Ant Apocalypse

Today I was moving a lumber stack.  Moving from an informal stack of old barn wood.  Very untidy.  Not at all like my stacks of furniture grade lumber.

ant runningI was working steadily and pulled up a board to find, laying in the gap between two boards below the one I had in my hands, a fair sized copper head.  I tossed the board I held aside and looked around for weaponry.  Fortunately it was quite early in the morning; cool, and the snake had not yet had its coffee.  I dispatched it easily and with little fuss.  Had it been later in the morning, things might not have gone so well.

After what seemed like eight hours of pulling sodden boards out of the pile, sweeping off the fungus and mildew and beetle larvae, then carrying the boards to the other end of the lumber yard, around a tree and up a hill to the new stack (although in reality it was probably only an hour and a half) I encountered another snake.

A King Snake this time.  Just a small one.  It had crawled in to feed on an enormous ant colony that had set up housekeeping between the layers of this lumber stack.

King snakes are amicable fellows once you get to know them, so I allowed him to escape.  He disappeared between a pair of lumber stacks near where I was working.  I caught a glimpse of motion underneath one of those stacks, and stepped closer for a better look.  I caught sight of the tail of another snake slithering in under that pile.  At first I thought it was a coral snake, but they’re not common here. I decided it was in fact a baby Copperhead whose banding and bow-ties had not yet developed.

There wasn’t anything I could do about that one. But I am thinking that the next time we’re in Tractor Supply we might want to pick up a jug of snake repellent.  All this is going on in very close proximity to my workshop and is in the area where our dogs like to play during the day.  I’d hate for any of them to get curious and end up with a snoot full of snake venom.

I watched the ant colony for a while.  It was very large: spanning three planks wide and turned out to occupy the spaces between 4 layers of boards.  And they thought they were having a bad day when the snake showed up!  I could just see it in my mind’s eye:

It was an average day in The Colony: hunters had gone off through the passages to where the beetle grubs grazed on rotting wood.  They would kill one or two from this herd, tear up the carcasses and bring the pieces back to feed The Colony.  Nurses scampered around, tending the tens of thousands of egg cases.  Workers cleared passages, removed refuse and brought in fresh supplies.  They all toiled complacently in their snug, warm, moist domain.

Suddenly alarm pheromones are passed into the nest: enemy invades!

The enormous head of a great serpent forced it way into the nursery and began snapping up egg cases, pupae and nurses alike.  Soldiers appeared and attacked the vile serpent, but to no avail; most were eaten as well.  The soldiers could do little against the great beast’s armored head.

New orders went out: “Move the children to another chamber.  Hurry!”  And nurses began clutching eggs and scurrying through the cavity, into cracks and out into new cavities.  Back again for another egg.  And again.  The Beast must not eat all the children!

Suddenly their world is rent open, the top is ripped away, leaving the distressed cavern awash in sunlight and flooded with fresh air.

“Extreme alarm!  Extreme Alarm!” All members of The Colony are called in to help move the egg cases down to lower levels, to safety, away from the burning light and drying wind.  The colony works feverishly.  At least this disaster caused the serpent to flee.

Unknown to the main colony, many loyal ants were clinging to the board that was lifted away to expose The Colony.  Now fully exposed, the board is swept clean, tossing, rolling and crushing ants and egg cases.  Clearing entire chambers in just moments.  The survivors scramble for cover in the dirt and grass below. 

Antony Insectus, leader of a squad clinging to the removed portion of The Colony, hatches a plan to attack the enormous entity that appears to be responsible for this devastation.  As he organizes his squad to carry out the plan his immediate superior countermands his orders and directs them back to The Colony to aid in rescuing the pupae.  “We must save the children!”

Just as they enter the colony, another section of their world is sliced out and carried away.  What horror!  The workers wail, the nurses cry, attendants moan, “Where is the Queen? What has become of our Queen?”

Again and again the attack comes.  Huge portions of The Colony simply cease to exist.  The death toll is enormous.  Eventually their entire world is ripped to shreds and is gone.  The handful who survived are scrabbling between blades of grass, some carrying a pupae, some seeking shelter for the survivors. 

A leader emerges and begins dabbing her abdomen to the ground, “Come this way, come this way.  We will rebuild.  We will begin again with what we have saved.  No time to wail now.  We will morn when we have found safety for these remaining children.  Come this way…”

And I; The Destructor of Worlds, carry my piece of lumber to the new pile and slide the plank into place.  As I turn to go for another, I wonder; how would we react if our world were disemboweled as that of those ants just was?

14 thoughts on “Ant Apocalypse”

  1. I won’t be showing this to the hubs. He has zippo sympathy for ant colonies. Where we live, every time he chemically decimates one lot, they simply shut up shop and move elsewhere. Recovery times seems to be a few days.

    Have you thought about writing a children’s book based on this post? It would be entertaining – and instructive.

    1. Truth be told, Greta, I had very little remorse over wiping out the ant colony in my lumber pile. Just waxed philosophical about it. I appreciate you taking the time to stop in and read.

    2. The Great Broom of Judgement descended on another ant civilization today as I moved another pile. Even less remorse today: just doing a job. Trying not to let the omnipotence to go my head. 🙂

  2. Did you ever read Robbie Burns’ little poem about an Ode to a Mousie or something like that? He discovers a mouse under his plow blade in the winter and it is in that poem that he writes the famous line, “The best laid schemes of mice and men, go aft awry.” It’s called “On Turning out a Mouse with my Plough,” I think, can be googled.

    1. Actually… yes. In fact I write a column for Grit Magazine called Of Mice and Mountain Men, that plays on Steinbeck’s novella, which was (so I’m told) inspired by that story.

      1. Of course, of mice and men, why didn’t I think of that, I’m an idiot although of Scottish origin. I saw that movie with Gary Senese and it was excellent though, like most of John Steinback’s stories, quite tragic. Robbie Burns also is said to be a womanizer and drinker, though he probably had a lot of fun. But Steinback and the movie, If I’m thinking of the same story, at least. I do love John Steinback, something about that quintessential southern American writer I like, and I heard once he was a postmaster and let the mail pile up for months, even years, while he dreamed and scribbled stories, and they fired him. He couldn’t keep a job. But a great writer. Grapes of Wrath was a better novel than a movie, I thought. Of course, how could you do better than the master?

  3. We would blame the other political party, an other race, or those fool kids with the loud music down the block. Then we’d demand the government do something about it while we turn the channel away from the news to something more palatable – like Dancing With The Stars or Who’s Got Talent.

    I like the story very much, though! No wonder you have so much fun on the mountainside!

    1. Thanks for the tip, Inion, I’ll be on the look out for a 10 pound box of cinnamon! And for some borax to ward off the impending ant invasion. I’m sure they’re recruiting from neighboring colonies to mount a retaliatory strike.

  4. The subject of ants has come up for me at least three times this week. I like how you wrote this from two different points of view: yours and the ants’. And your casual reaction to snakes is telling. We have only tiny, harmless snakes where I live, and I’ve never even seen one of those.

    1. Casual? Snakes? Perhaps I’ve painted myself with more bravery than I deserve. Vipers are dangerous and elicit from me a reaction of elevated heart beats and decisive action: which oftentimes results in a headless snake when by all rights I should simply encourage it to go elsewhere. Non-venomous snakes are beneficial hunters of vermin. I try to keep that in mind when I encounter them, though the elevated heartbeat sometimes clouds my mind at first. A couple days after this encounter one of those tiny, harmless snakes wriggled out from under a paver I was lifting and startled me badly enough I lost my footing on the slope, slipped and wrenched my knee badly. I’ve been hobbling around in pain ever since. Durn snake; even the “harmless” ones can prove injurious!

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