By Ted Blankenship
I have read that ants are beneficial insects. Entomologists say that’s because they get rid of bits of food lying around the house and decaying organic matter outside.
I’d like ants better if they were beneficent elsewhere. The ants that invade our house might be more welcome if they came in smaller groups. But they bring their ant friends and relatives.
Even that I could tolerate if they just did their job. But they aren’t satisfied. They insist on crawling down your back and into your shoes and socks. And even the tiny ones can inflict an annoying sting.
In many ways, ants are like people. Lewis Thomas, physician and author, said they’re so much like human beings, they’re nearly an embarrassment.
“They farm fungi,” he said, “raise aphids as livestock, launch armies into war, use chemical sprays to alarm and confuse enemies, capture slaves, engage in child labor, exchange information ceaselessly. They do everything but watch television.”
Actually, I wouldn’t put it past an ant or two watching CNN on our TV while rummaging around looking for a human extremity to bite.
This could all be dismissed as part of the natural order of things. We share the globe with insects. The Smithsonian estimates there are some 10 quintillion individual insects alive. That’s 10 with 18 zeros. There are 8,800 species of ants, many of them annoying us by streaming into our houses uninvited.
Anyone who has been on a picnic knows at least some ants will come even if they don’t bring any food. Not only that, but if they don’t like the food or they think you’re sitting where they want to be, they’ll bite you.
Yet, we admire these tiny pests because they are industrious and a lot stronger than we are in relation to their size. They can carry more than 50 times their own weight. If a human had the same ability, a 170-pound man could carry 4.25 tons. Even if a human could carry such a load, where would he or she put it? Maybe on an ant.
One thing I suppose we can admire about ants is their work ethic and community cooperation. In Costa Rica, I saw long lines of ants in the rain forest carrying bits of leaves. They never stopped doing it, so there must have been a very large pile of leaves somewhere.
Depression-era film star Marie Dressler wasn’t all that impressed. “If ants are such busy workers,” she said, “how come they find time to go to all the picnics?
The answer is that there is the chance that a crumb or two of deviled eggs and baked beans will get spilled.
Besides, picnickers often sit on blankets in the grass, and an observant ant can easily find something to bite. I am not an ant, but if I were, I would think biting someone who otherwise would hog all the food would be very satisfying.
Contact Ted Blankenship at firstname.lastname@example.org.