A tweet: amazing behavior of ants and termites

Posting may be light today as I had to spend much of the morning in the Social Security Office securing a replacement card. These offices could be called the Waiting Room to Hell, because they’re crowded, ugly, uncomfortable, and the wait is long, even with an appointment. (A logistic error on their part made it impossible for me to order a replacement card online.) Anyway, here is a cool tweet.

This was sent by reader Paul, who wondered whether it was real or faked. I checked and it apparently is real, so I present it to you as a “scientific” fact that is provisionally true. It’s one of the most incredible pieces of insect behavior I’ve ever seen, with two ranks of soldiers, each guarding a column of workers, facing off peacefully—and from two species residing in entirely different orders of insects (Hymenoptera and Blattodea).

Look how evenly spaced the termite soldiers are! In contrast, the ants are slovenly.


  1. GBJames
    Posted January 27, 2020 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    I’m curious what one actually needs an SS card for these days. I don’t remember ever using mine.

    • GBJames
      Posted January 27, 2020 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      Oh…. and that’s one remarkable bit of video.

    • Posted January 27, 2020 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      I’m getting it because, as I understand it, it’s required to get one of those new driver’s licenses that will enable you to fly in the fall. If I don’t have such a license, I’d have to use my passport to fly, even domestically.

      • GBJames
        Posted January 27, 2020 at 11:45 am | Permalink

        My money is on the thought that you’ve suffered the SS office unnecessarily. We’ve had the you-can-fly licenses up here in Wisconsin for a few years and SS cards weren’t involved. I think all you really need is to know your number. Maybe Illinois is different?

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted January 27, 2020 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

          I suspect the “things are different” is a primary factor. Having moved to another state just a few years ago I could not believe the stuff they wanted just to get a license. I think social security card was one of those things although it made no sense. A social security card is not ID and would be easily counterfeited. I had to provide proof that I lived in the state by bringing also a utility bill with name and address on it. They also wanted marriage license and mortgage information – it was nuts. And after all of this, the license is not even the new type that gets you on a plane.

          • GBJames
            Posted January 27, 2020 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

            I went to Illinois’ Real ID Checklist site. They do make it more complicated than it is here, “up north”, but it does seem that PCC[E] could have skipped the SSA visit with some other (probably) readily available documents.

        • Teresa Carson
          Posted January 27, 2020 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

          In Kansas, Social Security cards and a number of other documents are required. I do think it varies by state. I also had to get a new Social Security card because the card I had been carrying around since 1965 was not, in fact, an actual Social Security card. I have no idea what happened to the original. You are only allowed to replace your SS card 10 times in your lifetime and twice in one year — I think that’s what they told me. This worries me since I was obviously careless at some point in the last 54 years, and as I get older, I am slowly becoming more forgetful. What do they do to the poor 96-year-old who has lost her tenth card?

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted January 27, 2020 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

            The state I moved into was Kansas. And having moved all the way from Iowa (that is next door) you would think I was coming in from Iran. All of this so-called security is just a pain for all the honest people.

      • Posted January 27, 2020 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        According to the mailed info I received, they only want some piece of paper that associates your name with your full SSN. The bit of paper entitled “How to get a REAL ID” says “SSN card, W-2 or paystub with full SSN”. Luckily I still have my SSN card so I didn’t test this when I went in to my local DMV and renewed my license with REAL ID.

        Of course, I live in California and this bit of paper I’m quoting from is from the CA DMV. AFAIK, REAL ID is a Fed program but I suppose it is possible that documentation requirements vary by state.

        • Simon Hayward
          Posted January 27, 2020 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

          And also on the attitude of the person reviewing the documents in the office (not overly sunny seems about normal!) They did require mine in IL a few weeks back.

          • Posted January 27, 2020 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

            True, though I was impressed with the speed and efficiency of my local DMV office. It took me longer to gather the needed documents for the REAL ID process than for them to process them. I made an appointment that morning and was only in the office for 20 minutes, during which time they reviewed and copied my documents, gave me a vision test, took my picture, and processed my driving license renewal. Considering that this new REAL ID process must be an additional burden for them, I was quite surprised.

            • Matt Young
              Posted January 27, 2020 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

              Completely off task, but some years ago I informed my optometrist that the DMV had just issued a 5-year license to a 73-year-old who had macular degeneration. Yes, she said, we call that Colorado’s Driving While Blind Law.

      • Simon Hayward
        Posted January 27, 2020 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

        I got a real ID license in IL a few weeks ago – it took more than 5 hours (don’t go to Deerfield DMV! (not that you would), the main one downtown also apparently bad.

        They did want my original SS card, or something linking to it. I had nothing with the full number, everything just had the last four digits which isn’t enough. Of course they also wanted the SS card for the original license that was being replaced. Only a govt bureaucrat knows why they needed it again.

      • E.A. Blair
        Posted January 27, 2020 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        Because getting a replacement card in person is such a hassle, and it takes around 30 days to respond to an online or phone request for a new card, I find it convenient to have duplicates for both SS and Medicare.

        My parents registered me with Social Security shortly after I was born (which was unusual back then), and I still have the original card that was issued in 1957. I also have a more recent duplicate card and recently requested a second Medicare as a backup. I also have scanned images of all my IDs.

      • Posted January 28, 2020 at 6:18 am | Permalink

        In Illinois you need the SS card. When I moved back to Illinois back in 1996 I was told I had to have one to get my DL. When I protested that even the SSA says it’s not to be used as ID, I was told it was Illinois law. When I went to get my Gold Star license in October of last year, one of the requirements was the SS card. He needed it. It’s a long time thing here.

        • GBJames
          Posted January 28, 2020 at 8:52 am | Permalink

          I expect you just encountered an official for whom that was the simplest way for him/her to understand the requirements. The official Illinois web site can guide you through the process. I pretended I lived in Illinois and went through the process. There are many ways to get there, but all without the SS card. Including this combination of documents:

          * US Passport
          * W-2
          * Credit card statement and pay stub
          * Illinois Driver’s license

          On the other hand, it might be easier to suffer through the SSA office for a card than it is to deal with a state official who doesn’t really know the rules well enough.

          • Posted January 28, 2020 at 9:45 am | Permalink

            Pay stub. First my pay stub doesn’t display my SS. I could have brought a W2 BUT they won’t take any docs over 90 days old. Credit card statements don’t have a ssn. And if all it took was a DL you wouldn’t have to go through any of this.

            • GBJames
              Posted January 28, 2020 at 9:51 am | Permalink

              They don’t require that all of these have your SS number on it.

              Are you suggesting that the State of Illinois’ web site that tells you what you need is wrong? Did you bother looking at the web site? Do so. It will inform you of how Illinois does things.

              • Posted January 28, 2020 at 10:28 am | Permalink

                Oooooh, GBJames is snarky this morning. Thanks for the suggestion that I look at the web site. Considering I gathered the document for my Real ID and my wife’s ID about 90 days ago, it may shock you that I actually went to the web site to do that.

                Perhaps you can refresh YOUR understanding by noticing that in Step One, Passport will suffice for verification of citizenship,
                Step Two is applicable only if your name has changed, and four and five are proof of address and signature.

                Step three: Proof of Your Full SSN. Acceptable are SS Card, W2, Pay Stub, and either a 1099-SSA or non 1099-SSA form. No, I didn’t say that you needed all of them. I said that it’s the only one available to me. I watched a few people turned away with older or expired documents that were over 90 days old which also limits what you bring.

                That’s my final word on the subject. Apologies to my host for taking the attention away from where it really belongs on this post, ants and termites. That you PCC for posting this.

              • GBJames
                Posted January 28, 2020 at 10:54 am | Permalink

                Apologies for the snark. But the fact remains that you can get a Real ID in Illinois without having a SS card according to the state itself.

          • Posted January 28, 2020 at 9:48 am | Permalink

            It is also worth noting that passports are covered under Step 1. The other items you mention are in step 3 and passport is NOT one of them.

  2. Michael Fisher
    Posted January 27, 2020 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    It’s the Barksdale/ Marlo / Prop Joe corners in Baltimore, but tidier.

    • merilee
      Posted January 27, 2020 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Speaking of these guys, has anyone else noticed that the guy who is leading the opening prayer at the Senate impeachment trial looks like Brother Mouzone, bow-tie and all?

      • Posted January 27, 2020 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        I love all these references to “The Wire”, my favorite TV show of all time. Thanks.

        • merilee
          Posted January 27, 2020 at 3:38 pm | Permalink


      • Michael Fisher
        Posted January 27, 2020 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

        I looked him up: Barry Black – 62nd Chaplain of the United States Senate. A youthful-looking 71 year old Baltimore native, vegetarian & Seventh-day Adventist. One of those Millerites who keep 2nd guessing the supposed 2nd coming that should have come already. Nice selection of bow ties though.

        • merilee
          Posted January 27, 2020 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

          With a voice not quite as deep as Barry White’s…and I doubt that he subscribes to Harper’s.

  3. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 27, 2020 at 11:53 am | Permalink


  4. Matt Young
    Posted January 27, 2020 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Just for the record, I found the SS office in Boulder to be dingy, scroungy – and efficient.

    • Posted January 27, 2020 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      Matt – that one closed. The new one in Lafayette is exactly the opposite, and it has 12 windows. I was in and out in less than 15 minutes.

      • Posted January 27, 2020 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        oops – missed your efficient – and it remains efficient.

        • Matt Young
          Posted January 27, 2020 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

          Interesting – the Pearl location still shows up on their website; maybe they are not as efficient as we think! I have not been there in years, tho I admit I too probably can’t find my card.

          • Matt Young
            Posted January 27, 2020 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

            Nope, sorry, that is not an official SSA site.

          • Posted January 27, 2020 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

            It showed up on Google, but I thought I’d better check since it had been a while since I had been there. Good thing! And you are right on about its physical appearance 🙂

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 27, 2020 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Look how evenly spaced the termite soldiers are! In contrast, the ants are slovenly.

    Like the Redcoats versus Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion’s irregular militiamen during the battles in South Carolina.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted January 27, 2020 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I noted too that the termite rank appears to be more organized. Maybe because they are more vulnerable?

      • loren russell
        Posted January 27, 2020 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        Resolution is low here, but the termite soldiers appear to be nasutes — with their heads prolonged into impressive slime cannons.

        The ants would be overmatched in any case, but the termites’ chemical protection is primarily effective against predatory ants, especially the more ‘primitive’ meat-eaters [eg, ponerines and allies].

        • loren russell
          Posted January 27, 2020 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

          And the ants have nothing to fear from the cellulose-ingesting termites, as long as they stay in their lane.

          • Posted January 27, 2020 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

            “stay in their lane”

            A perfect literal use of this phrase which most often is used figuratively these days.

          • Nicolaas Stempels
            Posted January 28, 2020 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

            That is what Ig meant, ants are known to devastate termite colonies, but AFAIK termites do not raid ants nests.
            Moreover, they have vulnerable abdomens.
            The termites have reason to fear the ants, while the ants have nothing to fear from termites unless raiding.
            I find it quite understandable the termites have such a ‘disciplined’ line.
            Btw, fantastic footage.

  6. Posted January 27, 2020 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    I think ants and termites know more about Game Theory than humans.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted January 27, 2020 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      It looked like a very MAGA arrangement to me. Where do you think they found the authorization to fund their wall? Did the ants pay?

      • Posted January 27, 2020 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        Ha! I should have thought of that. Growing up in El Paso, you’d think all I would think about is a wall. I think the people who actually want a wall live the furthest from the border.

        • Posted January 27, 2020 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

          I suspect they also live furthest from the immigrants as well.

      • Dominic
        Posted January 28, 2020 at 9:25 am | Permalink


  7. merilee
    Posted January 27, 2020 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    When I sent away to get my infant daughter an SS card in order to claim the child benefit on my US taxes (I live in Canada), I had to send her passport and get my doctor’s signature and various other hoops to jump through. When they mailed me the card, attached by perforation to three other small forms, they had spelled her name four different ways!!! on basically the same sheet of paper (computer typed no less.) They had hyphenated her first name, which it ain’t, and had not hypenated her last name, which it is. I had to send it all in again, complete with her passport and a newly-signed doc’s note. She’s now 32 and has never needed the card, but I just needed a number for my taxes. Funnily enough they did not mess up her brother’s card which I applied for at the same time. At least I didn’t have to drive to Buffalo with the two young-uns.

  8. Jenny Haniver
    Posted January 27, 2020 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    The video is mesmerizing to me. I wish it I could watch this in real life.

  9. JezGrove
    Posted January 27, 2020 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Somebody needs to start manufacturing tiny blue U.N. helmets for those termites.

  10. DaveP
    Posted January 27, 2020 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Well, getting a replacement SS card can be a PITA, but it could be worse. My dad found out he didn’t have a birth certificate when he was in his late 40’s and applied for a passport. Being born at home in a rural area, the doctor apparently never turned it in. Didn’t stop him from having to pay taxes, getting summoned for jury duty, serving in local gov’t, or even getting drafted. Not too bad for someone who wasn’t officially born.

    And ant/termite detente is amazing.

  11. Posted January 27, 2020 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    The guy who first shared this, Mehdi Moussaï (@Mehdi_Moussaid) is an academic researcher at the Max Planck in Berlin, working on the science of crowds. So, yes, definitively serious! He is also the animator of a youtube channel in French explaining the field he works in…

    • Dominic
      Posted January 28, 2020 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      That is interesting – unlike the deep interest in social security that this post has elicited!

      I suppose they are moving towards a common food source. That suggests there is no shortage of food, & it would be really interesting to see the origin of the lines…

  12. Roger
    Posted January 28, 2020 at 1:17 am | Permalink

    Our road name won’t fit into a lot of databases. Including the DMV and Social Security. I can’t decide who the bigger idiots are. The database people or the road-naming people.

  13. Posted January 28, 2020 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Great video

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