Bacon's Rebellion

Demon Ants from Hell

Ant superhighway

This morning I was taking a standard tourista photo of some exotic rain forest foliage when I absent-mindedly planted my foot on a plot of sand about a foot in diameter. It looked harmless enough, and I paid it no mind as I aimed and clicked my camera. Suddenly, I felt a sensation as if a stinging nettle were wrapping itself around my right foot. I looked down and found a dozen tiny red ants roaming over my toes and metatarsal. The bitty bastards were attacking me!

I moved away and shook them loose. I could see that the sand was swarming with the little varmints.

I’ve never encountered the likes of this in Virginia.

In his latest book, “The Meaning of Human Existence,” E.O. Wilson wrote briefly out the highly structured social lives of ants. The leafcutter variants of ants, he observed, shared the distinction with humans as being the only creatures on the planet that cultivated another species for food. Workers chew off pieces of leaf from a particular plant (the identify of which eludes me) and carry them back to their colony. Underground, the leaf fuels the growth of a fungus that the ants eat. As it turns out, the ants that bit me were that kind of ant. These ants have evolved highly sophisticated social behavior.

Before: nothing much to see here, just a patch of sand.

The Belizean leafcutters I encountered had blazed pathways the width of a bicycle tire track from their colony to nearby trees.  These trails are like ant highways. Interstate 95, you ain’t seen nothing! If you get down on your hands and knees for a close inspection, you can see the little demons racing in both directions, many of them bearing bits of leaf 20 or 30 times their size. I don’t think they even pay taxes.

After: Poke the colony with a stick, and the swarm will take out your foot in the blink of an eye.

Such ant colonies are found all over in Belize. In addition to being far more ilndustrious than our fat, lazy American ants – they surely would surely perform work in the United States that our ants wouldn’t want to do — Belizean ants are furious warriors. Try swiping a stick across the placid top of an ant colony, and see what happens. Instantaneously, a swarm of hundreds of ants will boil out of the ground to defend the homeland.

I don’t know if my metaphor is anatomically correct, but I do feel safe in saying that Belizean ants kick American ant ass. If we want to make America great again, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.

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