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Posted by eleanor

The stupendous! And amazing! Ant

Some creatures are more human than others. The cell conflations known as ants, for example, are actually itty bitty people.

Socialists admired the ant work ethic. Nazis applauded how some species kill or abandon their unproductive members. In fact, any philosopher can rationalize their own lifestyle prescription from the lives of ants (religious folk have, too -- and now that they've done penguins, gay activists are sure to arrive on the ant scene next).

Academic Charlotte Sleigh writes (in her tiny tome, titled -- you guessed it -- "Ant"): "It is extraordinarily difficult to avoid using grandiose adjectives in the description of ants."

"Ants command a respect from their fans out of all proportion to the insects' size. Ants, they affirm, are the '-est' insects: the cleverest, most organized, hardest-working, most numerous, most fecund, most dominant; they are older than humans, more bellicose, more cooperative, more communicative. A children's web site asserts: 'Ant brains are largest among insects... It has been estimated that an ant's brain may have the same processing power as a Macintosh II computer.'

"At least, that is what myrmecologists (those who study ants) would have us believe. Though their precise claims have changed over time, western students of ants always seem to have made hyperbolic assertions about them.

"The eighteenth century natural philosopher RĂ©aumur started at a basic level in his catalogue of the extraordinary qualities of ants: 'we have for them none of those aversions that are frequently entertained towards so many other insects.' Our dispassionate attitude towards them compared to, say, cockroaches, signals their human status; their existence is parallel with our own. Unlike fleas, they have no particular dependence on us, and we have no need for them as we do for bees."

Plato "hath determined," noted some guy, "that they who without the help of philosophy have lead a civill life by custom or from their own diligence, they had their souls from Ants...."

Pliny believed that ants buried and accorded funeral rites to their dead; others say that if these insects grew to mammalian size, they'd rule the earth. Certainly there are an estimated ten thousand trillion ants, weighing as much as all the humans on the planet.

Myrmecologist E.O. Wilson "claims that the behaviour of ants can be studied for the meaning of their social interaction, whereas the most impressively trained chimp is only performing individual tricks, devoid of any social or ecological import." When homeowners ask him what to do about the ants in their kitchens, he tells them to watch where they step. And recommends tuna and whipped cream as ant favorites.

Comments

# re: The stupendous! And amazing! Ant
May 15, 2006 4:29 PM
Canada's big ant guy, by the by, is the Quebec nationalist André Francoeur, according to the June 1 l'Actualité mag. His collection of more than 300,000 insects (each carefully stuck with a pin) is housed at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi.

According to Francoeur, only Quebec and Prince Edward Island refuse to build fully-funded natural science museums.

Francoeur calls ants the most evolved of the invertebrates.

There are 106 (known) ant species in Quebec, six of them introduced by humans. Francoeur himself discovered one in 1974 during a walk in the woods, finally publishing the details 10 years later. Myrmica Quebecensis, 'scalled.

Francoeur's complete guide to Quebec ants will be published this year.
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