Ants in Your Stockings

Better than coal, right? Hell, what isn’t?

The Eleanor Spicer Rice series of books about ants are for the younger naturalist, but we can all learn a thing or two about these omnipresent critters in these pages. I perused Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Ants and Dr. Eleanor’s Ants of New York City; Chicago and California are covered in two other volumes; there’s also a Book of Common Spiders which I’m awaiting.

I’ve always been struck by the kinship between ants, bees and wasps, the main members of the order Hymenoptera. But don’t bees and wasps all have wings, you ask, “membrane-winged” being the translation of Hymenoptera? Well, reproductive ants do have wings. After mating flight, the female or queen discards hers for a life in the colony. The males, who often look even more like wasps than ants in general do, are evidently little studied. Like drone honeybees, they don’t seem to do much besides mate with queens. Nice job if you can get it? Worker honeybees (non-reproductive females) throw the drones out of the hive before winter; unable to fend for themselves, they die.

I’m now happily in possession of this fact: an ant’s abdomen is called a gaster. I think “Aunt Gaster” would make a very fine character name.

The pictures — no easy task when it comes to tiny moving insects — are by Alex Wild. The table of contents has pictures of all the ants, but otherwise it’s hard to compare and contrast the species for identification purposes. I’d like to have seen field marks, however small, highlighted. Also, there’s a bit too much repetition for my taste, both internally and between volumes, and the stories told are too cute for the old curmudgeon class, but I soldiered on.

Your best bet if not in NYC or Chi-town or Cali is to get the Book of Common Ants, which is a bit larger, with 18 species. The NYC volume covers 14 species. A drop in the ant bucket: there are at least 42 species found in the city.

Other natural history book to consider as gifts.

2 Responses to “Ants in Your Stockings”


  1. 1 Kathleen Matthews December 10, 2017 at 9:05 am

    Great post – and great gift book selections (the link doesn’t work but your search function pointed me to the list)

    I hope all is well with you!

    • 2 mthew December 10, 2017 at 9:09 am

      Yes, thank you!

      Link is deceptive: the link to Book posts will show the most recent, which in this case is this ant book post, so you have to scroll down for the others.


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