DECEMBER
1998

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

12-24-98

New Years Resolution: Consider the Ant

The approach of a new year means at least two things.  First, immediately after Jan. 1 we all will write an incorrect year on at least one check.  And prior to the onset of the new year most of us will make a resolution or two!

Let me suggest that this might be a good year to consider insects as the inspiration for resolutions.  In 1998 ants have certainly become household words, and not just because some of them showed up in our kitchens.  Thanks to the movie and computer animation industries, ants aren't just pests anymore.  Ants are movie stars!

The selection of ants for starring roles in movies is no surprise.  People always have admired ants, at least when the insects weren't helping themselves to food from our pantries.  The reason for the human admiration is simple.  Ants are social insects and humans find social animals like ourselves, even insects, fascinating.

Even historical poets and philosophers looked to ants for guidance and inspiration.  Take King Solomon.  In Proverbs 6:6 he states:  "Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways and be wise.”  And what should we learn?  The value of work and planning ahead.  In Solomon's words:  "Without having any chief, officer or ruler, she prepares her food in summer, and gathers her sustenance in harvest.”

Of course Solomon wasn't an entomologist so he made a little mistake.  Ants do have rulers called Queens!  But Solomon was correct about how hard ants work and how they store food for the winter.

Ancient Greek authors also noticed the civilized and orderly way ants live Aristotle calls ants a "political” animal like man and states they are the most industrious of all living creatures.  Plutarch also admired the ants and their way of life.  He noted their courage, temperance and sheer hard work.  Plutarch observed that ants without a load gave way to those carrying objects.  He also recorded that ants gnaw through loads to reduce them to manageable sizes.

This idea of ants working together was also noticed by the poet John Clare.  In talking about ants he states:

            "Some looking on, and urging some to toil,
            Dragging their loads of bent-stalks slavishly;
            And what's more wonderful, when big loads foil
            One ant or two to carry, quickly then
            A swarm flock round to help their fellow-men.”

Robert Frost devoted an entire poem to ants and their habits.  In "Departmental” he takes note of the specialization that ants have in their jobs.  He also mentions that ants communicate with a language called "formic.”  This is a reference to their use of formic acid as a trail marking substance.

Odgen Nash combines the idea of hard work and communication in his poem "Ants.”  He says that ants have to work hard because they can't be calm and placid when they are filled with formic acid!

For New Year's resolutions ants are indeed good role models. People have known this for years, even before "Antz” and "A Bug's Life.”  Consider the wisdom in this ancient Proverb:  "None preaches better than the ant and she says nothing!”

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox