Seed harvesting ants as a rule go about their business blissfully unaware of the gigantic world they inhabit or, more accurately, of their own relative tininess. The genetic drive to keep toiling is strong in ants, so it was a surprise when one worker, ignoring the pheromones of her sisters that signal a rich cache of seeds here or a request for trophallaxis there, stopped, looked up and didn’t budge. It was a mari nawi moment.
There was nothing uncommon about the day. In fact, the colony was riding flush on the discovery of a discarded sticky bun – it took two sisters just to get a sultana home, and it was a week before they even got started on the icing. The only thing that can be said for the day was that it was unseasonably hot: the sort of humid, stinking heat that the ants sometimes endured when a dog, muzzle frantically digging, became a little too curious in the nest.
That moment, though, toil ceased for that one ant. It was disruptive, it has to be said. Ant colonies aren’t organised haphazardly, and if E.O. Wilson were half the scientist he thinks he is, he would have realised that there are strict mathematical equations – golden ratios, for example – in play.
Written on Wednesday, 24 November 2010