Monday, December 17, 2007

Let’s Talk About Ants

(From my old multiply account)

They were high on my list of annoying vermin, right up there with mice and rats. In my old apartment back in the day, you couldn’t leave food on any flat surface for five minutes without a swarm of red ants descending on- and systematically dismantling- your snacks for transport to the nearest colony.

It drove me nuts.

You couldn’t bug bomb the place because the apartment was so small. Sooner or later enough droplets of leaded poison would find their way into the fridge, or your cabinets, or settle on your plates and utensils, upping the risk of pesticide-induced grief for the people living in it. Besides, bug spray was freakishly expensive for a couple on a budget fighting a protracted war with ants.

You also couldn’t seal every tiny entry point the little critters trafficked in and out of, because they’d always find new entry points into your home.

Barring calling the good people at Mapecon (Manila Pest Control) and shelling out a small fortune, the only viable alternative for me was to find a human-safe alternative to bug spray. My alternative was Perla.

Yes, the soap.

I’d have chunks of it floating in my atomizer—one shake and you were ready to combat the Red Menace.

The best I could do was of course, fight the commie ants to a standstill. At least I got better results in that war than the US did in Vietraq. The soap solution was so foully basic that ants died in uncounted numbers and it took them hours to reestablish the chemical trails that led to their food supply. By that time, the food was gone—secure in our bellies, safely in the fridge or on its way to Manila Bay via the sewer.

Fun Ant Facts: Society

As in the act of loving, you can’t wage war on someone and not pick up some of that someone’s traits. Having set aside a good portion of my time fighting ants, I’ve learned a thing or two about them that have made me replace irritation and hatred with bouts of wonder and, of all things, humor.

Ants are the perfect communists. Their whole lives, however brief, are devoted to a single role assigned to them by a controlled throwing of genetic dice. There are no dissident-artist-conscientious-objector ants: each ant “knows” its function and will perform it to the best of her ability.

Sure, no ant will walk through fire by default. But given a big enough incentive—say, a truckload of exposed milk chocolate— ants will go over danger, under it, around it and sometimes through it to get to that sweet reward, almost regardless of how many of their number die in the attempt.

They’re like the mainland Chinese— there’s always more where they come from (my apologies for the racial slur, but the comparison is apt).

Amazingly, most every ant—worker, soldier, HiveQueenis female. The only male ants on the roster are drones: expendable Toms, Dexes and Harrys whose sole purpose is to provide the Queen the necessary genetic material from which to form the multitude of eggs she regularly lays. Do they provide her with entertainment as well? Perhaps— the drones are after all, the only ants with wings. I’m almost sure there’s an ant Queen somewhere chuckling at the thought of the poor drones flying around and banging their heads like impassioned moths on a fluorescent coil, or drowning in a basin of water laid under a similar light source.

Fun Ant Facts: Language

Despite what my readers will think, I don’t have the monopoly of being able to speak to ants. You can speak to ants too: bug-bombing them is as good as saying “I hate you all! Don’t bother me again!” Not that they really care what you feel about them. Except maybe the Queen, who gets a kick out of the idea of you fighting a losing battle against her numberless troops.

Of course my conversations with most ants are like really thick chocolate being slowly pushed through a sieve. Meaning is …felt, tasted and smelled, rather than deciphered from sound and writing.

You can tell how far food is by smell—either by the scent if the food itself or by the scent of the chemicals the other ants in front of you deposit to mark the supply trail.

“Hello, Friend.”
--“Hello, Friend.”
“How far to the sugar pile?”
--“Close. Just keep to the trail.”

The language is rather crude by human standards— you can’t debate the nature of Platonic Love versus Eros in it— but the combination of smell, taste and touch gets the basics across.

I need you.
“Need help?”
“I’m here. Always.”

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