The Ant Of War: A Fire Ant Breathes Fire

Disclaimer: No ants were harmed for this story. They killed themselves. Sadly, permanently.

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A group of young ants, frolicking with the gay abandon that accompanies the fountain of youth, untainted by experience or memory of dark days; stumbled upon a closet. Out came a scribbled note, reasonably legible but soiled with time, penned by one of their long deceased predecessors; a Fire Ant. As the group waded through the lost chronicle of Ant History, merry ignorance gave way to inspired but misplaced consternation.

For the note read thus.

Fellow industrious pests,

History was, and shall never be, the voice of the dead. So I write, my brethren, knowing not how much of the gift of Time I have left. My dearest friends and nearest kin have perished and I am certain that my end is closing upon me. Stir up your attention, my future generations! For Time is in short supply and the memory of the Great War ought to live on…

All isn’t well in our vast Kingdom. Light and us were never the best of friends, but in the dark precincts of the Underworld, where we dwell, darkness and pent-up strife reign supreme. A disaster of massive proportions has befallen us, mighty Masters of survival.

One of Man’s foremost pests of choice, for centuries, we have been pulling off miracles beyond the capacities of most other organisms. We migrated, worked incredibly hard, decimated crops and wood where we could, conquered almost all of Earth, solved bewilderingly complex problems, withstood the ravages of time, hail and rain, stung fiercely often not caring for our lives, brought down mighty elephants a kabillion times our size, and inflicted inestimable damage on humanity. And, we found the time to multiply extremely quickly.

But I realised, belatedly and after much loss of life, that we aren’t so smart, after all.

A populace of hard workers unschooled in the art of considered thought, eventually fall prey to the stuffy embrace of Slavery or Death. Our fellow folk perished, in a vain attempt at conquering a fiend we did not know much about. Actually, none at all.

We finally met an enemy worthy enough to put us to the test. We went looking for a usual quick decimation; we ended up being decimated.

Man had struck Oil. We had struck a skid pan.

One fine day, the day’s early starters noticed a large Cauldron, in the middle of nowhere. With characteristic nonchalance, a group of 20 soldiers managed to scale the Cauldron’s peak. The last sight that greeted onlookers was of this group disappearing on the other side. Time ticked by. They never returned.

40 young, enthusiastic but rather foolhardy tyros set off behind them, with no particular agenda in mind. They too, my fellow brethren, never returned.

The disappearance of 60 brave soldiers quickly caught the attention of the General. Enraged and intrigued, he ordered 150 battle-hardened jocks to take stock. This group set off, long on bravado and short on information, behind the lost fellow-men. Time gradually ticked by. Not one of the 150 was ever seen again. The other side of the Great Cauldron, as it came to be known, now began terrifying Ant-folk. A wise soul counseled that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. Nobody cared to listen. Wisdom seldom found an audience.

The General, a trifle irked, summoned the SW.ANT Regiment, an elite group of warriors specially trained for extreme combat. 300 of these, the entire regiment, were ordered to conquer the nemesis. Murmurs of embarking on a suicide mission were heard but were drowned in the din of jingoistic agitation. A grand send off was arranged. More than a few thought this was a final goodbye. Many in the Regiment appeared to have witnessed the Gates of Heaven. Off they went.

Never to return.

Panic now visibly ran high. The loss of 500 of the very best warrior Ant-folk was an unprecedented loss in Ant history, in one skirmish. The raging General, exhibiting tremendous erudition, sent more on the way in the name of Patriotism, caring not to venture himself. Direction was called for, apparently and he considered himself irreplaceable. My family and best friends perished in this valiant act of blind Patriotism.

By a stroke of miracle, I managed to chance upon this picture, which captured the gory aftermath of the War. I share this, hoping it shall serve as a sobering reminder.

Few kept count. The Great Cauldron of Oil, as it came to be known, had consumed us. Too many of our brethren guzzled too much, only to be snared by Oil’s viscous entrapment. I learnt that Man called it Edible Oil. I’m at a loss to understand why.

This War, my friends, dented us irrevocably. Retaliatory sparring, when the cause is weakly understood, quickly gives way to mindless war. The end is as gory as it is unnecessary.

The General looks set to be overcome by insanity any moment. I write this, from my hide-out, knowing not when I shall get the Summon. I hope, my dear folk, that you learn from the errors of your past generations, who weren’t very smart after all.

But having seen this cycle several times over my life, I’m fairly certain that you, my dear friends, shall never learn.

Soon-to-be-dead,

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Pictures courtesy: HaLin

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An Experiment With Pigeons

Walking is a supposedly mundane activity, generally made interesting by a hip music player bellowing music into the ears of the walker (the hip is quite essential). I’m patriotic about my voice, so my throat usually replaces the music player during walks. This not only spares my ears from imprisonment by earphones, it also allows my eyes and ears to work as a team in appreciating the wonders of daily life.

One such activity that I have been carrying out over time concerns pigeons. Years of observation has led me to posit that pigeons are an attractively stupid lot, irrespective of country of origin. Some of their behavioural characteristics are remarkably similar to human beings, which make us (un)attractively stupid, too. But we won’t get there.

The observations began in Threadneedle Street, London. Apart from sporadic threats by its resident ghost, Threadneedle Street is a wonderful place to relax with a triple macchiato in tow. The ghost loved it, humans loved it and so did pigeons. The pigeons loved the place so much that they would turn out in large numbers, gracing the area with their shitty presence.

A soul, human, was noble enough to arrange for food supply for the hungry pigeons, every day. The food was spread around the place and randomness ensured that food density in some places was higher than neighbouring areas.

A group of pigeons would swoop by daily. The leader would scan the place with satisfaction and then proceed to an area rich in food. The followers would oblige. Soon there’d be about 15 – 20 pigeon-folk, stooped down pecking in the same area, catering to their bellies. Needless to add, food supply would diminish quickly. It so happened that there was a smart alec in the pack. Before the food was completely devoured, this chap would scan nearby locations for food. The simple mechanics of supply and demand rewarded his brilliance abundantly. Off he would go to uninhabited areas and enjoy his meal, alone.

Other members of the herd would continue in Place #1 until food was exhausted, would look around incredulously, then scoot away.

After a few days, some members noticed smart alec’s behaviour. Noticing that he continued to forage enthusiastically even as they chose flight, they decided it was probably worthwhile to follow him. After finishing off at Place #1, they would proceed to Place #2. This pattern was firmly established over time. What began as a trickle eventually led to the entire pack following smart alec, until the new place was conquered.

Smart alec was now at a loss. He observed that his contrarian behaviour paid-off handsomely, initially. When the crowd followed, his edge diminished and beyond a point, was extinct. In order to recreate the edge, he decided to make a pre-emptive move.

This is where stupidity overpowered him.

He moved back to Place #1, which had very little food supply! Silliness writ large on his otherwise smart face, he noticed the lack of food and then enacted Act 2 in stupidity. He rejoined the herd in Place #2 rather than looking at the vast arena, which lay unexplored. Having done all the hard work, smart alec ignored the wonderful lessons that experience had taught him. Forsaking a method that worked well and adopting one that guaranteed failure expunged his edge completely.

I learned later that pigeons do not suffer from short-term memory loss and are capable of remembering patterns of events in their recent environment. In which case, their behaviour corroborated my stupidity hypothesis.

Pigeons in other parts of England exhibited similar manners, which led me to hypothesize that probably pigeons, specifically in the Queen’s Land, were of a mental bent inclined towards foolishness. Empirical evidence from India negated this.

Besides, Indian pigeons adopted a cavalier attitude towards other bird species. They were particularly severe on sparrows and birds of smaller size. When larger birds competed for food, pigeons dejectedly made way. The same behaviour is observable, crudely first in school bullies and then polished to perfection in the world of business.

I tried testing if pigeons exhibited smarts in nest-construction. Twigs, which are the basic building blocks, are universally accepted material. When plant stems that resembled twigs were carefully placed in the path frequented by pigeons, the birds were smart enough to ignore them. It appeared that I would have to reconsider my stupidity hypothesis.

To carry the experiment a step further, I painted the green stems with a coat of brown so they resembled the dry, stiff twigs’ natural colour. This duped the pigeon, which carried the ‘twigs’ away. What happened to the nest is best left to speculation.

This leaves two possibilities. (1) My experimental methods need to get smarter, when I was being stupid in application, it would be erroneous to assign foolishness to the poor pigeons, or, (2) Pigeons are indeed rather stupid, colour-blind or both.

Before postmen, email and social networking put them out of business, doves discharged their mail-delivering responsibilities well. This punctures the hypothesis.

The onus is now on the pigeons to transfer the title of stupidity to my head, but only through diligent observation and carefully constructed experiments aimed at testing idiocy.

 

 Source: Wikipedia