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Ant War

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"The foreign policy aim of ants can be summed up as follows: restless aggression, territorial conquest, and genocidal annihilation of neighboring colonies whenever possible. If ants had nuclear weapons, they would probably end the world in a week."
Bert Holldobler

War between social insects, usually ants against other ants. Though it takes place on a much smaller scale than human warfare, the insects will be regimented like human soldiers and use tactics familiar to humans. This familiar association makes political allegory all but inevitable.

Expect lots of Zerg Rush, as in real life. Not to be confused with Bug War, where regular-sized humans are at war with Big Creepy-Crawlies.

This trope is Truth in Television, making ants one of a handful of species, among such examples as chimpanzees and humans, to engage in organised warfare.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the Helen ESP chapter "Helen and the Dream", two warring ant colonies turn out to be who Helen has been advising. This results in a bit more... complex war than normal.

    Comic Books 
  • The indie comic (now webcomic) Army Ants is this, patterned loosely after G.I. Joe. The ants, with their allies the beetles, crickets and ladybugs, fight hordes of bees, hornets and wasps, not to mention fighting predators and going on special missions like stealing cinnamon (an insecticide) from a kitchen.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Antz, the Big Bad, an ant general, sends a troop of soldiers loyal to the current queen into a battle against a colony of much larger and stronger termites that they cannot win. They succeeded, but at such a heavy price.
  • In A Bug's Life, a swarm of marching locusts (who were merely called 'grasshoppers') constantly terrorize a colony of ants, stealing their food. The ants eventually rise up against their oppressors, resulting in this trope.
  • The Ant Bully has a subplot about a war between the ants and the wasps, though by the end they go Enemy Mine against the larger threat, the Exterminator and by the end it seems they have struck a permanent peace.
  • Seen in Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants. A group of black ants is carrying a box of sugar cubes come across a squad of villainous red ants who promptly launch pursuit. This escalates into a war once the black ants reach their ant hill and they're helpless before the larger numbers and militaristic power of the red ants. They have a number of fireworks to turn the tides with, but only a single match, so the ladybug protagonist is sent into a search for a box of matches for its friends to use.

  • Beware of Chicken: Vajra the queen bee, upon seeing mosquitoes sucking blood from the humans and spirit beasts on the farm, is enraged, and declares war upon the "black lances," taking their heads as trophies and making portraits to commemorate victories over them.
  • In Adrian Tchaikovsky's Children of Time the uplifted spiders are threatened by a super-colony of ants infected with a different strain of the uplift virus that assimilates other ant colonies in its path, including those the spiders domesticated. The spiders eventually defeat the ants by developing a pheromonal weapon that disrupts their hive mind and allows them to domesticate the survivors.
  • Chrysalis (RinoZ): As soon as the Formica Sapiens colony hears that there is a species of giant termites in the Dungeon, they all feel a deep need to exterminate. This quickly becomes all-out war between ants and termites, with tens or hundreds of thousands on each side, mixed with fortifications, traps, ambushes, ground-shaking charges, and due to their high spawning rates, endless reinforcements.
  • Terry Pratchett once depicted War (of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse) watching a battle between red and black ants in Thief of Time. He remarks to Death that while peaceful times among humans come and go, ants never seem to learn.
  • In The Once and Future King, one of the animal transformations Merlyn performs on Wart is to turn him into an ant, and he finds himself in the middle of an ant war.
  • Bernard Werber's Empire of the Ants, especially the first book's battle between the Formica rufa (wood ant) and Linepithema humile (Argentine ant).
  • George R. R. Martin wrote "Sandkings," a novelette about a species of warring, antlike creatures sold as pets. It doesn't end well.
  • Professor Mmaa's Lecture makes references to frequent termite-ant wars. In the end, the war indeed erupts.
  • Done in Animorphs when the Team first morph ants and have to pass through a different colony. This, and the general Hive Mind of ants, was so horrifying that they swore to never morph ants again. Their next attempt (termites), was only allowed because they promised the termite they would morph would be from the same colony that was in the mission area. They did social insects only one more time after that (bees), which were from the same hive as the one in the mission area.
    • Invoked another time. Rachel, as a grizzly bear, is injured and passes out near a colony. Said ants were eating her alive and unable to wake her, Jake lured a different colony to her hoping the war would buy enough time for her to wake.
  • A Rustle in the Grass by Robin Hawdon, about an ant colony fighting off an invasion by a more aggressive species of ant, told in a Heroic Fantasy style.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Discovery channels, mostly Science Channel and Animal Planet, have "Killer Bug Wars" documenting real life insect vs insect wars.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Sandkings", the titular Martian antlike lifeforms quickly evolve into two distinct groups, white sandkings and red sandkings, and position their colonies at opposite ends of the glass enclosure in which Dr. Simon Kress has placed them. The two colonies soon go to war with each other. The conflict is exacerbated by Kress denying them food as part of his experiment.

  • The music video for Rammstein's "Links 2 3 4" features an ant colony that gets attacked by giant beetles, then arranges itself into military formations to encircle and overwhelm the beetles in retaliation.
  • Tom Waits' spoken word piece "Army Ants" describes ant warfare and the aftermath in detail.
    It is commonly known that ants keep slaves. Certain species, the so-called Sanguinary Ants in particular, will raid the nests of other ant tribes, and kill the queen, and then kidnap many of the workers. The workers are brought back to the captors' hive where they are coerced into performing menial tasks.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In a very old example of an Unbuilt Trope, Classical Mythology, the soldiers Achilles commands in the The Iliad are called the Myrmidons, or, in Greek, "ant-people." This name came from their origin as ants turned into warriors by Zeus in answer to a king's prayer to repopulate his country after a plague. The word "myrmidon" has come to denote any mindless group of subordinates, and is essentially the source of the allegory on which this trope is based.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Team America: World Police. In the lyrics to "You Are Worthress, Arec Barrwin," which plays over the closing credits:
    Pranet Xiron is inhabited with Xipods rike me
    But arso with Balmacs who are giant bees
    The Xipods and the Balmacs are at constant war
    So we wanted a new home and that's what Earf was for
    But you are worthress Arec Barrwin, you are worthress Arec Barrwin
    You fucked up my whole pran
    And now Xiron is smeared with Balmac porren....

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Army Ants comic has been converted into an RPG, basically G.I. Joe on a microscopic scale. The ants operate tanks and aircraft and carry guns, but the players are expected to basically use their own backyard as the world setting. A sandbox becomes a desert, a lawn becomes a jungle, and so on. It is possible to play an ant commando escorting workers to steal the Cheetos your players are eating.

  • The third act of The Insect Play by the brothers Čapek features two nations of ants (explicitly compared to human society) going to war over a path between two blades of grass, each fighting to exterminate the other.

    Video Games 
  • The premise of SimAnt (which inspired pretty much all of the later ant-based video games), where a black ant colony (controlled by the player) attempts to wipe out a neighboring red ant colony, take over the yard, and drive the humans out of their house.
  • Empires of the Undergrowth is this trope distilled, with a good bit of Edutainment along the way, though it uses a fictional ant species, the Formica Ereptor, as a handwave to how different species coexist in the same colony.
  • The indie game Command Ant Conquer has four ant colonies of different colors, fighting over three stores of seeds, which worker ants can collect and take back to the nest to earn "seed points". The queen ant can either rally her troops and attack other nests, or stay on her nest to lay eggs and build more troops, with victory going to the colony that first reaches 200 points or wipes out the other three colonies. (Interestingly, worker ants can steal eggs from other nests and raise their own workers, similar to real-life slavemaker ants.)
  • Bee Fense is a tower-defense/RTS game about a war between the protagonist bees against the Hornet Queen and her swarm, as well as assorted other bugs such rhino beetles, fleas, and zombees.
  • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door: The Punis aren't exactly insects, but their war with the "rival tribe" of mosquito like Jabbis plays out as this trope.
  • Battle Bugs is a Real-Time Strategy all about such a war.
  • Somewhat in Fallout 3, with a belligerent colony of ants half the size of motorcycles and a friendly note  colony of ants the size of small dogs. You can help the underdogs win by killing the bus-sized enemy queen and injecting stimulants into the smaller ant's eggs (which helps somehow).
  • The Real-Time Strategy game adaptation of Empire of the Ants not only features wars with other ant species, but also against bees and wasps.
  • Buck Bumble is about a war between technologically advanced bees against a collection of mutated insects organised under a Queen over control of a rural English garden.
  • Swarm Simulator: Evolution is an Idle Game where you control a Horde of Alien Locusts. There's an Invasion mechanic where you declare war on an enemy colony's leader for 2 days. During this period, said enemy's bugs will periodically appear and move around the screen, clicking on them kills them and reduces the enemy's army size, but if they escape they will steal your resources. You win once the enemy's army size is reduced to 0 before two days pass.
  • War Swarms, the sequel to Swarm Simulator is all about this and it involves combat between swarms of Horde of Alien Locusts.
  • Bug Fables involves the Ant Kingdom being in conflict-turned-war with Wasp Kingdom over the Everlasting Sapling, an artifact which is said to grant immortality to whoever manages to eat just one of its leaves. The backstory also mentions that the Wasp Kingdom and the Bee Kingdom also had wars in the past, and the Ant Kingdom and the Termite Kingdom had always had a rocky relationship.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In the Merrie Melodies cartoon "The Fighting 69½th", red ants and black ants go to war over picnic food.
    • "Ant Pasted" had ants going to war against Elmer Fudd for trolling them with his fireworks.
  • One episode of the Jumanji animated series features a war between giant red ants and black ants started over an artifact called the "Bahoot", which turned out to be a big ball of black and red slime that had no apparent purpose.
  • In the Wander over Yonder episode "The Greatest", among many other good deeds, Wander finds a blue ant fighting a red one over a peanut and intervenes by splitting it in half for them; doing so put a stop to a thousand year war between the blue and red ant colonies who were armed with mini catapults, tanks and warheads.

    Real Life 
  • Yes, ants really do have wars. But little tactics and strategy except sheer numbers, and whatever unique adaptations evolution granted to their species!
    • Many species of tree-dwelling rainforest ants wage massive wars over food and territory, especially when the forest floor floods during rainy season. These can get so bad that oftentimes there will literally be little piles of ant corpses littered all over the ground beneath their tree homes!
    • Some do take slaves. The slavemaker ants are an extreme of this behavior, as their colony only produces soldiers and not workers, who must constantly raid other nests for pupae or starve to death as they can't eat on their own and must be fed by slave workers (because their jaws are so grossly enlarged, perfect for tearing apart rival ants but with the unfortunate consequence that they can no longer even chew their food).
    • One species has a special suicide bomber caste (the aptly known "exploding ant"). They have glands in their heads that allow them to blow up their own heads and cover enemies in sticky, toxic fluids.
    • Asian marauder ants have various castes, most notably an enormous supermajor caste that can reach an inch in length and weigh up to 50 times as much as a standard worker. The marauder ants's main tactic against other ant colonies and termites is to Zerg Rush the enemy nest with the smaller workers to weaken their defenses, before sending a final wave of the big majors and supermajors to finish the job.
    • Asian weaver ants have adapted to invasive fire ants - there is footage of weaver ants purposefully going hunting for fire ants during their swarming season, intentionally killing first-generation fire ant workers from newborn colonies in order to prevent them from proliferating in weaver territory.
    • Cephalotes ants have soldiers with massive round heads, who act as living barricades when their nests are invaded by rival ant colonies, especially their main enemy, the nomadic army ant. When threatened, the soldiers use their flattened noggins to block off all entrances to their nests and prevent the entry of enemies.
    • The invasive Argentine ant has a very peculiar characteristic: unlike most ants, which will attack ants of the same species but from a different colony, the Argentine ant recognizes its own species, so instead of fighting like most other ants do, two different Argentine ant colonies will actually merge into a single larger supercolony! This is what makes them so dangerous: they can have massive colonies spanning miles, with dozens, even hundreds of queens each, and their immense armies displace and wipe out any native ants in their path.
      • In their native range of Argentina, they don't merge colonies since each one is genetically distinct. The reason the invasive ones in North America and Europe form supercolonies is that they're all descended from one ancestral colony, and are much more genetically similar.note 
    • While ants frequently wage wars with other ants, they are also known to prey upon termites, which themselves have evolved various defenses to cope with their ant aggressors. Some species produce big-headed soldier varieties with massive mandibles, while others have soldiers that spray sticky glue at intruders.
    • Some spider species have evolved to mimic ants, picking up the ants' scent once they sneak into the colony. However, they can never leave that colony, since any other ants would kill them, not as spiders, but as enemy ants.