Typically on Sunday mornings, my partner and I love to indulge in watching AntsCanada who is a youtuber who lives in the Philippines who is insanely passionate about ….well you guessed it- ants! It may not come as a surprise to you that I enjoy a good ant documentary however it is unusual that my technology and “inside” boyfriend is arguably more into these ant docos than I am. Watching a clip today, the question of “do ants live on tropical islands?” was asked and with that one question, my mind trailed back to all the times that I have been on tropical islands with ants playing very memorable roles in my stay.
Waking up from a nap in my comfortable wooden bed on Phi Phi Island in Thailand, I found my friend lying belly first on the tiled floor. On a second glance, she was not sleeping but rather totally engrossed in these four ants carrying crumbs along the tiles. When I crouched down next to her to investigate, it seemed as if she had been watching them for a while, hours even, as the ants tried to figure out the complex problem of getting the crumbs through the hole in the tiles to get to where they needed to go, probably back to the nest. Soon I found myself joining her, belly first, wondering how the ants were going to solve this problem as if it was a live reality TV show unfolding in front of us.
In Tzaneen, South Africa, not so much an island but tropical none the less, I was supposed to be watching Vervet monkeys integrate with their new families. As I sat cross legged on the ground, I watched as a line of ants came marching in front of my feet carrying a meal for the nest…a huge cockroach. The cockroach however was not having a good day as it still wiggled and squirmed while it was being devoured alive in some kind of morbid marching ceremony. I was transfixed as this perfect latitudinal rope of ants marched across the ground as if a permanent line was drawn and then- all of a sudden- came to life.
Nosy Be, Madagascar was temporarily home to a French man who lived for ants. While we were out researching lemurs, frogs and lizards, he decided he was going to devote his time to the little soldiers of the island. Leading the volunteers into the forest, they groaned knowing the digging they would have to do to set the hundreds of ant traps and then all the siphoning through the ant traps they would have to do to find and identify all the ants that fell in. If you saw a dirty, sore and worn out volunteer that was looking more worse for ware than usual, they would just utter one single word.
I think it is easier than you think to become addicted to ants, as all of those bedraggled volunteers somehow began to appreciate the complex lives that are ants despite all the pain they caused them. I also had this one lecturer during my undergraduate that always gave very passionate lectures about ants and their colonies, and even super colonies that only had one queen but still managed to span across continents. When my sister was younger and had to sit in on one of my mum’s uni lectures it must have been delivered by the same man because she came home telling the family that university was boring because all they do is talk about ants- she obviously didn’t get the memo that ants are interesting.
Ants are farmers, team players, they have a monarchy and a factory lifestyle with every individual having a purpose within the nest. There are so many good relationships other animals form with ants to make their lives easier or to get protection from other predators. Conversely, ants can themselves be fierce predators by taking out thousands of red crabs on Christmas Island each year. There are spiders that mimic ants, appealing to their way of life and there are ants that look like other creatures…so fantastical are ants that they are shape-shifters, powerful individuals and strong team players.
Watching the ant documentary, I reflected on all the lessons I have learnt from ants. They have taught me to be fiercely independent as well as to make myself an indispensable part of a team. They have taught me to branch out and establish good relations within my community and to not be afraid to make good connections. There is no wonder I have seen so many people in my life sit in awe over such small creatures, because they are hugely interesting and big in personality.