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Common Ants, AiNT so Common

Submitted by Albin Johnson - October 05, 2006

A recent LA Times newspaper article noted that scientists from the University of California--Irvine had discovered a new way to deal with those tiny home and garden invaders and emigrants from Argentina who have taken California by storm. Pesticides are in bad favor and not in everyone's cabinet for unwanted bugs. The professor's remedy was to treat the ants with a foreign scent that would cause the ants to attack each other. It should be noted that the athletic nickname used by Irvine is "the Anteaters"! Stay with me, it gets better.

Historians and "thinkers" have long made comparisons of ant colonies with human's desire to live in communities. Someone has noted that all the ants in the world would weigh as much as all humans. One estimate is that there are 35,000 ant species known and others believe there is at least twice that number yet to be found. All ant specie members live in colonies with at least one queen and immature sterile female workers and "occasional" males. The workers are characterized as having elbowed antennae and one or two abdominal segments. Ants can pose a health risk because they can transmit diseases. Many ants produce a toxin called "formic acid or formicadae" which can be secreted in to a wound.

Fire ants will attack small animals, chickens, piglets, and calves when disturbed and have been reported as attacking humans causing tremendous pain. Other red ants can damage crops and ornamental plants. Some have even been reported as damaging electrical equipment. White Carpenter Ants are a major group of ants that destroy structures by boring through wood. That other specie called Termites do eat wood, but their bodies are constructed differently from the Carpenter Ants.

Most ants live in hot climates. Their color ranges from green, red, brown, yellow, black and purple. The queen ants have wings at birth but will lose them after they fly off to start a new colony. As mentioned earlier, ants demonstrate qualities similar to humans. The ant has expertise in locating food. The ant can hunt, grow and gather food that they eat. Studies have found that different species of ants demonstrate distinctive behavior patterns such as carpenters, soldiers, seed and leaf cutters and gatherers, fungi growers and some ants observed as being beggars and thieves. Oh yes, ants sleep up to 7 hours a day.

Someone found that the ant brain has about 250,000 brain cells (how could they count them?) while the human brain has about 10 million plus! Ants live up to 45-60 days. The queen ant may live for many years. Man easily tops that with an average life of 75-80 years. Of course, ants have 3 times as many legs and twice as many stomachs. This knowledge helps me understand why they have twice raided my home in unbelievable numbers. The first came after I awoke and went down stairs only to see a ¾" wide strip of clambering ants reaching from under the front door, across the tile and carpet in the living room, across the kitchen tile and entering the cabinet where the garbage cans are stored. We chose the vacuum cleaner over the use of spray until they were safely in the bag. What a way to start the day! I must admit I really enjoyed destroying the colony. But, a few months later we found another ¾" wide strip of ants, this time exiting the wall heating ventilator, traveling across the ceiling of the family room and down the kitchen wall and cabinets into a bowl of fruit. Spraying was our only answer unfortunately as we then needed to scrub all areas. We, now place chemical inhibitors around the house foundation on occasion. I am sure most readers have their own horror stories to tell, as well as multiple methods for dealing with the little #%$@?&

On a lighter note, some young folks may remember "Adam Ant", an English pop singer circa 1980's whose real name was Stewart Goddard and who liked to be referred to as Mr. Ant! Perhaps more interesting are the animated motion pictures developed during the 1990's. Walt Disney Studios, Pixar and DreamWorks used computer generated cartoon characters in movies about ants. One was called "Army Ants", but was later reworked into the movie "ANTZ". The story was about an ant colony that spoke English, dubbed by Hollywood actors. The ants were forced to gather food for an army of grasshoppers. A circus group made up of larger insects rescued the ants. This movie was a favorite of mine because of the technical and artistic work by illustrators. Talk about a human quality! There were heroes and villains and some favorite music such as "I can see clearly now", "Almost like being in love" and "Give peace a chance" and "High Hopes". Another ant movie with a moral, I guess, was about a young boy who poured water down an anthill to disrupt the ants. It was titled, "The Ant Bully" and the boy was magically transformed into a tiny person who was introduced into the ant colony in order to see the havoc he had caused. I doubt that I did any crying in this one!

In closing, I wanted to mention how the computer has changed a profession I worked in for 8 years and then taught Technical Illustration for another 20 years. I must admit I despised the early computer when I witnessed a preview short movie of animated stick figures strutting and dancing in unison. The producers were hyping high paying jobs as computer graphic design artists and illustrators earning "big bucks". I could only remember that I started working in Aerospace for $3.00 an hour as an "Inker" developing technical manuals. Now I have a computer and write stories for no pay at all. Such is life!