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Archive for August, 2011

Ants are a nuisance when they create ugly piles of sand on my patio.  The perfect opportunity to decrease their population came the other day when I moved the umbrella stand in my backyard. I found a colony of ants had formed underneath its concave bottom.

I was so fascinated by these ants that I sat watching them for almost an hour. Thousands of ants swarmed in a seemingly helter-skelter fashion. But it was a matter of minutes before the crisis I had created had been taken care of by the ants, and all their pupae were safely tucked away.

I thought about how the ants worked and wondered how we, as humans, could learn from them in how they dealt with this crisis.

Four Lessons

1. The ants recognized immediately that they were in a crisis situation.  Unlike some humans are having trouble seeing the changes and the ecological hazards that we face. In the ant world, there was no denial that their colony was being exposed to air, sunlight, and possible predators.

2. Second, they acted without delay.  I saw no ants dithering.  (Come to think of it, I’ve never really seen a sedentary ant.)  Ants don’t have long-winded conferences, write equivocal reports, undertake yet more research or write unenforceable policy. They act.

3. Third, the ants communicated well.  An important mode of communication is through pheromones — chemical receptors in their antennae pick up the pheromones, that communicate warning, mating, marking trails, etc.  Ants send out no false or misleading communications.  It’s understood by all.  It seems human communication is still evolving.  New media are increasing our amount of communication, but is it creating greater understanding among us?

4. Finally, the ants knew they couldn’t act alone.  All worker ants were engaged.  Individualism is not a possibility with these social insects.  In our societies, we often value uniqueness, but our need to be different sometimes get in the way of our working together.

No analogy is perfect. Our crises are more complex than that of the one I created for the ants, and we have billions of

Swarm of Ants in my Yard

individuals on earth, not thousands.   But recognizing  our crises, acting promptly, communicating  clearly and honestly and acting together are all ways we need to improve our response to the environmental problems we face today.

Ants, with their advanced societal ways deserve respect:  I’ll let them hang around as long as they want in my backyard.

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