Hominy & Hash
THERE'S A LOT TO LEARN - FROM ANTS
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- "There are certain things you learn by living long enough," my friend Johhny used to say, and I've learned how true that is. It only takes one sunburn for you to learn to wear sunscreen; it only takes one severe common cold for you to learn how you catch a cold; it only takes one tiring day to for you to learn what "dress comfortably" means; and, at times, it only takes one minute to learn how little you know, no matter how old you are.
I had this awakening while reading a book about ants to a five-year-old child who knew the book by heart - at that age they like to hear it over and over again. This was my first time. The book is "Those Amazing Ants" by Patricia Brennan Demuth. I read the first sentence twice, pausing between each reading just to comprehend what I'd read: "All the ants you see walking around are females - girl ants." I looked at the boy and he looked at me. He had no problem with that line while I was silently singing the song about the ant who moved the rubber tree plant ... because he had high hopes. He, the lyricist wrote "he."
The child was rushing me to the next page and I was musing over all I already knew about ants: if you step on one you better get rid of the carcass because the funeral will start any moment when a trail of the dearly departed's fellow ants arrive to carry "her" off with dignity. I knew that just by living long enough to have seen it a dozen or more time.
All the females are on the surface, with this being a boy/girl world, where were the males? Luckily, the book was beautifully illustrated and pictured what goes on down in the depths of ant holes, which at that very moment lined the area between lawn and driveway all around our yard. Close up drawings show little rooms dug out of dirt and all connected through a maze of tunnels.
If these ant holes leading to the ant homes are left undisturbed (and up until now never spared by me) they have rooms on many levels, sort of an apartment complex stretching horizontally, diagonally, more than vertically. These little creatures dig with their legs, I learned, and, although I might have surmised as much, the left-over dirt is what makes the anthill.
Content that I had discovered some interesting trivia, I turned still another page and learned more - all presented in language and drawings suitable for a five year old - but becoming more of a mind-boggling adventure for me. (What else do I not know about the world around me?) All the rooms, it turns out, have a special use. Sick ants go to a "sick room." Food is stored, quite logically, in a "pantry." I, myself, have seen a trail of ants marching (that's the only way to describe their deliberate progression toward a few crumbs), and watched them return in formation holding the tidbits overhead.
There's even a "nursery" and, of course, that would be for baby ants. (There are such things.) The most magnificent room is the Royal Chamber reserved for the queen.
It was at this point in my reading that I totally changed my mind about whom, or what, I'd want to come back as, should reincarnation be more than someone else's philosophy: I'd always said a cat, clean, svelte and independent, a commanding presence in any abode. Or, perhaps, a dog, with nothing to do but laze in the sun then roll over to have a loving master rub my belly.
Not any longer! If there's any coming back (and, of course, I really doubt it) I would like to be a queen ant. Every ant house has its own, its very own, queen. She's fatter than the other ants and has nothing to do but lay eggs all day. This is a noble rank among the other ants. She's waited on legs and feelers, they carry food to her and feed her, they vie for position to rub her back (it says "rub her back," oh, my). They take care of her bathing needs and these ants are very clean.
This queen doesn't even have to mind her babies - the other ants do that. Not all of them, just the designated baby-sitting ants who watch those babies all the time. The illustrations show the baby-sitters carrying the eggs to the nursery and watching over them while the eggs hatch. Then there are the tiny worms and finally adult ants. I love hearing words I can relate to and seeing pictures very much like the progression from fertilized egg to embryo to fetus to baby human. I can relate ... to ants!
It took me longer to absorb what I was reading than to finish the book. I was most taken, I believe, with the similarities to our species. When ants have filled the pantry with the food they garnered on their long hike, they do take naps. We might cozy up in a fetal position but ants curl their six legs and feelers underneath their bodies and go to sleep. When they wake up, believe it or not, they stretch and yawn just as we usually do.
There are thousands and thousands of kinds of ants. They all do something different. I've had a personal relationship with a "tribe" of carpenter ants that almost walked off with our back porch in Ohio. I learned in this read that some ants are music lovers and capture crickets to keep as pets to sing to them. (Well, that's what the book says, but you can't prove it by me.)
The only ants that ever truly bothered my were the ones who attacked me and mine without reason. We couldn't cross our lawn without having a bevy of red (fire) ants biting, biting, biting. The pain was worse than a bee sting, and harder to soothe. We were not disrupting their homes, they were attacking ours.
We waged war against these invaders, wiping our their entire population with two trips to the yard from the insect control experts. The lawn was back to its usual state, the "good" ants continue to live peaceably in the sandy edge between grass and driveway, while those vicious attackers are gone from the scene.20
Is there a moral here? If so, it's quite accidental, I promise. Yet, nevertheless ...