As Ants May Miss So Much

By Carl Conrad

As I looked at the tiny ants that had amassed themselves along the edge of the wall of my sun porch, I wondered what might be their perspective of my world.  Surely they would not see the splendor nor magnificence of the view of which I partook as I gazed upon the lake in front of me.  Nor would they hear the low, tubular bellow of the loon or observe the measured glide of the duck as they joined the tranquility of the view.

These ants scurried about in a wayward search for morsels of food or the building blocks of a nest so that all could thrive, yet they seemed to have no purpose nor destination in mind.  Perhaps they had no minds at all of which I could be aware.  Was it all just instinct and preoccupation; the pursuit of smells and following others?  Did they even complain or dread the drudgery of their plight, or were these thoughts eviscerated by the bliss of commitment that came without the stress of comprehension?

I stooped to look at their activity more closely.  Did they even perceive my gaze, my consternation?  I watched them flitter about in what seemed to me to be random movements, yet there was somehow a harmony of precision that mustered them together in a kind of mutual consent.  No pushing, no bumping, no cutting in line; no clamoring for more, no reaching for less.  It seemed to be a unified effort without the continuous direction of a supervising class of non-workers.

They seemed oblivious of my presence.  They could not be aware of the tea setting on my table or the delicious confectionary delight that was perched so invitingly on my porcelain plate with gold trim. Yet, as I poured a cup of tea, the aroma heightened my enjoyment of this moment; and as I swallowed it, the trickle of perfectly brewed warmth touched each sensor of my tongue before proceeding tastefully down my throat.  Another sip, a forkful of Danish, then that blissful chew of something perfectly blended to my preferences.

Could these ants be aware of the skillful hands that had made this confection; the blend of ingredients, the timed bake, a cooling period then a swizzle of sugar paste that lay on top like the crest of a wave that tingled over the palate?  Of course they couldn’t.  But a crumb dropped near their midst was immediately discovered by three ants before others were drawn to it as if by a magnet.  Soon a group conveyed it to their central destination; none taking any for themselves, all leaving again for more searching.

Was this the perfect world of sharing and participation that was so ideally revered, or was it a primitive dogma that repressed the underlying lusts and preferences of the individual to the dominance of the group?

I wondered if they saw as much as I did, or did they know so much more?

Mr. Conrad lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he enjoys the focus and the discipline of flash fiction writing among many other options to express himself.  He is a retired college Economics instructor.

2 thoughts on “As Ants May Miss So Much”

  1. In part answer to the question posed at the end, many animals can learn behaviors by imitation, but ants may be the only group apart from mammals where interactive teaching has been observed.

    Many of the more than 22 000 thus far classified species of ants in the world will lead a naive nest-mate to newly discovered food by the process of tandem running. The follower obtains knowledge through its leading tutor. The leader is acutely sensitive to the progress of the follower and slows down when the follower lags and speeds up when the follower gets too close.

    Sorry to go all mad scientist there but I’ve been suffering recently from bouts of ‘explain the world’ syndrome and, well, you’ve just been witness to an attack.

    I’m off to the medicine cabinet to get treatment for the candy apple red blotches that also appear on the backs of my hands at times such as this.

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