The Great Ant Genocide

The ants were everywhere. They were scurrying all over the laundry floor. Most were headed to and from the cat’s food bowl, implicating it as the cause of this mild infestation. My girlfriend yelled out – swearing in her native Portuguese – then ran off to the laundry to fetch some foul poisonous white powder, which she scattered over the ants with careless abandon. Genocide of mass proportions!

“Murderer” I castigated in one last desperate attempt to save those poor ants.

“We have to get rid of them.” She replied. “They are everywhere.”

And she was right – they were everywhere. But it didn’t mean we had to poison them, nor even kill them. Surely they would leave once the cat food had been cleaned up and taken to the ant’s nest for dissemination amongst the colony. I imagine that the ants had better things to do than move into our humble abode. For one, they couldn’t afford the rent – not in the city.

The question is why kill ants at all? Why kill any insects or creatures of this world? Let them live their lives in peace. They may come into your home for a visit and some may even stay too long, like an unwanted friend living on the couch, but he’s still a friend so you let him stay whilst he tries to find a job.

Even cockroaches have a right to life. What about mosquitoes? No, that’s probably taking things too far. They deserve to die right? It’s survival instinct. Kill or wake up with itchy bites on your ankle; kill or don’t sleep a wink as they buzz around your head; kill or be killed in the fight for survival. After all, mosquitoes are the most deadly animal in the world if one considers the magnitude of deaths throughout the developing world due to malaria and Dengue fever. A few great white sharks on the loose along the local surf spots has everyone bleating with fear, but even the mighty great white has nothing on the deadly mosquito… Sometimes the tiny flying insect is mightier than the shark. Jaws – huh!! It should have been ‘The Revenge of the Giant Mosquito’ that had children in the 80s petrified.

The other insects of this planet – the harmless ones – flies, cockroaches, ants, bugs, beetles, butterflies, crickets and moths, deserve our empathy and to live out their lives in peace. Especially the ants, for they are an example to us all – a bastion of communal living. If humans could be more like ants – working together for the collective as Marx had envisaged or the hippies in San Francisco had dreamed before Charlie Manson turned up – surely the world would be a better state; less death, less destruction and a sustainable earth for future generations to tarry in for centuries to come. Instead we humans have gone for a different system, the antithesis of the ant – use up everything on the planet, consume its food and resources, kill each other, and greedily take whatever one can during their short stay on the earth.

My girlfriend just wiped out a huge number of these beautiful creatures.  Maybe, in an effort to hide the harmony of their collective lifestyles, so we cannot see our own failures.

The ants are being destroyed and no one seems to care. My cat walks in and my girlfriend gives it a big loving cuddle. I don’t see her poisoning the cat. She’d be terribly upset if the cat got it like the ants, but why?

Why do some animals deserve life more than others? Why is it a shame to kill a panda but not a rabbit, an elephant but not a sheep, a swan but not a goose, a turtle but not a fish?  Should not all “Gods” creatures be treated equally?

I’ve racked my brains and there appears no rational explanation. There is no clear line delineating the worthy creatures from the unworthy. Nor do these pontificating thoughts help the ants facing genocide in my house today. They are like the last citizens to be hung in a country coming to the end of state sanctioned execution, where outrage at their deaths finally boils over and the death penalty is ended forever… too little too late for those last souls, but at least the ants that find their way into my house in the future might have a better chance than those lying slain on the floor.

Why are some animals treated better than others? Why do humans protest the slaughter of whales but don’t care about fish?  I have no idea, but there are some traits that seem to be considered better in the classism of species. Intelligence helps some animals – such as dolphins and elephants but others like the rat and pig are smart but considered dirty or diseased. The pig is probably too tasty for its own good – Its intelligence forgotten in the taste of a pork spare rib. Beauty can protect mammals like the panda or parrots like the toucan, but beauty is subjective and all animals are beautiful is some way.

The rareness of animal is also relevant. The less of something there is the more desirous it becomes. There are heaps of rabbits so to lose a few doesn’t seem to concern us, nor ants or any other creature in excess. The problem with this argument is that there are about seven billion homo-sapiens.

The tiger is beautiful and rare but this is outweighed by the belief in parts of Asia that the tiger can cure disease and stave off death. The rhinoceros’s horn is rare and a prized possession for some, which means it’s always on the brink of extinction and that’s not likely to change despite last ditch efforts to save it. I fear it may be too little too late for the tiger and the rhino, but humans often band together to try to save an animal when it is facing extinction. This might be because we care about the animal or it may just be guilt arising from the knowledge that it was humanity that took the species to the point of extinction in the first place.

Humans are also more likely to protect an animal if it is more like a human, such as our closest cousins the apes, and dogs which live with us and share similar emotions to us. I think people just have natural propensity to care about things that are closer to them, be it by look, location or thought. Of course the dog is eaten in parts of Asia, but that may have been born out of necessity. Anyone appalled by this probably should consider how the Hindu community feels about people eating their sacred cow.

It seems that one of the big factors in determining the worth of animal’s life is food – both taste and necessity. Surely everyone would eat a dog or a turtle or an elephant if it meant surviving – even another human? You’ll have to ask Richard Parker or those folks whose plane crashed in the Andes.

We kill each other in droves, over religion and politics and land, over nation states and resources. So why not kill the animals too? And that includes those humble ants. Living their lives as one entity – a thousand ants, all limbs of the one creature – working in perfect harmony for the good of the colony – A beautiful synergy of energy; communal living at its purest. It makes one think that the ant is fairly smart, and there is a beauty in the way they live their lives.

All the ants are dead now – wiped out by my girlfriend’s ant killer that she bought at the local hardware store to deal with such infestation. Their bodies are brushed up carelessly from the ground and chucked into the garden where they will make good fertiliser for the basil.

They get their revenge though….

A few months later, on a bushwalk near Brooklyn my girlfriend is bitten by half a dozen fire ants whilst I am untouched. We are both wearing flip-flops so my only conclusion is that my long legs mean I have taken fewer steps and therefore there is less chance of being bitten. Then it struck me… This is the ant’s revenge.

At one point my girlfriend is walking just behind me. I go over a little crest and hear her scream, and see her standing near a nest with about five fire ants throwing themselves at her feet – without care for their safety, biting hard and causing pain.

It is an incredible sight to see these little ants, each no more than two millimetre high, ferociously attacking a fully grown human more than 600 times higher. This would be analogous to a one kilometre high giant ant walking over your house and instead of running away in fear you run straight at the creature and launch yourself at its feet, biting and scratching and kicking. Incredible! That is courage – and I have to throw my support behind the ants as they fly at her and bite down hard on her feet. How could you not? This is David and Goliath stuff, but more incredible – it’s like me attacking a mountain with a pitchfork – insanity maybe – but brilliant too. If only the Lion had met an ant in the Land of Oz instead of Dorothy.

I’m glad the ants got their revenge. It may not be full reparations for what they went through during the infamous Laundry Floor Massacre, but it’s a start and maybe next time they appear in my house, removing some spilt food, they will be left alone to carry out their business.