 [streɪn] 美 [stren] n. 张力;拉紧;负担;扭伤;血缘

  • megalopolis 英 [,megə’lɒp(ə)lɪs] 美 [,mɛgə’lɑpəlɪs] n. 特大都市;人口稠密地带

  • intricately 英 [‘ɪntrɪkətlɪ] 美 [ˈɪntrəkɪtlɪ] adv. 杂乱地

  • mesh 英 [meʃ] 美 [mɛʃ] n. 网眼;网丝;圈套

  • albeit 英 [ɔːl’biːɪt] 美 [,ɔl’biɪt] conj. 虽然;即使

  • forage 英 [‘fɒrɪdʒ] 美 [‘fɔrɪdʒ] n. 饲料;草料;搜索 vi. 搜寻粮草;搜寻

  • precaution 英 [prɪ’kɔːʃ(ə)n] 美 [prɪ’kɔʃən] n. 预防,警惕;预防措施 vt. 警惕;预先警告

  • odour 英 [‘əʊdə] 美 [‘əudə] n. 气味;声誉

  • sequence 英 [‘siːkw(ə)ns] 美 [‘sikwəns] n. [数][计] 序列;顺序;续发事件 vt. 按顺序排好




蚂蚁储存食物,反击外敌,在攻击时用化学信号互相联系。此类化学信号交流可与人类使用视觉和听觉逾径(如圣歌、广告、形象、铃声、政治标语以及军乐)来激发情绪和传递理念的行为相媲美。生物学家 Lewis Thomas写道:“蚂蚁和人类是如此的相似,都让我们觉得自愧不如。它们培育真菌,把蚜虫作为家畜来饲养,调配军队作战,用化学气雾发出警告和述惑敌人,俘虏奴隶,忙于育婴,不停地交流信息。除了不看电视它们什么都做。” 然而,蚂蚁的世界里没有文化的传播——所有的技能都必须存储在基因里——而人类的情况却恰恰相反。人类新生儿的基因里只有基本的本能,其他技能则是在成长过程中从社会其他成员身上学习所得。看起来这种文化传承使我们与蚂蚁相比具有巨大的优势。它们从未掌握用火技术,也不知发展为何物。它们培育真菌、饲养蚜虫的技术和五千年前的人类农耕技术相比还算成熟,但却被人类现代的综合农业远远超越。



曾经有观点认为蚂蚁培育的真菌只是它们繁殖的单一品种,长久以来都没有本质的改变。其实不然。马里兰州的Ulrich Mucller和他的同事们就从蚂蚁巢穴中从基因方面筛选出了862种不同种类的真菌。这些真菌品种多样——看来蚂蚁在不断培育新的真菌品种。让人更加印象深刻的是,对真菌的DNA分折表明,蚂蚁通过频繁地和周边蚂蚁群体的交换和共享来改进或更新菌种。




在牛津大学、苏赛克斯大学以及苏黎世大学所作的研究表明,沙漠蚁在觅食归巢途中, 会结合它们脑中不断更新的方向和距离资料来做导向。它们会将可见的地标与记忆库中的区域方向结合来分门别类储存,并不断地使用和更新。因此蚂蚁也具备学习能力。


在这次全而的研究过程中,Reznikova全身心地投入到她实验室的蚂蚁身上,她感觉自己认识每一只蚂蚁——即使它们身上没有记号。无怪乎Edward Wilson在他的论文《与蚂蚁相伴》中,建议那些询问如何处理厨房中蚂蚁的读者:“注意脚下,珍惜小生命。”