By Alex Wiggan (Ryan the work experience lad and R.Y.A.N II)
Welcome loyal readers of The Science Of Superheroes, you join us this week as we start our 6-part Creature Feature and this week we’re looking at those tiny little buggers known as Ants! We’ve set off onto the streets of Salford (the home of Comics Code Manor) to look for ants... and have found them outside of Trinity Church. Now personally I find ants a more than a little creepy, however as you’ll discover they are quite interesting creatures and are the inspiration for a member of Marvel Comics’ mighty Avengers! So with Ryan asking the questions, me answering them and R.Y.A.N II providing the most sophisticated information known to man (and woman) it’s time for us to get started!
WHO IS ANT-MAN?
Ant-Man is the Marvel Comics superhero who first appeared in Tales to Astonish #35 in 1963 and was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
HE’S NOT REALLY AN ANT THOUGH...IS HE?
No, Ant-Man is a man, who just happens to hang around with ants. He can do this via the use of Pym Particles, which allow him to change his size. He’s also a bit of a wife beater.... but let’s not talk about that here! As mentioned, the Pym Particles allow Ant-Man (aka Hank Pym...yes he named the particles after himself) to shift his mass to an alternate dimension, allowing him to shrink in size. Despite being small in stature, Ant-Man retains his normal strength, which then becomes incredibly impressive when he is the size of an ant! If that wasn’t enough Pym also wears a helmet that allows him to ‘control’ ants.
PYM MUST HAVE THOUGHT THAT ANTS WERE PRETTY SPECIAL THEN; BUT WHY?
Yes, Hank Pym must have been a little bit obsessed with ants to turn himself into the human equivalent of one and it’s not surprising really as they’re pretty damn impressive. Taking their name from the West Germanic word meaning ‘the biter’, ants have been around for years (approximately 130 million if you really want to know) and in this time they’ve more or less spread themselves out across the globe. Yep, you name a country (apart from Antarctica...which is pretty ironic when you think about it) and you’ll find the little beasts! Although there are many varieties of ant, all of which vary in size and colour, the general rule of thumb is they have six legs, two very strong jaws (which is probably where they get their name) and wings. They’re from the Formicidae family, meaning they’re related to wasps and bees and ants form colonies consisting of workers, soldiers, drones and one or more queens. Although ants are predatory and certain members of the colony head off alone (searching for food etc), they’re clever little buggers and communicate between each other in order to work around tasks and problems all for the greater good of the colony. Ants are all about communication between the ranks and they communicate using pheromones; leaving a trail for other ants in their colony to follow in order for them to reach their food. If that wasn’t cool enough, they also use these pheromones as a form of defence, so when ants get squished (which the animal friendly Comics Code doesn’t endorse in any way) they produce a pheromone that acts as an alarm for other ants, usually sending them into a panic stricken frenzy drawing in other ants to protect the rest. Impressed? Well that’s not the end of it. Ants also create a pheromone designed to confuse their enemies (other ants) so that they attack each other. The clever bastards!
THAT IS IMPRESSIVE! WHAT ELSE MAKES ANTS SO SPECIAL?
Well I’m glad you asked, because some species of ant can form chains amongst themselves so that they get across water or other obstacles that would otherwise get in their way and then there are even some that can swim!
HMMM... ANTS DO SEEM QUITE THE INTELLIGENT LITTLE SCAMPS; IT'S NO WONDER HANK PYM BECAME ANT-MAN! BUT HOW ALIKE ARE THEY?
Well as mentioned above both Ant-Man and ants have ways to communicate with each other, with both forms of communication acting as a way to control and influence the rest of the colony, so in that respect they’re quite similar. Also as discussed, when Ant-Man shrank in size he was pretty strong, which is also similar to ants themselves who are pretty robust for their size as just like many other insects, ants have an exoskeleton (something The Science Of Superhero fans will be familiar with). Where they differ though is that if ants were the equivalent in size to a human not only would they be pretty well protected from harm, they’d also be a bit of a threat to us humans... which is probably more than can be said for Ant-Man when in his regular size. Take Jack Jumper ants, which are a type of bull ant (known for its aggressive behaviour), who have a venom so powerful that if can cause anaphylactic shock in humans, making it one of the most powerful types of venom in the insect world! Now imagine if they were the same size as us, we’d be picked off in seconds! Oh and don’t forget that ants have pretty much colonised every country on the planet, so if they ever did decide to make some kind of an uprising, then we’d all be screwed! Luckily they don’t seem to have that plan in the works right now, plus the average life span of a male ant is only a few weeks, so they wouldn’t get very far if they did. So to sum up, Ant-Man and ants are quite similar, however for the key answer as to which one is more powerful I suggest that you pose that question to R.Y.A.N II for an in-depth bit of analysis.
OK R.Y.A.N II, IS ANT-MAN MORE POWERFUL THAN ANT?
R.Y.A.N II SCIENTIFIC READOUT: No.
Right... well there you have it. Erm, thanks for that detailed answer R.Y.A.N II, it really was worth shelling out all that money for that. Well hopefully that’s given you folks at home enough information about ants and Ant-Man, so until next time, think science!