A world, I am building, had been flooded, causing a species of fire ant that makes ant rafts to evolve a collective behavior, ditching anthills and becoming an ant-hill (I'm not sorry). Over thousands of years, the flood waters receded and the clustering behavior of these ant-hills remained, creating a powerful, natural, biological army.

Over many millions of years and some complicated evolutionary history, I don't have room to explain, these ant-hills evolved into a collective consciousness that have shown the true limits of swarm intelligence. While each ant is just an ant, together as a whole, the collective is sapient.

As they do not breed and lack 'organs', so to speak, their species (Diluviumformica sapiens) consists of many smaller specimens, all working as a whole, communicating to each other using touch and pheromones, the larger whole communicates with each other through much more powerful pheromones.

They are virtually immortal and have met with humanity. To avoid war, humanity is attempting to communicate with these aliens, but we are failing. Humans communicate via sound and the ant-hills communicate via smell, it is proving difficult.

How can an audio based communicator like a human communicate with a pheromone based communicator like the ant-hill?

  • $\begingroup$ "Over thousands of years, the flood water receded" while there are many paths to sentience I feel like starving and drowning them simultaneously is ... slightly more difficult to believe. $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Dec 30, 2016 at 23:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Zxyrra they survived off of corpses at the beginning, then later on they became piranha-like hunters, ganging up on massive giants $\endgroup$
    – TrEs-2b
    Dec 30, 2016 at 23:28
  • $\begingroup$ This question has inspired another one. What fun! $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Dec 31, 2016 at 0:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Green best fun! $\endgroup$
    – TrEs-2b
    Dec 31, 2016 at 0:51
  • $\begingroup$ Related question: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/66393/… $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Dec 31, 2016 at 2:30

3 Answers 3


Speak their language

@Green had an answer on your war question that is somewhat adaptable.

Since each ant is a conglomerate of smaller individuals who cooperate by touch and pheromones, then design chemical weapons to disrupt this communication.

Instead of disrupting communications intentionally, respond to them. Analyze thoughts / conversations, discover what individual chemicals represent, and synthesize them.

Rig up a computer translator, a doable task, that detects the pheromones, then speaks (via sound) the perceived meaning; then have it try it's best to take sounds it hears and create the right chemicals.


(Or) Speak ours anyway

These ants must be able to sense the world around them. If they are truly intelligent and have a developed society, they may be able to translate, as best they can, what we say. If they have technology (assuming that from the war question) surely they're capable of some automatic translation themselves.


Build a translator

Humans communicate by both methods already and presumably, these hell-ants would too.

While no examples are required to describe how humans communicate by sound, it may be useful to illustrate a few examples of how humans communicate by smell. A person who smells like poop will indicate in a modern society whether they have access to hygiene facilities. Nurses also report smelling something that indicates a patient is near death. While both of these examples passively convey information, this still counts as communication. Further, perfumes and colognes attempt to indicate sexual fertility/attractiveness.

Communicating by smell will be a shift for humans but not terribly impossible. Also, the ants will be aware of vibrations in their environment because so much useful information comes that way. It's just not their primary communication method.

Building the translator

To build a translator, humanity will need to do the following:

  1. Identify as many of the chemicals that the ants use to communicate. The larger the library the better. Doing this will likely require a portable mass spectrometer to gather information on the more unstable message compounds that break down quickly in the atmosphere.

  2. Map each chemical to the meaning it has for the ants. This may be incredibly difficult.

  3. Find a way to synthesize the message compounds and store them. Some compounds may be sufficiently unstable that they will need to be synthesized on the spot, during translation.

  4. Perfect the dispersal mechanism in the translator to mimic as closely as possible the way that the ants disperse their message compounds. This is how you speak to the ants.

  5. Build a mechanism that will act as the nose of the translator to accurately identify the type and composition of message chemicals. This mechanism is how you talk back to the ants.

  6. Connect the translator to a laptop. Good luck!


Prepare Ahead of Time

Those among us who feel sentient alien lifeforms exist would de well, I feel, to prepare as wide a range of communication skills as early as possible so that we will be as prepared as possible when we meet aliens.

There are so many species of lifeforms on earth, each with it's own consciousness and behavior. Each one that has any form of communication that can be studied in depth should be, because each form of communication likely will have nuances or aspects we might not be familiar with as humans. Everything from whales to bees to neurons to cell organelles have systems of data communication, and we could learn a lot from mastering those forms of communication.

So, the more conversant or familiar we are will as many forms of conscious communication we are, the better prepared we might be when encountering a new entity. We might be able to notice this alien's speech has tendencies similar to bees, with other nuances similar to flatworms, and also some likeness to Cantonese.

So, the more prepared we are before meeting gestalt entities like your fire ants, the better prepared we will be diplomatically. Taking four decades to respond to a first communication from the fire ants due to need for research is poor diplomacy. Ideally we could respond immediately to their envoy in their own language of touch and smell, particularly if they are hostile and not wanting to be courteous and learn human languages.

So, in this case, I would recommend creating robotic ants or cyborg ants capable of being remotely controlled. These ants should be capable of touching in appropriately communicative ways, and also of producing necessary pheromones for communication.

Then humanity will need to discover how to interact with the ant colony. For example, can it be successfully communicated with via only one human-controlled ant? If so, then our one ant should initiate communication.

If however the ant colony needs to be communicate via another gestalt colony, then we need to make our robot/cyborg ants function as a swarm/gestalt organism and interact with the fire ants accordingly.

  • $\begingroup$ This seems a little more like a recommendation than an answer. $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2016 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon I edited my answer at the end. Do you think this is sufficient? $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2016 at 1:20
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, that's better. Nice answer $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2016 at 1:59

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