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3 wars of the animal kingdom that you may not have known

Although most assume that war is a human heritage, there is no natural law that prevents other animals from performing what we humans call “acts of war.”

an army of ants

Maneuvering with an army is advantageous; with a crowd
undisciplined, the most dangerous.
– Sun Tzu

War conflicts are more common among social animals. And they are more frequent and brutal the greater social cohesion exists within each group. Belonging to a society and competition for resources with respect to other societies are the perfect ingredients for conflict. And if there is a group of animals that is characterized by forming societies, it is that of the ants .

In the American continent, two species of ants make war. The fire ant ( Solenopsis invicta ) is one of the most aggressive species in North America. Extraordinary architects, if we consider architecture as the construction of structures using their own bodies; They stand out for their ability to make rafts with which to avoid flooded areas. But one of his passions is the offensive against another species of ant with which he shares a habitat: the Pheidole dentata species.

To avoid the invasion of the anthills, however, the defenders have certain evolutionary adaptations. The most prominent is the presence of two forms within the worker caste. One of them, smaller, is fast and is usually in charge of sounding the alarm that induces the recruitment of troops . The alarm is based on a volatile pheromone. The presence of a single fire ant is enough for the Pheidole anthill to start defending itself.

However, it is the second, larger form of worker, the soldier ant , that carries the force of the defense. With its huge hardened head and its powerful jaws, it manages to destroy the body of its enemy and keep the battle out of the anthill.

If the fire ant army is large enough to get past Pheidole’s anthill defenses, at least the soldiers will have bought enough time to evacuate the colony and save the sexed ones and the larvae and eggs.

Meerkats and the war dance

Fighting and conquering in your battles is not the supreme excellence; it
is to break the resistance of the enemy without fighting.
– Sun Tzu

When mammals are social, and their communities are well cohesive, conflicts with neighboring communities over territory or resources are common. That is the case with meerkats ( Suricata suricatta ), animals in which when two groups meet, they practically always show hostility.

In the semi-desert environment of the Kalahari, groups of meerkats are easily seen from a distance, and that helps one group avoid another before an uncontrollable escalation of violence, which happens, should a conflict start. rarely. Normally, a group only withdraws when it is clearly outnumbered.

When the conflict escalates, part of the escalation of violence is seen as a kind of war dance . In it, the meerkats, all together, raise their tails and puff out their fur . The dance duel continues as animals from both sides draw closer.

The dance ends in chases, but the conflict rarely ends in direct physical contact . The usual thing is that, after the war dance, one of the groups goes back, ceding the territory to the winning side.

The warrior emus

The victorious strategist only seeks battle after having
achieved victory; the one destined for defeat
first fight and then seek victory.
— Sun Tsu

Perhaps it is one of the most surreal examples of animals of two different species going to war. A somewhat unequal war, since only one of the combatants attacked; the other merely fled and defended himself.

On the one hand, the emus , of complicated scientific name Dromaius novaehollandiae , and, on the other hand, perhaps the most belligerent species of all: Homo sapiens. Specifically, the Royal Australian Artillery. The date, the end of 1932. And the emu is not an aggressive animal, but the human being is.

But let’s go to the background of this conflict. It is 1929, the Great Depression had just begun, in Western Australia a large number of settlers, former soldiers of the First World War , redirected their careers to the cultivation of wheat under the promise of generous subsidies. A short time later, the ruin swept through the area; the subsidies never came and the drought ravaged the fields helped by plagues of rabbits.

And everything got complicated with the arrival of 20,000 emus , which in addition to destroying the already battered crops, knocked down the barriers raised by farmers to prevent the entry of rabbits.

Like good soldiers, the settlers knew the effectiveness of weapons, and petitioned the Australian government to mobilize troops . Not only did they do it, but for propaganda purposes, they brought in a Fox Movietone cinematographer.

In the war that began on November 2, they barely managed to kill a handful of birds. The soldiers couldn’t get close enough , and the weapons had barely any range. In less than a week, they had used up 25% of their allotted ammunition to kill just 200 emus. But it wasn’t the only problem. Every time they opened fire, the birds would run in all directions, trampling the crop fields and causing even more economic loss.

If we had a military division with the capabilities of these
birds, he would take on any army in the world. Could
take on machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks.
They’re like the Zulus, who even expanding bullets couldn’t stop.

— GPW Commander Meredith

The war lasted until December 10 . A total of 986 casualties on the emus side were reported in the final report, but at an unaffordable cost. Also, taking into account that the population was estimated at 20,000, it can be said that the squadrons of birds remained more or less intact . The Australian troops withdrew, defeated by incapacity and despondency, with heavy financial losses —both from loss of ammunition, movement of troops, and loss of crops caused. Although with the relief of not having suffered human casualties during the war.


Dyble, M. et al. 2019. Intergroup aggression in meerkats. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 286(1917), 20191993. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2019.1993
Johnson, M. 2006. ‘Feathered foes’: Soldier settlers and Western Australia’s ‘Emu War’ of 1932. Journal of Australian Studies, 30(88), 147-157. DOI: 10.1080/14443050609388083
Vidal Cordero, J. M. 2021. Las hormigas. CSIC, Catarata.
Wilson, E. O. 1976. The Organization of Colony Defense in the Ant Pheidole dentata Mayr (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 1(1), 63-81.

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