Who first talked about ‘black and red ants in a jar’? Not Mark Twain and not David Attenborough


AFP Fact Check

David Attenborough wrongly linked to false online claim about ‘black and red ants in a jar’

Published on Friday 29 October 2021 at 12:33Updated on Friday 29 October 2021 at 12:40

Multiple experts also explained that the scenario described in the posts is inaccurate. 

Entomologist from James Cook University, Associate Professor Lori Lach, told AFP that regardless of whether you shake a jar containing two species of ants, they will likely be aggressive toward each other. 

“The level of aggression will vary with species (there are over 15,000 named ant species, so there would be variation), how frequent the contact is, and how long they have been separated from the rest of their colony, but it’s highly unlikely that “nothing would happen”,” she explained. 

“We would also expect to see aggressive behaviour with ants of the same species from two different colonies. Even though they look identical to us, the ants can “smell” outsiders,” Loch said on October 28, 2021. 

Professor of Entomology from University of California Davis, Philip S. Ward, told AFP the post “sounds dubious” and said that he was not aware of experiments pitting black ants and fire ants against each other in a jar.

“If you place ants of different species in a jar, they will generally behave aggressively to individuals of the opposite species, regardless of whether the jar is shaken or not,” Ward told AFP on October 23, 2021. 

“This behaviour is mediated by smell: ants of different species, and even those from different nests of the same species, present a different “bouquet” of odours, and ant workers usually behave aggressively to those who smell different,” he said. 





The Only Footage of Mark Twain in Existence

This silent film footage was taken in 1909 by Thomas Edison at Mark Twain’s estate

Rose Eveleth

Contributor August 6, 2012

In the long tradition of awesome people hanging out with each other, this is a video of Mark Twain made by Thomas Edison. In fact, it’s the only footage of Twain that we know of.

The film is silent, and that’s how Twain will remain to history – sadly, no recordings exist of the famous author’s voice. But it’s not for lack of trying on Twain’s part. In 1891 Twain attempted to dictate his novella “An American Claimant.” But after burning through 48 wax cylinders in the phonograph, he gave up. Those 48 cylinders are now lost. He tried again in 1909 at Edison’s lab, but those recording were lost in a 1914 fire.




Snopes Fact Check

Did the ‘Black and Red Ants in a Jar’ Quote Come from David Attenborough?

This ant quote gets shared one by one, hoorah? Hoorah?

Dan Evon

Published Jun 8, 2021


Naturalist David Attenborough once said: “If you collect 100 black ants and 100 red 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.”



Misattributed About this rating


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.    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.

By Dan Evon

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.



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