June 20, 2010
Go to the ant, you sluggard, consider its ways and be wise.
— Proverbs 6:6-11
Ants give me the creeps. I don’t like them outside, and I really, really, really don’t like them inside. With their tiny feet crawling over everything, they make me feel itchy and dirty. Like cockroach dirty. We’ve never lived anywhere with roaches, but ants, oh yes. Ants traps are in the wells of 17 of our 25 windows and I am determined to kill any ant that dares to enter our home.
The Ohio State University Extension has a Fact Sheet on-line which lists 13 kinds of ants native to Ohio: Carpenter, Cornfield, Larger Yellow, Pharaoh, Pavement, Little Black, False Honey, Allegheny Mound, Lawn, Acrobat, Odorous House, the Thief Ant, and the Crazy Ant, which got its name because it runs around aimlessly.
Leave it to our good bureaucrats to illustrate these ants in black and white, all at the same size. I am no entomologist, certainly not someone who’s going to put an ant under a microscope for examination, so these drawings are useless to me. The subtle differentiations of eye sockets and whether the abdominal petiole has one node or two are meaningless when I’m about to crush an ant on the kitchen counter.
To me, all ants look like inventions of H. R. Giger, the designer who brought us the alien in “Alien,” a movie that played directly to my phobia: a giant mutant pincer-wielding creature which cannot be killed.
People who study ants find them fascinating. Older than dinosaurs, ants have existed at least 92 million years and were, most likely, the first insects to have a complex social structure and, again, were also likely the first animals to learn how to farm. They have antibiotics in their saliva. An ant can carry 10 to 20 times its body weight. They operate in a matriarchal society with a baby mama queen who can choose the sex and status of each egg she lays. Using a variety of pheromones and chemicals, ants even speak to each other; it’s how the queen bosses her minions.
Ants have a purpose. Depending on the type, they pollinate, aerate, control other inserts, manufacture soil, create habitats and provide food for other insects. Ants also serve as the final clean-up crew for dead animals as they carry away bits too small for other critters to bother with.
Like any of these facts make me less fidgety.
“We ants are runnin' the show! We're the lords of the earth!"
— Antz, the 1998 movie
Bert and Edward O. Wilson, authors of “Journey to the Ants: A Scientific Exploration,” estimated in 1994 that there are 9,500 species, so depending on where you’re reading this column, your ants may be differant than mine.
“Today, ants are the most populous living creatures on the planet with the largest biomass of any other animal.” That means if all the ants in all the world came together for a weigh-in, they’d be heavier than all the people on this earth, combined.
A pop-up factoid in Adam Ant’s “Goody Two Shoes” video exclaims that for every 1 person on earth there are 1 million ants. Another website gives an estimate of a quadrillion ants worldwide, more than the mileage to the nearest star. Here’s what a quadrillion looks like:
Two species of ants are included on the list of the world’s 10 most deadliest insects. At number 8 is the Siafu, the biting red ants of Africa. When food supplies become short, they leave the hill and form marching columns of up to 50 million ants, ravaging the countryside, obliterating everything in their path. “There have been reported cases of people—usually the young, infirm, or otherwise debilitated who could not escape—being killed and eventually consumed by them.”
Coming in at number 5 are fire ants which sting like a burn. When they swarm, they can be deadly; the fire ant has the highest poison to body mass ratio on the planet. I read that Sir David Attenborough made a film showing a single red ant taking down an African elephant with one bite. Three major species inhabit North America: the imported red fire ant is a pest in the southern United States; the black fire ant is found in a small area between Mississippi and Alabama; and the native fire ant lives in warm states such as South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana and Texas. All three can be harmful to humans and pets and should be avoided at all costs.
There go our vacation plans.
If ants are such busy workers, how come they find time to go to all the picnics?
— Marie Dressler.
Folks with a serious spiritual bent avoid stepping on ants, definitely decry pesticides, and don’t care if ants invade your house or kill your pet pachyderm. Ants are a form of life and that’s enough reason for them to exist, without our murderous intervention.
The Chinese believe ants have symbolic meaning, representative especially of the tireless and dutiful servant. As ants are always adapting, their unsinkable nature reminds us to not be discouraged, to be patient, persistent, to endure, and to continue our forward progress. We lazy humans should carry our own weight, work hard, be industrious, cooperate, conform to society.
Oh, please. Like life isn’t complicated enough? Now I must compare myself to an ant?