In June 2021, a quote ostensibly uttered by famed naturalist David Attenborough about black and red ants was shared around social media.
Attenborough supposedly said:
If you collect 100 black ants and 100 fire ants and put them in a glass jar nothing will happen. But if you take the jar, shake it violently and leave it on the table, the ants will start killing each other.
Reds believe that black is the enemy, while black believes that red is the enemy, when the real enemy is the person who shook the jar. The same is true in society.
Men vs Women
Black vs White
Faith vs Science
Youngs vs Old
Before we fight each other, we must ask ourselves: Who rocked the jar?
While this quote may ring true to some readers, two things need to be considered. First, this quote did not come from Attenborough. And two, we are unaware of any scientific experiment that showed how red and black ants would co-exist in a glass jar until the jar was shaken.
This viral quote appears to have been inspired by a passage from author Kurt Vonnegut’s 1963 novel “Cat’s Cradle.”
“I can’t remember what all Frank had fighting in the jar that day, but I can remember other bug fights we staged later on: one stag beetle against a hundred red ants, one centipede against three spiders, red ants against black ants. They won’t fight unless you keep shaking the jar. And that’s what Frank was doing, shaking, shaking the jar.”
The earliest iteration that we could find of this viral message comes from an Oct. 3, 2020 Facebook post. That version did not credit Attenborough or provide any links directing to any sort of studies about red and black ants in a jar. Other posts from this time also credited an “unknown” or “anonymous” source. Attenborough’s name wasn’t attributed to this post until several months later.
We have not been able to find any credible sources attributing this quote to Attenborough. And while we have found plenty of videos of Attenborough talking about ants, we have not found anything specifically about red ants and black ants co-existing in a jar until someone shakes it.
Attenborough’s “Empire of Ants” can be viewed below:
It is relatively common on social media to see a famous person’s name erroneously attached to a quote from a lesser-known or anonymous author. This appears to lend credibility to the writing, which in turn leads to an increase in shares.