Entomologists study insects. Ants are insects that leave chemical trails to and from food sources or other events. These chemical trails can guide other ants in their colony, for instance, to return to food. Biologists call such signaling chemicals pheromones. This comic uses the word chemtrail as a shortening of chemical trail. Cueball is intentionally conflating ant chemical trails with chemtrails, the subject of a fallacious conspiracy theory that the government controls the population by spraying toxic or mind-/body-transformative chemicals from high altitude aircraft.
That myth may be partly based on the practice of cloud seeding, which uses chemical flares containing silver nitrate to attempt to increase precipitation, on studies of chemical mind control among ants, or on the effects of the common parasite toxoplasma gondii on cats' prey. Despite occasional conflation, chemtrails are distinct from "contrails," short for "condensation trails," which are cloud-like lines in the sky created by airplane engines. Such linear cloud formations only sometimes arise from temperature and pressure disturbances of the passing engines, rather than any deliberate release, but are highly visible in the right conditions under flightpaths, and may have the appearance of "spraying" action. Vapor nucleation is central to both cloud seeding and contrails. People sometimes attempt chemical manipulation of unwitting people in small areas (such as scent-based marketing, commercial space scent utilization, or wearing scented products.) There is very little evidence that sophisticated mind control posited by chemtrail conspiracists is possible, even after extensive research.
Ponytail is an entomologist, studying chemically mediated cooperative ant navigation. Cueball knows she will be annoyed when he tells her, "So, I hear you're really into chemtrails?" Indeed, he gets the reaction he hoped for when she objects strongly and rejects this with a loud, "No!!" The choice of terminology is often a sore spot for those who study a particular field in depth, for example entomological discussions of "slave-making" in socially parasitic species. Randall writes in the caption that such misuse is how to annoy people like Ponytail.
The title text humorously contrasts individual ants instinctively deciding how the whole colony behaves by using chemicals to indicate routes to food or dangers to motivate the colony to react to their individual experiences, with the human fear of loss of personal independence by being regulated by otherwise disconnected ruling elites, as depicted in the ant/technology interaction speculative fiction-themed "Infrared" music video by the alt-rock band Placebo.
Ants are a recurring theme, as are those who study them. See for instance 638: The Search which specifically deals with ants' pheromone trails or 1610: Fire Ants. Chemtrails were also the subject of 966: Jet Fuel, 1677: Contrails, and were mentioned in 1803: Location Reviews. This comic has a similar format to 2036: Edgelord: a simple one-panel interaction consisting of a (likely deliberate) misuse of a term in regards to a professional's work, followed immediately by the professional's upset outburst, and Randall's caption spelling out "How to annoy" the professional. Both seem related to Randall's hobbies, as he seems to think a lot about how to annoy specific groups of people, perhaps in an attempt to minimize annoyances.
- [Cueball stands talking to Ponytail, who has her arms raised and has small lines above her head to indicate annoyance.]
- Cueball: So, I hear you're really into chemtrails?
- Ponytail: No!!
- [Caption below the panel:]
- How to annoy entomologists who study ant navigation
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Ants navigate by following trails of chemicals on the ground, so it is technically a correct description, but also lumps ant navigation entomologists with conspiracy nuts.--NyanSequitur (talk) 16:01, 3 August 2022 (UTC)
- The point is that scientists don't call these trails "chemtrails". Cueball has made that mistaken link. Barmar (talk) 16:05, 3 August 2022 (UTC)
I must say that the title-text made me laugh out loud the most. (Also, though I'm sure there's no direct or even impliable link, made me fondly recall Aunt Hillary in Gödel, Escher, Bach, where she does not control or particularly care for her ants and they don't pull her strings in any way that they 'care' about.) 22.214.171.124 16:26, 3 August 2022 (UTC)
- But doesn't the queen spread pheromones that control the whole population, and she is not outside thus not affected by the trails left by her workers. So it is not actually so with ants, wasps, bees and termites that they are actually mind controlled by chemicals released by their government? If I'm right the title text is completely wrong on all levels. --Kynde (talk) 07:33, 4 August 2022 (UTC)
- Obviously the queen can't be directly affected by signals left outside the nest, but equally, workers outside the nest can't be affected by signals from the queen (except inasmuch as they are mediated by other members of the colony). And the queen's behaviour can be modulated by pheromones released inside the nest - such as increasing or decreasing fertility, or changing the pheromones she releases in response. Ultimately, the queen, like any other ant, can only influence the behaviour of those around her, and only does so in response to signals she herself receives - not in some kind of command control, dictatorial way. 126.96.36.199 09:07, 4 August 2022 (UTC)
- While the Queen ant has a name that denotes government, and the other ants bring her food, she does not really govern the ants, and the name is about the size and "majesty" of the large ant, not about its control over the others. The "intelligence" of the ants is in the ways the ants leave their chemical trails, and the remarkable outcomes that result from simple rules. If there is a mistake/fudge for comedy, it is that the chemical trails ARE the government of the ants.188.8.131.52 21:30, 5 August 2022 (UTC)
- "...of the ants, by the ants, for the ants, shall not perish from the - ARGH! A MAGNIFYING GLASS!!!" 184.108.40.206 23:22, 5 August 2022 (UTC)
Can't quite remember which, but I think there was another comic formatted like this. 220.127.116.11 17:46, 3 August 2022 (UTC)Nafedalbi
- It was 2036, the one about graph theory Ph.Ds. 18.104.22.168 18:00, 3 August 2022 (UTC)
Does the caption have any relation to 2609:_Entwives? I came to this explainxkcd page after reading the comic because I am not familiar with the word "entomologists". I hope somebody who knows the word can add a paragraph about the caption. --Batterystaple (talk) 07:30, 4 August 2022 (UTC)
- No, as you can see from the explanation entomologists is one who study insects and this word has been used before in xkcd for that meaning. Nothing to do with Ents. --Kynde (talk) 07:34, 4 August 2022 (UTC)
Do we need new categories for ants and for chemtrails? I found three other with chemtrails, added to the explanation and I think there is a bunch of ants comics. Added one with an ant researcher as here. --Kynde (talk) 07:33, 4 August 2022 (UTC)
- I have quickly went through all comics in Category:Animals and below is a rather long list of ant related comics. If they are not front and center ant focused i specify in brackets where the ants are mentioned. 68: Five Thirty (bottom right panel, warning sign with picture of an ant), 638: The Search, 915: Connoisseur (Cueball: But that's true of anything! Wine, house music, fonts, ants,..), 1350: Lorenz (ant colony attack), 1608: Hoverboard (in the Star Destroyer were Cueball is talking to a giant ant queen), 1610: Fire Ants, 2654: Chemtrails. Ants in comics that are not in animal category: 826: Guest Week: Zach Weiner (SMBC) (Anti-matter: Matter that is more than 50% ants.), 1525: Emojic 8 Ball/List of emoji (ant is one of the used emojis), 1506: xkcloud/Table of Permalinks ("Why are there ants on my face?!" and other lines mentioning ants), 2131: Emojidome (Round 1 was ant vs bug), 2246: Christmas Presents (indirectly mention by indirectly speaking about "zombie ant fungus"). I have also seen at least 6 comics that explicitly mention entomology or entomologists: 1012: Wrong Superhero, 1904: Research Risks, 1991: Research Areas by Size and Countedness, 2466: In Your Classroom and also 1610: Fire Ants and 2654: Chemtrails from the ants list, maybe that's also enough for its own Biology subcategory, Mycology with 7 comics already has one. CryptoNut1269 (talk) 10:12, 5 August 2022 (UTC)
Regarding , there's no need for a trivia section, just put those four links in otherwise empty squarebrackets after the first sentence of that paragraph. 22.214.171.124 11:21, 4 August 2022 (UTC)
"Whether ant-gland secretion signalling is Turing-equivalent was explored in Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid" and the Placebo video are trivia, but reasons explaining why the term may be annoying are speculation. 126.96.36.199 11:37, 4 August 2022 (UTC)
As far as I can tell, there are three (possibly four) separate editorships that have tried to impose changes to the article in parallel, more or less. Individually quite sensible (I don't agree completely with all of them, but we're no hive-mind so of course I needn't!) but has created a strange flurry of upheavel. I'm certainly not fighting all my own hills. - Though note that I particularly dislike inexplicable bare-ed references in this context, especially if it results in  type reflinks interupting the flow. I'd rather like to make context-labelled inline links, as part of a proper sentence, for as many holdovers as we can anong those we end up with. But later, maybe. 188.8.131.52 12:10, 4 August 2022 (UTC)
- Those trivial and speculative links to ant navigation sources were silly. 184.108.40.206 12:32, 4 August 2022 (UTC)
- I thought so at first, but someone seemed determined that they'd return (from my excisement) so I did the Trivia thing on their behalf, which yet another person decided was a Speculation and then I observed a full-on-battle between multiple editorships. I'm not sure your removal (I assume, without yet checking you're referencing what I think you are) will stay removed. But not by my hand.
- Incidentally: a number of times I see "grammar" as an edit summary when it's just a rephrasing between two different perfectly valid grammatical forms (<- just the latest example of many, over the years, not at all picking on that as the 'worst'). Acceptable change, but wrong reasoning. Just sayin'... Not batting for either side on these debates, but can't help being a spectator. 220.127.116.11 12:42, 4 August 2022 (UTC)
I want to discuss this, which I just removed from the Trivia section: "Chemical signalling for mind control is depicted in the ant-technology interaction speculative fiction-themed rock music video by the band Placebo entitled "Infrared."" While the video is on-topic because it shows a technocratic, plutocratic, or oligarchical conspiracy being toppled by ants, does it depict any chemical signalling? There is a chemical ligand shown at one point, but is that part of a signalling process, an epigenetic effect (the ligand is shown attached to nucleic acid), some other physiological process such as a pharmaceutical study, or just an analytical study unrelated to the wealthy conspirators' propaganda efforts, which are shown as primarily electronic? 18.104.22.168 12:43, 4 August 2022 (UTC)
- Yes, seemed a stretch of logic to me, just from the link description. Was going to view it – in case it was a Rick Roll or something – but others seemed to confirm it at least wasn't that as it got shuffled around in and out of various contexts. Shall I just say that it's potentially interesting but probably not requisite to understanding the comic, with so much more obvious Explanation stuff. I'm sure I'll enjoy watching it later. 22.214.171.124 12:50, 4 August 2022 (UTC)
- I put it back in its most recent form with a comment about this discussion. It's certainly on topic, but it's not necessarily about chemical signalling. Watch it with captions on mute if you find hard eurochem glam rock annoying. 126.96.36.199 12:59, 4 August 2022 (UTC)
- I restored the speculative trivia links, and removed the tentative comment. 188.8.131.52 17:57, 4 August 2022 (UTC)
- I have removed the speculative... It is a trivia section. The phrasing is already indicating it is speculative. --Kynde (talk) 06:33, 5 August 2022 (UTC)
I think that a new category should be created for the results of https://explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php?search="How+to+annoy". Who could help with that? Maofgf (talk) 06:24, 9 August 2022 (UTC)