DECEMBER
1989

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

12-19-89

THE WISDOM OF ANTS

Ants can be a nuisance.  Especially at picnics, in kitchens or even “in someone's pants.”  In spite of the problems ants cause, we humans have come to admire the little creatures.  It's their work ethic that we so revere. 

The industry of ants, their widespread distribution and large population and have provided ample interaction with humans.  Such encounters provide fodder for writers and poets.  Indeed, it is a rare wordsmith that has not taken pen in hand to wax eloquently about the virtues of ants.

Aesop used the lowly ant to extol the virtues of hard work and planning in his well-known fable, “The Ant and the Grasshopper.”  Who can forget the moral of that story:  It is thrifty to prepare today for the wants of tomorrow.

Folklore includes many references to ants, especially to their small size: “A coconut shell full of water is an ocean to an ant,” and “Even an ant is eight spans long as measured by its own hand.”  But folklore also speculates on the potential of ants if their size were equal to their might:  “What would the ant do if she but had the head of a bull?”

But while they are small in stature, their wisdom loom large.  “Ants never bend their course to an empty granary,” according to folklore.  And the Bible includes references to the wisdom ants.  In Proverbs 30:25 we read: “The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer.”  In Proverbs 6:6 we are admonished: “Go to the ant thou sluggard; consider her ways to be wise.”

Ogden Nash penned a few well-chosen words about ants.

            “The ant has made himself illustrious,
            By constant industry industrious.
            So what.  Would you be calm and placid,
            If you were filled with formic acid?”

Nash refers to formic acid, a chemical commonly found in ants that is used by many to communicate with each other.  “The word goes out in formic,” as penned by Robert Frost, provides yet another account of the chemical communication used by ants.  Frost describes the regimented structure of these social insects in his aptly named poem, “Departmental.”

We can all learn a few things from ants.  In fact, ants are great teachers.  Such is communicated by this proverb: “None teaches better than the ant, and she says nothing.”

'Nuff said!

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox