The best books about ants

3 authors have picked their favorite books about ants and why they recommend each book.

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Ants

By Eleanor Spicer Rice, Eduard Florin Niga (photographer),

Book cover of Ants: Workers of the World

I'm an ant researcher, so perhaps it's not surprising that I'm recommending an ant book. But this book is less about the short essays, which do a great job of describing the biology of these social animals, and more about the photos. Most people overlook ants because they are so tiny, but when you enlarge them, as in this book, they show their real beauty. When I received my copy, I was amazed and I have seen many ants up close. But the sheer variety of morphological structures, faces, and yes, even colors. Not all ants are black or red, there are even ants that shimmer in all the colors of the rainbow.

We notice mostly ant workers, but in this book also the males are represented, and they often look out-worldly, so not at all like we imagine ants. A book that shows the aesthetics of these social animals…


Who am I?

I am a scientist studying the evolution of insect communities for years. I am fascinated by their high degree of cooperation and how these animals make collective decisions. But I also observe social parasitic ants that raid other colonies and make their workers work for them. This tension between altruistic cooperation on the one hand and violence and war, on the other hand, is common to human and insect societies, even if they evolved in completely different ways. I hope that when you read the books I recommend here, you will be as fascinated as I am by these parallel universes and perhaps next time you will see an ant with different eyes. 


I wrote...

Empire of Ants: The Hidden Worlds and Extraordinary Lives of Earth's Tiny Conquerors

By Susanne Foitzik, Olaf Fritsche,

Book cover of Empire of Ants: The Hidden Worlds and Extraordinary Lives of Earth's Tiny Conquerors

What is my book about?

Ants number in the ten quadrillions, and they have been here since the Jurassic era. Inside an anthill, you’ll find high drama worthy of a royal court; and between colonies, high-stakes geopolitical intrigue is afoot. Just like us, ants grow crops, raise livestock, tend their young and infirm, and make vaccines. And, just like us, ants have a dark side: They wage war, despoil environments, and enslave rivals—but also rebel against their oppressors.

Acclaimed biologist Susanne Foitzik has traveled the globe to study these master architects of Earth. Joined by journalist Olaf Fritsche, Foitzik invites readers deep into her world—in the field and in the lab.

Hey Little Ant

By Phillip Hoose, Hannah Hoose, Debbie Tilley (illustrator)

Book cover of Hey Little Ant

When a boy tells a little ant that he intends to squish him, the ant offers great reasons why he shouldn’t be squished. The story ends with a cliffhanger: Will the boy squish the ant? Will he let the ant go free? The authors brilliantly leave the ending up to the reader. Hey, Little Ant is a wonderful story that promotes perspective-taking, empathy, and acceptance in young readers.


Who am I?

I wrote my first picture book, My Secret Bully, to help kids who have experienced bullying and friendship issues. Over the years, I’ve written numerous award-winning children’s books, including The Invisible Boy, a School Library Journal Best Picture Books Selection and a recommended back-to-school book by USA Today and Scholastic Instructor. I’ve also had the honor of collaborating with leading experts and organizations including Sesame Workshop, International Bullying Prevention Association, Committee for Children, and ConnectSafely.org. My books and presentations focus on promoting social-emotional learning, empathy, kindness, and inclusion in the classroom and beyond.


I wrote...

The Invisible Boy

By Trudy Ludwig, Patrice Barton (illustrator),

Book cover of The Invisible Boy

What is my book about?

Meet Brian, the invisible boy. Nobody ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their group, game, or birthday party…until, that is, a new kid comes to class. When Justin, the new boy, arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine.

The Invisible Boy shows how small acts of kindness can help children feel included and allow them to flourish. Any parent, teacher, or counselor looking for material that sensitively addresses intentional and unintentional exclusion will find this gentle story a valuable and important resource.

National Geographic Readers

By Melissa Stewart,

Book cover of National Geographic Readers: Ants

Just like ants, books come in all sizes! I recommend this slim 32-page book if you want some fun facts and great close-up photos of ants. When writing my own book, I used this book as a resource and for inspiration. There’s even a very interesting section about ant queens and their eggs!!


Who am I?

Hi! I’m a writer of middle grade and young adult novels. My middle grade novels both have science and nature entwined in the plot. Down to Earth, my debut middle grade novel with Crown Books for Young Readers, has space, meteorites, well drilling, and water dowsing in it. In The Natural Genius of Ants, my second middle grade book, there is a kettle hole pond, a shady hemlock grove, a stand of sugar maples, and an ant farm. While writing the book, I kept many ant farms and cared for a carpenter ant queen and her offspring.


I wrote...

The Natural Genius of Ants

By Betty Culley,

Book cover of The Natural Genius of Ants

What is my book about?

Harvard is used to his father coming home from the hospital and telling him about all the babies he helped. But since he made the mistake at work, Dad has been quieter than usual. And now he is taking Harvard and his little brother, Roger, to Kettle Hole, Maine, for the summer.

In the small town where he grew up, Dad seems more himself. Especially once the family decides to start an ant farm–just like Dad had as a kid! But when the mail-order ants are D.O.A., Harvard doesn’t want Dad to experience any more sadness. Luckily, his new friend Neveah has the brilliant idea to use the ants crawling around the kitchen instead. But these insects don’t come with directions!

Dr. Eleanor's Book of Common Ants

By Eleanor Spicer Rice, Rob Dunn,

Book cover of Dr. Eleanor's Book of Common Ants

Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Ants is full of amazing ant facts, but I love it most for its cover, its photos, and the fascinating chapter headings, like "Odorous House Ant," "Big Headed Ant," "Thief Ant," and "Acrobat Ant"! Of course, I am especially happy that the first chapter is "Carpenter Ant," since in my book, Harvard fills the ant farm he and his father build with carpenter ants he finds in the house. 


Who am I?

Hi! I’m a writer of middle grade and young adult novels. My middle grade novels both have science and nature entwined in the plot. Down to Earth, my debut middle grade novel with Crown Books for Young Readers, has space, meteorites, well drilling, and water dowsing in it. In The Natural Genius of Ants, my second middle grade book, there is a kettle hole pond, a shady hemlock grove, a stand of sugar maples, and an ant farm. While writing the book, I kept many ant farms and cared for a carpenter ant queen and her offspring.


I wrote...

The Natural Genius of Ants

By Betty Culley,

Book cover of The Natural Genius of Ants

What is my book about?

Harvard is used to his father coming home from the hospital and telling him about all the babies he helped. But since he made the mistake at work, Dad has been quieter than usual. And now he is taking Harvard and his little brother, Roger, to Kettle Hole, Maine, for the summer.

In the small town where he grew up, Dad seems more himself. Especially once the family decides to start an ant farm–just like Dad had as a kid! But when the mail-order ants are D.O.A., Harvard doesn’t want Dad to experience any more sadness. Luckily, his new friend Neveah has the brilliant idea to use the ants crawling around the kitchen instead. But these insects don’t come with directions!

The Ants

By Edward O. Wilson, Bert Hölldobler,

Book cover of The Ants

Remember when I said ant books come in all sizes? Well, The Ants is a big book, as in large and heavy. It’s also a definitive text that won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction in 1991. I used it for research for my book and it was also the inspiration for the ant book that Harvard and Nevaeh use to study ants in my novel. Edward Wilson was an American biologist, and his specialty was the study of ants. He was nicknamed the “ant man”.


Who am I?

Hi! I’m a writer of middle grade and young adult novels. My middle grade novels both have science and nature entwined in the plot. Down to Earth, my debut middle grade novel with Crown Books for Young Readers, has space, meteorites, well drilling, and water dowsing in it. In The Natural Genius of Ants, my second middle grade book, there is a kettle hole pond, a shady hemlock grove, a stand of sugar maples, and an ant farm. While writing the book, I kept many ant farms and cared for a carpenter ant queen and her offspring.


I wrote...

The Natural Genius of Ants

By Betty Culley,

Book cover of The Natural Genius of Ants

What is my book about?

Harvard is used to his father coming home from the hospital and telling him about all the babies he helped. But since he made the mistake at work, Dad has been quieter than usual. And now he is taking Harvard and his little brother, Roger, to Kettle Hole, Maine, for the summer.

In the small town where he grew up, Dad seems more himself. Especially once the family decides to start an ant farm–just like Dad had as a kid! But when the mail-order ants are D.O.A., Harvard doesn’t want Dad to experience any more sadness. Luckily, his new friend Neveah has the brilliant idea to use the ants crawling around the kitchen instead. But these insects don’t come with directions!

Empire of the Ants

By Bernard Werber,

Book cover of Empire of the Ants

There are thousands of siblings in this bookthe offspring of a single queen ant are siblings, aren’t they?and they are most definitely understated. There are humans in the book too, but it’s the ants that interest me, and their sense of relationship to each other. This is one of my favourite novels. It’s beautifully imagined, and so full of fascinating facts that I can never retain them all, so I need to read it again and again. I tried to choose contemporary titles for this list; this is the oldest, from the 1990s, set in the near future, which we’re now living in. 


Who am I?

I’m the youngest of five, and my siblings are what shaped me and my world. Growing up, I never felt alone, except climbing the stairs to bed half an hour before anyone else (such an injustice!). We played cards and games and had noisy discussions throughout my childhood and youth, and we still do. I wouldn’t be me without siblings. It’s the relationship that most fascinates me. There are siblings in all the books I’ve written and probably in all the books I’ll ever write. It’s not a theme I look for when I read, but I recognize the feeling when I encounter it and it feels like home.


I wrote...

All Good Children

By Catherine Austen,

Book cover of All Good Children

What is my book about?

It's the middle of the twenty-first century and the children of New Middletown are lined up to receive a treatment that turns them into obedient, well-mannered citizens. Maxwell Connors, a self-absorbed graffiti artist, doesn’t initially believe his little sister, Ally, when she tells him her schoolmates have changed. Then Ally herself comes home changed, and the treatment is extended to the higher grades. Will Max be "zombified" and turned into the boy his teachers always wanted him to be? Or will the family escape into the unknown world beyond New Middletown's borders? Can Max’s creativity save him? And can anything save Ally?

The Superorganism

By Bert Hölldobler, Edward O. Wilson,

Book cover of The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies

We, who live in one clearly delineated body, think we know what an organism is. Social insects challenge this, making us wonder whether the organism is the ant or the anthill. This book, about how individuals add together to make a new being at a larger scale, is fascinating for biology but also nudges us, as readers, to ask questions about what lives are being led within us, by all the cells that make us, and also whether we are ourselves part of a being so much larger than ourselves we cannot see it for what it is any more than one ant can see the colony for what it is. Reading this made me much more open to the idea of multiple, nested levels of being.


Who am I?

I have long been fascinated by how very complicated things can arise from comparatively simple ones, because it seems counterintuitive that this is even possible. This led me to lead a life in science, researching how a whole human body can come from a simple egg, and trying to apply what we learn to make new body parts for those who need them. Though much of my professional reading consists of detailed research papers, I have always relied on books to make me think and to show me the big picture. I write books myself, to share with others some of the amazing things that science lets us discover. 


I wrote...

Life Unfolding: How the Human Body Creates Itself

By Jamie A. Davies,

Book cover of Life Unfolding: How the Human Body Creates Itself

What is my book about?

Where did I come from? Why do I have two arms but just one head? How is my left leg the same size as my right one? Why are the fingerprints of identical twins not identical? How did my brain learn to learn? Why must I die? Questions like these remain biology's deepest and most ancient challenges. A convergence of ideas from embryology, genetics, physics, networks, and control theory has begun to provide real answers.

Life Unfolding tells the story of human development from egg to adult showing how our whole understanding of how we come to be has been transformed in recent years. Highlighting how embryological knowledge is being used to understand why bodies age and fail, Jamie A. Davies explores the profound and fascinating impacts of our newfound knowledge.

The Book with No Pictures

By B.J. Novak,

Book cover of The Book with No Pictures

This book hilariously shows us—and our kids—how a book with no pictures can be far more fun than a picture book. Both my kids loved it, for different reasons—my son for how ridiculous it was to “make” adults read it, my daughter because she used it as a jumpstart for her own “no-picture” book. The result of reading it is that you will have a conversation with your kids, and likely a funny one. You may even talk about what makes a good book, or why books exist. No matter how old your kids are, try to leave this one on the coffee table and see what comes of it. 


Who am I?

As a speech pathologist, as well as a fiction writer and poet, I’ve been fascinated by language ever since I learned how to speak. Once I had kids, I was amazed to listen in on their conversations, which often surprised me in all the ways they were discovering and thinking about the world. I began researching how the adults in their lives could best help them express themselves—and how we can best understand them. Along the way, I realized that having these sorts of conversations can enhance our family lives and let us have more fun. I hope this list starts up some great conversations for you!


I wrote...

The Art of Talking with Children: The Simple Keys to Nurturing Kindness, Creativity, and Confidence in Kids

By Rebecca Rolland,

Book cover of The Art of Talking with Children: The Simple Keys to Nurturing Kindness, Creativity, and Confidence in Kids

What is my book about?

So many of us get so busy taking care of or teaching kids that we forget to focus on one of the most important aspects: how we’re talking with them. Especially if we're harried or stressed, it can feel hard to make room for the conversations that bring us closer or inspire us. We tend to focus on getting from point A to point B. But with a few small shifts, we could do more.

My book brings together stories of my life as a mom and speech pathologist with a review of the latest research to show why having meaningful conversations with kids matters—and how we can do so in ways that are fun for us all.

We're Not from Here

By Geoff Rodkey,

Book cover of We're Not from Here

Hey, this book isn’t about ants! And what are those insect-looking objects on the cover?

Yes, this book isn’t about ants. We're Not from Here is a middle-grade book about a planet of aliens, the Zhuris, that look like giant mosquitos. After Earth is destroyed, the Zhuris are not sure if they want to let a group of humans join them on their planet. 

What I learned from my own firsthand ant research is that ants work together for the good of the colony. This book will have you thinking about how humans work together, and if they do as good a job of it as ants and Zhuris!!


Who am I?

Hi! I’m a writer of middle grade and young adult novels. My middle grade novels both have science and nature entwined in the plot. Down to Earth, my debut middle grade novel with Crown Books for Young Readers, has space, meteorites, well drilling, and water dowsing in it. In The Natural Genius of Ants, my second middle grade book, there is a kettle hole pond, a shady hemlock grove, a stand of sugar maples, and an ant farm. While writing the book, I kept many ant farms and cared for a carpenter ant queen and her offspring.


I wrote...

The Natural Genius of Ants

By Betty Culley,

Book cover of The Natural Genius of Ants

What is my book about?

Harvard is used to his father coming home from the hospital and telling him about all the babies he helped. But since he made the mistake at work, Dad has been quieter than usual. And now he is taking Harvard and his little brother, Roger, to Kettle Hole, Maine, for the summer.

In the small town where he grew up, Dad seems more himself. Especially once the family decides to start an ant farm–just like Dad had as a kid! But when the mail-order ants are D.O.A., Harvard doesn’t want Dad to experience any more sadness. Luckily, his new friend Neveah has the brilliant idea to use the ants crawling around the kitchen instead. But these insects don’t come with directions!

Insect Detective

By Steve Voake, Charlotte Voake (illustrator),

Book cover of Insect Detective

This is a gentle invitation to the world of insects, with tips on how to get to know some common ones and the strange things they do. Well, strange to you! Their lives may be different from ours, but they’re still interesting: wasps chewing wood to make paper, ants stopping to share the news with other ants, moths pretending to be leaves to hide from birds. But not all tiny creatures are insects, so which are and which aren’t are explained also. Every type of creature has its own story; keep your eyes open and you’ll be able to discover those stories and tell them to your friends.


Who am I?

I’ve always been interested in the natural world. I grew up seeing the birds, raccoons, and deer that lived in the woods near my home in Western Pennsylvania. But over the years I began watching smaller things more carefully: tiny creatures with many legs—or no legs at all! I learned that even though earthworms are blind they can sense light. I realized that among “identical” ants, some behaved differently. I found out that if I was gentle, honeybees didn’t mind being petted. Even if we think they’re icky, we owe these tiny creatures our understanding and compassion.


I wrote...

The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures

By Curtis Manley, Lucy Ruth Cummins (illustrator),

Book cover of The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures

What is my book about?

Roberta rescues tiny creatures, like the worms she finds stranded in the middle of the sidewalk on her way to school. That earns her funny looks from the other kids. But one day there’s an invasion of tiny creatures in her classroom, and Roberta will need to use her knowledge and creativity to show everybody that tiny creatures aren’t so scary after all. They just need friends who rescue and understand them. 

Lucy Ruth Cummins’ dynamic illustrations show the tiny creatures Roberta rescues—and her emotional journey through the story, from ridicule to gratitude. The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures was selected as a Blueberry Award Changemaker book and a Nautilus Award Gold Winner.

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