December 13, 2017

Inside the Anthill


Sitting on the porch the other day watching the clouds roll by, I felt something tickling my leg. There was an ant making his way up my lego.

Not wanting to appear rude by just brushing him off or smashing him to a pulp, I said, “Hi there, Mr. Ant. Where are you going in such a hurry?”

Imagine my surprise when he answered me, “Oh, hello. I’m looking for ant food. You don’t happen to have any ant food, do you?”

“Well,” I replied, “now that you mention it, I don’t even know what ants eat.”

He stared straight into my curious eyes.  Suddenly a look of impatience came over his face. “That’s the trouble with you humans!” he complained. “You go about your business always worrying about what you want to do or where you have to go. Do you ever worry about the little guy? No! You’d just as soon walk right over us ants as pay us any attention! Things are going to change. Come with me!”

He reached up, took me by the hand and led me across the front yard to his anthill. “Now,” he said, “just follow me. Keep your mouth shut and you won’t get hurt.”

As he led me up to the entrance to the anthill, I suddenly realized that I had become very small. Small enough, in fact, to follow him into what had looked like a tiny hole on the top of the anthill. Now it looked like the entrance to a large tunnel.

My first impression was that everybody was moving very fast. Ants scurried here and there, each one moving as if he was late for an important meeting. I soon learned that in the ant world, everything moves fast.

We approached the guards at the checkpoint just inside the entrance to the anthill. My ant guide explained that I was an invited visitor and not an invader from another ant colony. As they let me pass, I was glad I had someone to vouch for me. Those guards looked like they were dead serious about protecting the hill. They were big, mean looking and could have crushed me like a bug.

Our first stop was the main hall.  This is a big room with lots of tunnels radiating off in every direction. If you want to get from anyplace to any other place in the colony, you have to pass through this room. You can imagine the amount of traffic a central crossroads like this handles.

Ants are very cordial, and always make it a point to greet each other as they pass. The entire main hall was abuzz with exchanged greetings. “Hi.” “Hi, howyadoin?” “Hey.” “Howdy!” “Wassup?” “Howz it goin? “Hi, buddy.” “Hey, ant.” “Hi.” “Good ta see ya.” “Yo!” On and on it went as ants came from everywhere and went off in every direction, each nodding and greeting all the others.

My guide took me down a tunnel to the ant school. Here, little ants are taught the ways of the world. Ants go to school through the fifth grade, then they graduate and take their place in the world of adults. We looked in on one classroom where the ant students were learning a foreign language. These little ones were learning to speak Honeybee. Just down the hall, we looked in on classes in Earthworm, Beetle, Fly, and Grasshopper. In the drama department, we saw a rehearsal for the school play, an original horror story written by one of the students. I don’t know how the play ended, but the scene I saw, had a big ant dressed in an anteater costume stomping around the room while the audience of student ants crouched behind their seats in fear.

Our next stop was the central dining hall. This place is operated like a cafeteria with a serving line and a big room full of tables where ants enjoy conversation while they eat. My host took me through the kitchen where we saw the cafeteria-lady ants preparing the food. They had several different types of leaves, which had been brought in by the foraging ants.

Preparing the meal consisted of chewing up a leaf until it reached the consistency of sticky goo, then spitting it into a serving vat where ants passing through the line could scoop it onto their plates. I declined an invitation to join my host for lunch.

A short walk out to the main hall and down another passageway took us to the industrial area where most of the ants work. By far, the largest number of ants in the community work in the manufacturing plants. Here they produce everything the ant families need to furnish their cozy little homes. I saw many examples of fine craftsmanship including everything from cute little ant toys to many different styles of ant furniture, including some old restored furniture – they called these “ant-eeks.”

The most impressive items they manufactured were little television sets. Each with its own antenna. No, they don’t call them “rabbit ears.”

A really interesting stop on my tour was the ant gym. You’ve probably seen an ant dragging something several times his own size across the sidewalk. Who among us hasn’t stared in wonder at the strength of the ant? This is no accident. I learned that all ants are required to participate in a rigorous regimen of fitness and strength training.

The last stop on our tour  was the library.  It wasn’t meant to be the last stop, but it turned out that way.  Here’s what happened. We went down the library tunnel to a big room with shelf after shelf of books. There were books on every subject an ant could want, from The History of Sugar to Famous Battles of the Wild Ants of Borneo to Aunt Anna’s Guide to Ant Genealogy – How Many Relatives Can YOU Come Up With?

Fascinated by all the strange titles, I opened a volume entitled Notable Anthill Architecture. This was the tiniest book I had ever seen. The pages were almost too small for my fingers to turn. Reading the teeny-tiny type was absolutely impossible.  So, I did what seemed natural to me, but turned out to be a disaster. I reached into my back pocket and pulled out a…Magnifying Glass.

Immediately my ears were assaulted by the sound of shrill alarms. A hundred ant hands grabbed me, wrestled me to the ground and dragged me off to the entrance of the anthill where I was unceremoniously thrown out the door. As I rolled down the anthill, I caught a glimpse of something flying out behind me. It landed beside me as I skidded to a stop at the bottom of the hill, there, smashed into a million pieces, was my magnifying glass with a note attached.

It read, “And STAY out, you worthless human brute!”

I realized, then, that I had broken a major rule of ant etiquette. Now, I sit on my porch with a new understanding and respect for ants.  I haven’t gone near an anthill since that eventful day. The very thought of going back there makes me…antsy.

See ya around,

Buck

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