Monday, September 6, 2010

On Ants

I think ants are the most underrated animal in East Africa. Think about all the characteristics that draw us to the great mammals of Africa; you will find many of them in ants.  They are highly gregarious, immensely strong, active throughout the day, seen in larger groups than wildebeest, more efficient hunters than wild dogs, and hunt animals larger to their relative size than even lions. And above all, they are very easy to find.

When I first read Henry David Thoreau’s account of battling ants in Walden, I fell asleep. Eight years later, I too find myself endlessly watching the behaviour of ants, even when they seem to be doing nothing. I find the sight of a single ant struggling to drag an immense load back to its nest often worth a laugh. Not too long ago, I witnessed a group of soldier and warrior ants work together to bring down a spider at least ten times their individual size. For a moment I thought the ants couldn’t possibly overcome the spider’s eight massive (by ant standards anyway) legs, but within about 15 seconds, it was clear who the winner would be.

We have a lot to admire in ants. They work together, they stay in line and wait their turn, they work hard, and they are truly courageous; they always risk their own safety for the greater good. More than that, they are useful to humans. Most visitors to the East Africa savannah learn how the Maasai use certain types of ants as stitches by allowing the ants to bite the skin over the wound and then pinching the ants' heads off. But fewer visitors are familiar with the East African Cleaning Service. A 100% free-of-charge service to homeowners and renters alike, the EACS will come periodically and unexpectedly to clean out your home. Upon arrival, residents need only vacate the premises for a couple of days and when they return, their home will be spotlessly clean. What's not to love about house cleaning ants?

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