from todays Guardian G2 section 22/12/05 written by Sam Woolaston
I saw March of the Penguins the other day, and I'm not surprised that in America it has been adopted by the Christian right. It's all about traditional family values and monogamy. These resourceful birds have even been said to be proof of intelligent design and a nail in Darwin's coffin. Well, I wonder if any Marxists out there saw last night's Life in the Undergrowth (BBC1). Because they should certainly adopt David Attenborough's programme in a similar way.
The army ants of Central America could be a model for all that Marxists believe in. They live in huge colonies in which everything is done for the common good. A million individuals collaborate and cooperate so as to form one super-organism that moves about the jungle. Everything - food, property, duties - is shared. There is no central intelligence; the behaviour of the super-organism is the cumulative result of thousands of mini-decisions by the individuals, every one of which is beneficial to the whole. Everything is sacrificed for the good of the cause. Anty establishmentarianism, I suppose it's called.
And it works. These super colonies rampage through the forest, setting up camps, using their sheer numbers to kill prey far bigger than themselves. And you know what one of these million-strong processions of aggressive army ants is called? (Warning: one more lame ant pun ahead.) Yep, an anty-war march. Sorry.
Back to the penguins for a moment. What really bothered me about that movie - apart from the married smugness of the penguins themselves - was that I wanted to know how it had all been filmed, and by whom, and how they'd coped in the freezing wastes of Antarctica. That's what's been so nice about Life in the Undergrowth: for me, the best part of the programme is the "fly on the wall" section (their pun, not mine) at the end of each show, in which Attenborough shows us how it's been filmed, and introduces us to some of the people who have done it, and the scientists. I love the insects - the ants and termites, the wasps and bees, especially the news that there are still nine million of them we don't know about yet. But even better are the people whose job it is to find them. Possibly the only thing more interesting and impressive than Titanus giganteus the Titan beetle, the largest insect in the world (it's about the size of a small pony), is Frank, the man who has devoted his whole life to finding out about it.