Last Sunday afternoon, I spent an hour sitting on the edge of my deck watching some ants.
Until recently, I had an anthropocentric view of the world; one in which man was at the center of the universe. Now, I am not so sure. Perhaps ants are closer to the centre. Ants have a truly anthropic view of the world that goes beyond mere human view because they were here before us.
They have a complex social structure, and their teamwork efforts have been noted for years. Any day some management guru will publish a book applying the lessons of the ant world to corporate structure in the interests of increased efficiency and productivity. It will probably involve the concept of worker ants and queen ants.
You can figure out the rest.
Ants have a much longer history than mankind. Their origin dates back to antediluvian times. They have been found preserved in amber from the pitch of trees that lived tens of millions of years ago. Compared to our few thousand years of civilization, the ants have had a long time to figure out how to survive cosmic forces more ominous than man.
It’s hard to watch ants, especially when there are so many of them, all going in different directions. Tugging and pulling things through the grass, coming to the aid of their fellow workers with heavy loads, and scurrying off in all the directions that six legs allows them to do.
Lately, many of them are finding their way into the house. I was beginning to feel antagonized. I believe these complex little creatures have designs on converting the whole house into some kind of ant ante-room.
A kind of convenient rainy day shelter when the ant-hill is sodden with moisture.
For the longest time, I have been on the defensive, trying all kinds of anti-ant strategies. But those times should be considered my ante-bellum period. I have given up trying to trap them in dainty little ant-traps. They are wise to the trap, and only peek their heads in the hole, spot some trapped ancestor, and back out to continue on their way.
I had the same luck with the poison bait that they were supposed to carry back to the nest. Word gets around in the ant patch, and I think they developed some antidote, that allows them to lick the bait without adverse effects. In fact, they seem to seek the bait in anticipation. Perhaps future scientists will discover that ants can create some valuable antibiotics for us. Maybe even antihistamines.
Anyway, I was watching them in anticipation. The best defense is an offense. I was determined to find out where they lived. They already knew where I lived and, what’s more, told all their friends. I am not anti-human, but have been backed into a corner of anti-ant righteousness.
Watching them, I thought I might be able to discern some pattern of movement that would lead me to the anthill, to their leader, to their Queen. I would then rain on her castle a few liters of diesel fuel to inhibit their expansionary territorial thrusts. Leaving a few for the passerine birds, especially sparrows and songbirds, who sometimes deliberately put a few under their feathers to help rid themselves of other parasites.
Can you imagine such a high flying ant peeking out between the feathers to get his first aerial view of the world? Would he exclaim that his species look like, well, . . . like ants? The birds had learned to live in harmony with the ants, but I had not. The last thing I wanted was an ant in my armpit.
I soon discovered the ant freeway. Single lane, but with traffic in both directions. The ants were obviously using this single antway in both directions without any visible gridlock. I wondered, if the Trans Canada Highway were single lane, how effective we could move traffic. The antway was rutted and grooved where it meandered through the grass. How many millions of ant-steps must it take to make a visible rut through the grass? I followed the rutted antway to the Mother Lode of my intentions, or at least the Mother Ant. The one who gave the orders.
In an anti-pathetic frame of mind, I used the toe of my boot to scrape a tad of dirt off the top of the anthill. Within seconds, hundreds of worker ants had been mobilized to reconstruct the nest. The queen must be very decisive and powerful to issue orders that get instant response.
Such allegiance will not go un-noted by management guru’s. All for one, one for all.
I stooped down to study them more closely. The defiant little creatures were standing on their back legs like miniature grizzly bears, pawing the air with their antennae and forearms. Such spirit and bravado is hard to ignore. Would it be diesel fuel and death, or some more noble solution?
Instead of the diesel fuel, I set out decoys of sugar, hoping that would appease them, for now.
An anti-climatic solution for me, but one that I hoped would check the growth of this colony of ants and their ant-antics.
Paul Hemingson is a freelance writer who lives near Spruce View. His column appears every other week in LIFE. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.paulhemingson.ca