Everything entomologically wrong with the Ant-Man trailer.

Ant-Man is one of the nerdiest of superheroes. He’s an entomologist who shrinks down to the size of an insect, and uses ants to do his bidding. To someone who knows about insects this is kind of terrifying. Ants are extremely tough insects, and they work together to bring down prey thousands of times their size.

So in general, I like Ant-Man.

That doesn’t mean I’m willing to overlook the stuff that’s entomologically wrong with the trailer, though.

1.) Shrinking and growing.

Shrinking and growing are extremely difficult, despite what Ms. Frizzle might tell you. Basically, you can either do it by adding molecules or removing molecules. Insects which are super-tiny actually have adaptations to make them this small, so it’s not a matter of simple scaling. If you’re a mammal, you have to deal with a larger surface-body ratio. This means that heating your body would be a lot more difficult, and that you’d lose water a lot faster.

You could also make the molecules bigger or smaller…but I’m sure there are problems with the physics of that as well.

2.) Riding ant alates

Alates, the winged reproductive forms of ants, don’t really have a lot of colony functions. After they develop they hang around the colony, and wait for the right time of year to emerge. This means that they really don’t play a large role in any colony social interactions…and that Ant-Man would be stuck riding a taxi for most of the year.

3.) The wing venation is all wrong

Comparison of wing venation of Camponotus and...whatever ant Ant-Man is riding. Picture of Camponotus courtesy of Mardon Erbland, original from BugGuide.net.
Comparison of wing venation of Camponotus and…whatever ant Ant-Man is riding. Picture of Camponotus courtesy of Mardon Erbland, original from BugGuide.net.

If you compare the wings of the ant Lang (presumably) was riding in the preview, to those of an actual ant, you’ll notice that ant wings have a lot fewer veins. Instead, the veins on the ant Ant-Man is riding look a lot more like Neuropteran wings than those of ants.

As mentioned earlier, it’s only the reproductives in ant colonies that have wings. As a family, ants don’t have as much venation as the lacewings and their relatives.

Also, the antennae shouldn’t be sticking out on top. They should be sticking out to the side, and should be a bit more elbowed. Geniculate, or elbowed, antennae are one of the important suite of characters which define ants.

I also can’t see a node between the thorax and the abdomen, which is another important character. This may have been obscured by the lighting and angles of the images, though.

The trailer isn’t terrible, however

Ant legs There are some parts the people who made the movie got right. The ants are divided into the proper sections of head, thorax and abdomen. The wings and legs also seem to be coming out of the right spots on the thorax…so they’ve got that going for them.

Oh, and the legs are also drawn right. Keeping track of all those parts is tough, and even I have to look at diagrams occasionally to remind me which parts are which.

I’m still looking forward to the movie, though.

When Ant-Man comes out, there are going to be a lot of entomologists looking forward to the movie. I’m still looking forward to it, though. I loved the Honey, I shrunk ______ series of movies. I was also disappointed to hear Rick Moranis had retired from acting, because that was one of the movies which made me realize insects were really cool.

A lot of the people you see in superhero movies are physicists or engineers…and this superhero is a pure entomologist who has a superpower which largely revolves around controlling a specific group of insects. I’m hoping this spurs an interest in entomology in 2015, and I’m excited to see if 2015 will be The Year of the Entomologist as a result!

So I think this movie will be a good thing for my field-as long as Hank Pym doesn’t start giving relationship advice.


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