All I ever really needed to know in life I’ve learned from watching ants.
Today as I was eating my breakfast of meat empanadas and a cold-as-ice Coca-Cola, I partook in one of my favorite daytime activities: ant watching.
A battalion of fire ants was just starting to cut out a nest for themselves in an old locust hole near the foot of the table. As I munched on my scrumptious mix of bread, meat, onions, and savory juices of the very best kind, I watched as the little laborers got their day of long, hard work off to an early start.
The current task seemed to be to remove as much dirt as was possible from inside the hole and relocate it to a few inches outside the entry of the hole. The ants formed two distinct, neat lines; one for ants leaving the nest with chunks of earth, and one for the return crowd. There even sat near the edge of the entrance what was unmistakably an ‘overseer’ ant, who was slightly larger than the average laborer and seemed to be in charge of things. Whenever a wayward dirt-carrier would wander a bit too far out of line, the overseer, accompanied by two other larger ants (whom would appear out of nowhere) would go and fetch the silly lost worker and toss him back into line. Break’s not until noon!
I tried an experiment; blocking the hole with various objects such as pebbles, leaves, and cigarette butts, I observed the reactions of the tiny little tinkers.
The initial response was of course, panic. The neat little lines broke their form, and ants were running about aimlessly in all directions; there was nothing the Overseer and his two bouncers could do now. I even spotted one ant running rather pointlessly around in circles for several minutes without stopping (The Krusty Krab Training Video, Part 5: Emergency Situations.)
Eventually, order was restored. The foreign object was always removed, sometimes with the co-operation of fifteen or more ants at the same time! Minutes afterward, the monotony of dirt excavation always continued.
Another experiment: what would be the ant reaction to a fallen comrade from the same colony? Using my enormous, sausage-like human fingers, I kidnapped and killed one of the wayward workers before the Overseer could get to him; it was probably his third strike anyways. I lay his broken body near the line of outgoing workers and watched.
Almost immediately, an ant broke away from the line and began to sniff at him with his little antennae; without a moment’s hesitation, he hefted his fallen comrade into his jaws and brought his maimed body back into the nest. There was then one of two things that could happen:
There would be a pleasant ceremony in Chamber 5 for all the family members of the slain (but valiant) labourer. Those in the front few rows would be of the immediate family, and would be appropriately upset. Weeping Mother, Thousand-Mile-Stare Father, little brother who’s just old enough to understand, and little sister who’s too young to understand anything and keeps spitting up on Weeping Mother’s black dress. The back few rows would of course be reserved for distant relatives, (how did we know him again?) who’ve only come because their Mum dragged them here, even though they were right in the middle of something, such as larvae bingo or some nonsense. The ant priest would go on and on about how great a contribution the fallen made to the colony, even though everyone knew he was actually rather lazy, for an ant. Due to the grievous nature of the injuries, an open casket wouldn’t be advisable.
He would be eaten.
I’d like to think that the former is true, but of course in all actuality it’s probably the latter.
My last experiment was to block off the hole entirely. Using a large pebble, I wedged it soundly into the ant entry way. I expected the ants to dig another entrance around it, but was soon amazed. After fifteen minutes or so of useless running about on the part of the ants stranded outside, they soon reformed into a group and formed a circle around a small, seemingly insignificant pile of pebbles a few feet away. Soon, they began excavating. Tiny little fire ants were moving stones easily fifty times their weight, eventually clearing them away to reveal a carefully concealed emergency exit. It had been there all along, just in case!
I’ll admit to damning the name Fire Ant to hell on many occasions in my life, but that was only when they were in my socks. I must say I have a healthy amount of respect for the little fellows.
I think if ants were people they would definitely be communist. Think about it: every ant works hard for the benefit of not only himself, but for the common good of the colony; each ant has a specific job, i.e. worker ant, soldier ant, nursery ant; and the ant colony clearly runs off of the One-Party System: The Queen.
Maybe if humans ran things like ants do (at least on a social level?) things would run a lot smoother. Granted, there would be some inconsistencies, such as humans not being able to have 500 children a day, but we could figure that one out. Additionally, we don’t live underground (yet.)
Just take one good look at the success of the ant as a species in general: able to survive in nearly any climate possible in nearly every place on earth, the ant certainly outnumbers the human a billion to one, perhaps even more. And I’ll wager that if you took the combined mass of all the ants in the world with the combined mass of all the humans in the world, the ants would be hugely heavier. While we rule the surface world in some places, the ant dominates the underworld in nearly every place.
It’s just a thought.
Maybe the answer to humanity’s social structure dilemma isn’t in a distant future of perfect genetically engineered people or some silliness like that…maybe it’s under our feet, scurrying up and down our walls, stealing our flour, chopping leaves off our Mum’s rosebushes.
Sleep on it.
Edit: After writing this, I went back to check on the ant nest to see how they were doing. Turns out, when the ants were unearthing their ‘emergency exit,’ it wasn’t their emergency exit at all…it was that of another nest! Reinforcements had arrived from the home colony after my pebble had been easily tunneled under.
The war was violent and destructive, cost millions of civilian casualties, and went on for hours (that’s what, 104 months in ant years?) Maybe we do act like ants after all.