No record of Sir David Attenborough talking about red and black ants in a jar

15 July 2021
What was claimed

An analogy about red and black ants in a jar and society was made by Sir David Attenborough.

Our verdict

There is no evidence Sir David ever made this analogy.

A post on Facebook, shared thousands of times, attributes an analogy about red and black ants in a jar to broadcaster Sir David Attenborough. 

“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. Red believes 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. Young vs Old. Etc… Before we fight each other, we must ask ourselves: Who shook the jar?” 

There is no evidence of Sir David ever having made this analogy. Full Fact can find no credible sources attributing this quote to the naturalist. 

We also couldn’t find any record online of an experiment of the nature described in the quote ever having been carried out. 

The quote has appeared elsewhere online, including on Facebook, without attribution to Sir David. It was also referenced, and directly attributed to Sir David, in an opinion article about prisons published in the Express and Star, and has been shared hundreds of times on Twitter

Fact checking service Snopes have also written about this quote, and found no evidence it had originated with Sir David. 

This is not the first time we have seen a quote incorrectly sourced to Sir David. Posts like these, where quotes are misattributed to public figures, are relatively common on social media.

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as false because it doesn’t appear that Sir David Attenborough ever made the comments attributed to him.

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