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Welcome

July 26, 2010

Welcome to the Ants! blog, chronicling the life of 16 captive ant-farm-ants.

This project concluded a while back, so you may prefer to read this blog in true chronological order, sharing in the ant triumphs and defeats in the actual sequence in which they occurred.  Be sure to click on the images to see the full size version.

Here is the post where it all got started:

https://16ants.wordpress.com/2010/02/13/ants-arrive/

Enjoy!

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Eulogy for Ants

June 6, 2010

The 16 Ants project officially concluded on April 27 with the death of the Last Ant.  She survived less than a day alone.  Now that its over, I am writing one final entry to sum up the experience. What can I say about the ants who spent 75 days with me?

The ants were industrious, but without much direction.  They would often work at cross-purposes, one ant closing off an opening that another had just built, another ant tunneling through an area that was recently filled in.  If several ants were excavating the same tunnel, they would often get in each others way, slowing down the very process they were working so hard to complete.   Not to mention the constant moving about of dead ants from one place to another.

Although the ant’s individual tunneling strategies seemed to be independent of the whole, the rest of the time they were in a group.  They are definitely social creatures – when not working they would always rest in close proximity to each other.   They spent a lot of time grooming one another, in a manner that seemed to be very kind and gentle.

What I reflect on the most is the experience of feeling responsible for the ants – and yet having very little ability to change their situation.   They were doomed from the start, since they had no queen, no manner of reproduction, and no ability to survive in the wild.  All that I could  do is try not to hasten their demise – and even this with some consideration that I may only have been prolonging their suffering…if ants can be said to suffer.  In the end, I can only assume that they have some kind of biological imperative to try to stay alive, if not a psychological will to live, and so would have wanted to continue on.

The futility of their existence bothered me much more than it bothered them, of course.  Although they had to realize that they were no longer in  a proper colony and that they were missing their queen, they did keep on working.  Toward the end, the few remaining ants closed off almost all of the tunnels, showing that they were adapting their environment based on the dwindling population.  Without sufficient numbers to defend their territory, the inhabited area was made smaller and smaller.

I can’t speculate on the emotional life of ants.  The Last Ant had to have known she was alone, but there is now way to know what this knowledge might have meant to her.   If I could have found a way to comfort her, I would have, as silly as it seems.  And I have to admit that I was relieved that she didn’t live long, even though I have no objective reason to believe that she was suffering.  I suppose this is true of any death – our understanding of it occurs only in the context of our own emotional lives.  The dead are gone.

Goodbye, Ants.

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Last Ant Standing

April 26, 2010

When I started this project, I did not think about how it would end.

Here is the last one:

15 Down, 1 To Go

I believe this last ant to be Tiny, our lone survivor.  Tiny’s activities are reduced to building additional tunnel blockades and standing still.  If you click through to view the larger image above, Tiny is standing, staring right at the camera.

Tiny has not moved the last 3 corpses (two of which are also noted above), they remain where they were from the moment I figured they were dead.  There was quite a bit of ongoing corpse movement even when there were as many as four-five ants left, but no more.

I thought about whether I should set Tiny free, but decided that she would quickly be killed by the first native ants she encountered, and that a lonely and peaceful death here in the habitat was preferable to a terrifying and violent death outside.  I suppose I am again projecting my own emotions onto Tiny, who is probably not thinking about her situation in those terms.  But I take my ant custodial responsibilities seriously, so I am trying to do what I can, which seems to be, nothing.  So I wait.

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and then there were Four…

April 6, 2010

The ant farm experiment is slowly winding down.

Here’s how things are looking for the four who remain:

The Final Four

As you can see, many of the tunnels have been blocked off.  Most of the right-third of the habitat is now inacessible and some tunnels on the top left have been capped off as well.  The algae has spread although there is much less visible condensation, so things do appear to be drying out.

Their work at closing off the tunnels is done at a leisurely pace and they continue to spend most of their time grooming.

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Ant Update – Day 38

March 21, 2010

Here is how things look today:

Yes, I do think that green area under the farm house portal is mold.  The ants seemed thirsty.  I was feeling lazy.  All signs of humidity within the habitat were gone.  Wouldn’t it be better to make sure that they had all the water they might need for a while?  I certainly didn’t want them dying of thirst (in addition to all the other reasons they could be dying).

Its not that I didn’t know better: I read the instructions, I knew that you were only supposed to put in one or two drops of water at a time.  I didn’t add that much water.  Maybe 5 drops.  The humidity level sure went right back up.  And then it started to turn green.  They were probably happier dry than they are now with the mold and moisture.  Then again, they are also probably happier with the moisture than dead.  And to my detractors I say:  There are still 6 living!  So there!

Other items of note:  They have begun closing off areas of the tunnels, blocking the entrances.  Making a smaller world for fewer ants?

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Recent Happenings, or Lack Thereof

March 7, 2010

Here is how things have looked for the last few days:

Waiting...

After the excitement of the leaf, things returned to their previous state, lacking any real activity.  Once and a while one or two ants will go off re-arranging the tunnels (such as Lefty) but for the most part, they spend their time clumped together.  Grooming.  Relaxing.  Dwelling on thoughts of their futility?

We are down to 6, by the way.  I don’t anticipate making the 3 month mark, I am hoping for 2.  Most of all, I am hoping that the last two die together, so that there isn’t one lonely ant left alone.  There is one ant which is noticeably smaller than the rest (I call her Tiny).  I wonder if she is younger, or just smaller.  Time will tell.

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Leaf Day

February 28, 2010

As noted in the last post, I have been worried about the ants.   I read in the AWM that one of the food treats they will enjoy is a piece of leaf from a fruit tree, so I decided that was just the thing to add some interest to their possibly lackluster lives.  Yes, I am using food as an attempt to conquer ant boredom.

I dropped a small piece of leaf into the habitat and the ants responded with immediate excitement.

Everyone Gathers Around

Unfortunately the leaf piece dropped to the back side of the Farm House and was wedged into the sand.  It took a lot of work for them to free it.

Digging Out Below

Almost Clear

Freedom

The elapsed time for all this activity was about 25 minutes.  After the leaf was freed from behind the Farm House, the ants brought it around to the front. And then they more or less lost interest, at least for the time being.

When I checked back a few minutes later, someone had left the remains of a dead fellow nearby.

???

Later still, the leaf was moved safely underground (and the dead parts disappeared again).  You can barely see in the photo below that the leaf is under the Farm House portal – its a green shadow under the closed off port.    Perhaps they closed off the port to keep the leaf safe?

Leaf Sequesterence

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Day Twelve

February 24, 2010

Is this a Happy Ant Habitat?

As noted in the last post, and as you can plainly see, not a lot of new tunneling is taking place.

The ants seem less infused with purpose.  Listless, even.   I am worrying about them.

Worry #1:  Ant Death

I have done several head counts and it seems that there are now only 10 living ants – one more loss today.   Sure, the first few deaths are easily attributed to shipping trauma, but after 12 days, I am starting to take it personally.  The AWM does indicate that the ants they ship are at various stages of their life cycle, so I suppose I can assume that this one is from old age…but at this rate, I am questioning whether there will be any ants at all at the 2-3 month mark.

Worry #2:  Ant Ennui

Sure, these 16 ants were doomed from the start.  They’ve got no queen, no manner to reproduce themselves, and no escape (and even escape would not change the basic futility of their situation).  Do they mind boredom?  Are they able to adequately entertain themselves?  There is quite a bit more grooming going on nowadays, so maybe they are.  It just seems unnatural, though – ants are meant to be busy.

Worry #3:  Humidity

I haven’t added any drops of water to the habitat in a few days now, and yet there is moisture condensation throughout the tunnel area.  The AWM says to stop watering for a few days when this happens, but in the mean time, I can’t help but think that the humidity is not a sign of a well-functioning ant ecosystem.

While I can’t stop the aging process, I do have one idea to make their little ant lives a bit more exciting.  I have a plan for Worry #2.  More tomorrow.

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Days Nine to Eleven

February 24, 2010

This is a bit of a catch-up post since I find myself many days behind.

The majority of the tunneling seems to be completed so not as much is changing on a day-to-day basis.

Day Nine

Day 10

Day 11

The status of the portal under the Silo Ramp continues to change – open on Days 9 & 10, closed back over on Day 11.

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Day Eight

February 22, 2010

I am sorry to have to report the first casualty in several days:  Only 11 ants appear to be among the living; one dead ant (oddly, not curled into a ball, at least not yet) is behind the Farm House.

The cause of death is unknown, but since there were no signs of foul play, I am assuming that ant’s demise is due to natural causes (or the delayed result of shipping trauma).

Here is a look at the Ant Farm in Mourning:

8:11:34 AM

More tunnels, certainly, and it appears the grooming area has moved to Cooper’s Mound (not surprising due to yesterday’s tunneling of Smithie’s Mound).

Checking back in with the ants this evening, one interesting activity was taking place:

Foraging for Dinner

You may have noticed a tan-colored smudge directly underneath the Farm House.  That smudge is composed of the pre-packaged Ant Food that came with the ants.  I put a pinch of the food into the habitat back in the beginning and some of it went down the portal.  At that time, the ants didn’t treat it as anything special and filled in sand over and around it.

8:11 AM: Not Hungry Enough Yet

5:24 PM: Dinner Time

10:37 PM: Foraging Concluded