Ants are a lot like people in some ways

Published 7:13 am Monday, February 9, 2004

By Staff
Kids these days really have it made. I know this gets said a lot, but it's the truth. They have it made, and then some.
I walked in on my two grocery killers yesterday afternoon, and they were talking about how they might spend the evening. Their conversation went something like this,
My daughter Alison responded, "My boyfriend Dave is coming over to get me. We're going to a video arcade, then head out to the mall."
Sure is a far cry from the entertainment activities I had available to me when I was growing up in suburban Juliette. Coming of age there, you really had to get creative when thinking up ways of entertaining yourself. In fact, one of my most vivid memories of this came when my brother Ernest and I began an ant war.
You heard me right -- an ant war. They're really not that hard to do, once you get the hang of them. Let me explain a little further.
I guess I was eleven or twelve, and my brother Ernest maybe ten when we found ourselves late one summer afternoon wandering around in our cow pasture. After kicking around for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, my brother stumbled into this big old mound of red ants. They weren't fire ants or anything, just plain ole red ants. After watching them scamper around for a few minutes, we moved on. We hadn't gotten fifteen feet further when we discovered yet another hill, this one full of black ants. Ernest, who knew lots about nature, told me that the sparks would fly if those black ants bumped into those red ones.
I asked, "What do you mean, the sparks would fly?"
He replied, "Edward, two opposite tribes of ants like that will fight to the death if they meet up with each other. And you figure with two big hills like those, it'd be an out and out ant war if they discover each other."
My mind started racing, and I wanted to see if he was right. I asked him, "Ernest, any way we can help that war get started?"
He smiled, nodded, and walked over to a honeysuckle vine loaded with blossoms. Pulling a piece off, he handed it over to me and said, "Just swish it around in that red ant hill."
I figured there was nothing to lose, so I walked over and brushed those blossoms all around that hill. It didn't take any time before red ants covered those flowers.
When they were full, Ernest said, "Now, air lift our troups over to the black ant hill."
I did exactly that. I walked over and put that honeysuckle stem right down into that black ant hill.
Ernest turned out to be one hundred percent right. The red ants came off the stem and immediately started fighting the black ones. It was all very exciting, but the black ants had greater numbers, so the red ants started wearing down. When Ernest noticed that, he ordered me to airlift even more red ants. So I did, going back and forth several times with reinforcements.
It did the trick. The red ones slowly overtook the black ones, and finally they evacuated their own hill. The red ants had won.
Ernest and I left feeling pretty satisfied, and over the next several weeks we had even more ant wars.
Before long, red ants were all over the place, and the black ones had all moved to a singular new hill. And then one day, the strangest thing happened. We noticed the black ants had taken over a couple of the red ant hills on their own. Ernest said that happened because the red ants were strung out all over the place, had too much ground to cover, and the black ones hit them when they were weakest. It made perfect sense, and I had to agree with him.
And then it hit me that those ants were behaving a lot like people do -- we seem to have our worst problems when we're too spread out, and then we have to pay the price, just like those red ants did.
I wonder if my kids learned anything like that at the video arcade last night.

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