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Rewinding past more than one hundred years of history, to early U.S. military adventures in Central America, and then fast-forwarding back again, produces a parallax effect—bringing political and economic forces that have shaped the ecology of Panama into sharp relief. As the Smithsonian’s field station on Barro Colorado Island became a key institution supporting the fledgling discipline of ecology, certain categories of people were excluded from the social world of this new science. Social separation was naturalized among humans even as ecological entanglements were discovered. This research station became a backdrop for studying insects, an ant called Ectatomma ruidum, which refuses to make categorical distinctions between enemies and allies. Ectatomma ants are entangled in a “distributed, or full-matrix, network in which there is no center and all nodes can communicate directly with all others.” Worker ants move among colonies like cells of a superorganism running wild.

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