Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category


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.


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.


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?


Recent Happenings, or Lack Thereof

March 7, 2010

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


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.