TV Program Description
Original PBS Broadcast Date: November 20, 2007
within a termite mound in Africa, soldier termites spring into action, slicing
their smaller opponents in half with a snap of their powerful jaws. But the
attacking driver ants use strategy to overwhelm the defenders. Little do these
six-legged combatants know that their marching orders come from a
drought-plagued human village that is counting on them to drive out the
in High Definition with advanced macro-shooting techniques, "Master of the Killer Ants"
garnered best film awards at the Shanghai Film Festival and Japan's
Wildlife Film Festival. The stunning footage includes different castes of
termites coursing through their intricate tunnels—and the monstrously
egg-swollen queen herself, rippling with the contractions that deposit
thousands of eggs per day. (For more on the queen phenomenon, see Being
Queen.) The climax comes as the invading driver ants close in on the
queen's royal cell.
known for their ruthless aggression, driver ants also have a beneficial side.
This is traditionally exploited by the Mofu people of northern Cameroon, who
call the local species of red driver ants jaglavak. (To hear more of the Mofu and
their traditions, go to Jaglavak, Prince of Insects).
of the Killer Ants" tells the story of the Mofu's intimate
relationship not only with jaglavak but with other insects. For instance, the
people know that a crablike, bright-red insect serves as a harbinger of rain
and a sign that it is time to prepare the earth. Winged insects and
grasshoppers make a valuable food supplement and are especially tasty when
grilled. (For more on edible insects, see Bugs You Can Eat).
the insects provide a guide to behavior as well as an aid to survival. The Mofu
say that they must work as hard and selflessly as the ants and termites if they
are to survive, and they attribute drought and misfortune to their moral
special quality of jaglavak above all concerns the village elder
Matsgrawaï. When the film opens, he is called to inspect a
neighbor's house. Termites have infested the earthen floor and are
attacking the walls and roof. Worst of all, they threaten the adjacent granary
with its crucial stock of grain sorghum.
past experience, Matsgrawaï knows that jaglavak can drive the termites
away, thereby securing the grain sorghum stores on which the villagers'
lives depend. Under special circumstances, driver ants will attack termite
colonies, and Matsgrawaï begins with prayers and offerings to jaglavak.
When the ants fail to show up, he sends children to seek them out. (Play our
Amazing Ants Game).
commences a charming, instructive true-life fable on how to fight fire with
fire—termites with ants—and not get burned, or rather too badly
stung, in the process.