Ant-hropomorphism – (to imply human characteristics to non human things, animals, trees, bugs…)
I am always delighted when I make some little discovery that sends my gears a turning. I suppose there are not too many of us who have not heard or already quoted the verse from Proverbs (6:6) ‘consider the ant’. The verse is often used to imply that we should not be lazy. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her way, and be wise.” But if, in your considering of the ant you stop at ‘don’t be lazy’ you are missing wisdom that almost goes beyond human understanding. My head swirls when I look at the information Anthropomorphism and consider Solomon’s words (Proverbs 30:24) “The ants are a people…” Clearly this is one of the first anthropomorphic statements ever written.
I suppose what we should consider first is the ant’s success as a species. If you were to take all the land creatures and pile them up on to one enormous extent, ants would explain 15% on the total weight. They live on virtually every continent (except the frozen ones) and every known dialect and language has a name for them. They have a tiny little brain which is in fact the grey matter kind of our own and can course of action about the same amount of information as a current desktop computer. To look at it another way, each ant has about 250,000 brain cells. Humans have ten million. So, colonies of forty thousand ants have the collective brain mass of a human. Not bad for being less than a half inch and considering the fact they will only live about 60 days. It was Solomon who secluded these little bugs and identified their intelligence. “There are four things which are little upon the earth but they are extremely wise.” (Proverbs 30:24) We don’t typically attribute wisdom to ants but wait till you hear all of the things that ants invented. That’s right ants invented.
You only need to be a casual observer to notice the little pile of dirt rising out of your yard but you are not the first to take notice of the structure. The Pyramids of Egypt are built one inner on top of another and stand an impressive 480+ feet high. That’s about 80 Egyptians stacked on top of each other. Not to take away from their efforts but the ants have been building pyramids since before pyramid was a information. Some ant pyramids can rise to a whooping 7 feet and to put that in perspective, that’s 270 ants tall. I make this comparison with pyramids not thoroughly based on shape alone. As you journey inside the Great Pyramid you find chambers for doing various things, this was also an idea stolen from the ants. Some of the chambers were intended for royalty while others we are not sure what they were for; no different than the ant hill. Perhaps you think I stretch this too far. But imagine if you will the 1000’s of workers carrying things to the top and then back down again in what would appear as one never ending chain of humans or ants. What makes this comparison already more bazaar are the twenty species of ants which are called Slavemakers. These types of ants only have soldiers, no workers. To solve this problem Slavemakers ants go into into other ant beds and kill everyone living, often with a toxic chemical called formic acid and then steal the eggs. When they are born the Slavemakers ants force them to do all the work. Without these slaves the Slavemakers would starve to death. Under the rule of several pharaohs this is exactly what the Egyptians did to the Israelites. This bazaar similarity in human and ant behavior is but the tip of the ant hill. Many who see the pyramids spread across various cultures surprise about their commonality, I simply believe it’s something they learned from ants.
We tend to refer to the patriarch of the ant bed as the Queen, we do so only because she gave birth to all the others. She, in fact, does not have a scepter to rule over her nest. Once the eggs are hatched they are kind of on their own. I don’t really know which scientist made this discovery or when but Solomon was aware of it some time back. He was also aware of the fact that the workers are all female. “Go to the ant…consider HER ways and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. (Proverbs 6:6-7) I am sure it takes an incredibly powerful microscope to determine ant gender but Solomon nailed it.
This brings up another interesting bible story from Genesis 37-40. The gathering of her food in harvest reminds me of those delightful ants who store seed down underground. These amazing “harvester ants” are native to the middle east and will store enough seeds to keep them going all winter and on sunny days they will truly bring the seeds out from their storage chamber and dry them in the sun without any one ever explaining why this needs to be done. It is simply their task and they do it. This brings to mind another character in the bible, a former prisoner/cook named Joseph. After interpreting a dream for Pharaoh of seven years of famine and the need to store dry grain, Pharaoh said to Joseph ‘there is none so wise as thou art’, well maybe the ant but Pharaoh wasn’t paying attention. He was supervising his slaves.
Leaf-cutter ants truly harvest leaves from the tops of trees and take them into their nest. Since ants cannot digest the leaves they turn them into pulp and grow an underground fungus garden basically they become mushroom farmers. There are ants that store honey in living containers. There are ants that build boats and ants that can swim UNDER WATER. This enables them to reach their nest which is also UNDER WATER. It took us thousands of years just to come up with the snorkel idea. The trap-jaw ant has the fastest reflex ever recorded in the animal kingdom. They are able to close their mandibles at 143 miles per hour or 2300 times faster than a blink of an eye. This sends them sailing by the air like an ant cannon ball I don’t think we tried that until PT Barnum’s Circus act. There are ants that hide themselves with mud. One of the more inventive is the door-maker ant who leaves a small pebble in front of his doorway to keep predators out. It looks very reminiscent of a tomb. We probably stole that idea too. Ants must have been the first to invent air conditioning by building their dirt funnels above ground which allows them to act as a chimney drawing warm air out and cool air in as the sun bakes the dirt mound. This is one of the reasons your roof is probably slanted not to mention shedding water like an earthen dam. It seems they got the drop on us with mining in addition as dam construction.
IT WAS SOLOMON WHO ALSO SAID; THERE IS NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN. (Ecc. 1:9) already our amazing discovery of atomic energy is just something the sun does everyday.
One of my favorite ants, only recently discovered, has the ability to use her appendages (all 6 of them) to make aerial maneuvers while hang gliding in a spread eagle position. They are able to spin and change their arrangement to come in backwards to the tree, hit and hang on. They can truly make 180 degree turns in midair. You may have seen this done by skydivers who use hours trying to learn this rotation technique, ant were born with this knowledge.
But of all the wonderful an amazing things I learned about these little bugs, two things stand out in my mind more than any other. First, what you have heard about ants only performing one task is incorrect. While it is true that ants mainly go about their stated task, this system is completely interrupted when there is danger or a catastrophe has occurred. When this happens, ants forsake their stated duties and collectively work for the shared good of all the ants. This behavior should serve as an example of the possible within all of us and remind us that we belong to something bigger than our own lives. I take observe of those who leave their family and jobs to go and help others in need, whether it is from hurricane or earthquake, an accident, feeding the hungry, or chatting with some lonesome soul. I am inspired by those who sacrifice their time and talent and resources to help others in need. This is truly the call of Christ; that we set or own life aside to help another who is in need. Ants do that.
These creatures are willing at a moment’s notice to lay down their life for the good of the others which is the single most amazing thing I think any of us could learn from ants. It is this kind of sacrifice that allowed their species to thrive while others have disappeared. They are a ‘small people’ but in this respect I think they got it right. When the ant chooses death for the good of the others, he speaks to me of Christ who willingly lay down His life to save us all and to demonstrate to us a better way. For millennia, ants around the world have suffered predators, floods, halting and already toxic chemicals. Their success as a species is due to their willingness to die for one another. All Christendom hangs on this one rule; that Jesus gave His life so others might live.
Why Ants stay Busy ©
I learned something from the ant today
I thought it quite profound
That I should learn a lesson
From tiny creatures on the ground.
They all seemed quite so busy
Running here and running there
Toting treasures in their mouth
Down in the ground somewhere.
What are you doing, I thought out loud
Don’t you ever get to play?
But they just kept on working
They had no time to say.
The sun rose high and nevertheless they worked
They worked on until the eve
Why anyone would work so hard
I cannot quite conceive.
It took some time to make some sense
Out of what I saw that day
I understand why ants are busy
All working without play.
God’s given them a job to do
Not so different from our task.
They work to build a kingdom.
That will last and last and last.
Kenneth Price © 6/2/09