Proverbs 6:6 Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
I’ve spent my life learning as much as I can about a variety of subjects and ideas. I am considered by many people to be intelligent and well-educated. However, I am pleased to tell you that the more I study, the more I discover how ignorant I am. So I estimate that I need about more thirty years to explore the world. I’ve always wanted to blow out ninety candles on a cake, so I think it’s a good plan.
Yesterday Gary and I listened to a beautiful young woman explain in great detail a little world just beneath our feet. I mention her youth and beauty because I found myself wondering how such a young, beautiful, intelligent woman ended up studying the lowly ant- a reaction born of ignorance and prejudice. I apologize to beautiful scientists everywhere! And to ants.
While I suspect that the goal of most of the audience was to simply learn of a way to eradicate the fire ants that plague our area and attack our bodies, I think we all came away with a greater understanding of just how complicated our ecosystem is and how dependent we are on the little creatures we smash beneath our feet at every opportunity. We also learned that ants, like us, work hard, care for their young, protect their leader from enemies, and strive to expand their territory.
It was the expansion of territory that really caught my attention. You already know that my mind works in mysterious ways, so you won’t be surprised that while I listened attentively to the speaker explain life cycle and social patterns and eating habits, my mind kept going back to the two maps she displayed for us. The red imported fire ant came to this country from South America in 1930. It arrived on a cargo ship at Mobile, Alabama and quickly adapted to its new country. It liked the warm climate in the south so it had babies and established colonies. As the babies grew up they needed more space so they expanded westward. Sound familiar?
The red imported fire ant now infests more than 260 million acres of land in nine southeastern states, including all or portions of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma. I’ll give you a few moments to read that again and visualize it on a map.
If a larger animal had been imported perhaps we would have paid closer attention to its actions or done more, sooner, to prevent its spread. But we let it go its merry way for too long and now it is really too late to do more than manage the consequences as well as we can. The hardy little creature has not only displaced many native ant species and changed the ecosystem of many farming regions, but it has prompted us to negatively impact our yards and gardens as well. How many of you will admit to using home remedies and pesticides that have killed many other insects, including native ants, but done little to harm the fire ants?
Our general lifestyle has also allowed the fire ant to expand its territory even more. Fire ants like “disturbed, irrigated soil”. We have disturbed and irrigated much of the arid south as we have populated the deserts. If you look at many of the newer homes built in New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California you will find areas of green vegetation kept alive by humans. The ants are grateful and predictions of their future territories include even more of the west perhaps one day extending as far as Oregon and even Washington. They have adapted and changed as necessary and may well find ways to adapt to slightly cooler temperatures. And by the way, ants can move their colonies by floating on water! Who knew??
There is a life lesson to be learned from the ant and I’m getting to it. It seems to me that if we use the analogy of fire ant expansion we can understand many of our current problems, including immigration, racial conflict, global violence, and dependence on drugs and alcohol. We can predict more problems in those areas, as well as in education, healthcare, and environmental issues. Our major problems begin with something small, something that seems insignificant, that we first ignore, then tolerate, then enable. Which begs the question: What are we ignoring today that we will regret tomorrow?