Fire ant gets its name from it’s powerful, stinging bite which apparently feels like fire. They use their mandibles to grip their victim (or prey!) and then inject venom using their stinger. They are small but they can be deadly (if you’re allergic to them) and to further teach us that size doesn’t matter, these tiny beings have huge economic consequences. As with many animals, they have found themselves transported across the world to places which are less than welcoming. As an aggressive, invasive animal they cause a lot of harm to their new habitats and huge efforts are made to eliminate them. Australia, for example, spends £20 million a year trying to get rid of them.
I’m going to look at ants more generally for the rest of the post.
Ants are amazing! I had an ant infestation in my bathroom last year so I know they aren’t great house guests but they are very persistent and definitely hard workers! They seem to be able to get everywhere and appear to come from nowhere.
In addition to being work focused, there are a lot of similarities to the bee; they are community focused, everyone has a role to play and the ants are devoted to their duties. Like the bee, the ant is an architect, creating an amazingly complex home. They even pull in help from others such as the species of ant which cultivates fungus to provide food and use their own antibiotic formula to control the growth of the fungus.
As with the bee, we will see that every little act, every role an ant takes on makes a difference and contributes to the strength of the community. Again, this super organism has a queen at it’s head, most workers are non reproducing females and the males of the ant world are essentially just sperm donors – they mate and then they die. Where do you feel you fit into the ant family right now? Maybe you are the queen ant, creating life and light and coordinating a major project or maybe you’re feeling a bit more like the male ant, that is, used for sex…
Ants may be annoying, especially during a picnic but there can be no doubt that they are essentially miniature superheroes!
One species of ant can stand upside down on a plate of glass and hold 100 times their weight without falling off. Apparently the key to their strength is their neck and the neck joint of a common field ant can withstand 5,000 times the ant’s weight (presumably not whilst also hanging upside from from a glass plate though!). The ant does not let its environment hinder it, if they need to they will use their own bodies to create structures eg ladders and bridges to overcome obstacles. They can, and often do, take on animals much larger than themselves and ants have even been seen carrying dead baby birds back to the ant nest.
You have within you much much more strength than anyone can imagine and probably much more than you will ever need.
Smelling the world
Their amazing life is mostly a result of their highly cooperative set up. In terms of finding food, scouts will head out to find a good source and leave a chemical trail behind them. Once they’ve found something tasty, they head back to the nest and strengthen the trail as they go. Depending on the species you may then have leaf cutter ants head out followed by transporter ants to bring the bounty home. The different roles are carried out by ants who have their own specialist adaptation for the job.
Without their amazing communication system they would probably fall into chaos, it is communication which makes the community work.
Which feels like a very applicable statement for human life. I hadn’t realised until just now that communication and community are linked right down to the actual word form. We should also ask ourselves what we could achieve if we worked together in a cooperative and organised fashion.
Also, note that the ant’s world is very much one of smell as opposed to our highly visual world. Maybe its a prompt towards scented candles or aromatherapy or just a reminder to us not to rely so heavily on our eyes for information.
Myths and folklore
We see the ant as a predictor in ancient Rome where Ceres used ant behaviour as divination and in a number of cultures, the ant is supposed to be able to to predict the weather.
In Cornwall it was unlucky to destroy an ants nest as ants were the souls of unbaptised children or faeries, as we’ll see later, the same was said to be true of frogs.
In a story from the Hopi Indians, we see that the ant has saved humanity not once but twice. Another reminder that size does not matter, especially when you work together.
In another myth, the bear and the ant are in conflict. Life is all darkness and this is hard for the ant who is always busy working – she can’t see what she’s doing. Bear liked the dark and accepted a contest from the ant thinking that she would clearly win any challenge against a feeble little ant… On the day of the dance off, there was a banquet of food. Bear ate happily but the little ant decided that she should not eat anything despite her hunger. As the contest went on, bear got fuller and fuller and sleepier and sleepier until she could no longer dance and thus the ant won. But ant is community minded and thus she made a deal with the bear, there would be light but it would be followed by dark and thus even now, we have day and night. I think it worked out well for the ant this way… her generosity means that she has night time to rest and isn’t working 24 hours a day… I don’t know if ants really care about day and night but my key message here is don’t work too hard!
The story of the ant and the grasshopper illustrates the ants diligence, patience, forethought and planning, all qualities which help the ant colony achieve their collective goals.
Given that we were looking at the fire ant, I would be tempted to take all these characteristics and essentially amp them up. For example, where ant may symbolise hard work, fire ant may symbolise working too hard and burning out.