Many people who have bought my Art have asked the question,” Why the ant in your art and sculptures”. As a boy growing up on the highlands of Kenya I was always wandering into the forests observing nature. What fascinated me above all else was the Safari ants in their endless military columns marching to their unknown destinations. Ants have captivated my imagination since a child, I admire them and respect them for many reasons. They are still with me as my Hallmark on all my Art.

WHAT DO YOU THINK  ABOUT WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT ANTS

Looking down at a line of ants moving along a trail, go closer , your ant becomes singular, each an alien creature somehow militarised. The mandibles dominate snipping and cutting away. We know that Army Ants moves in waves of a million or more, eating through anything in their path, the blank eyes, the glands under the jawbone secreting pheromones that signal alarm, laid down by foraging ants and reinforced by following ants to show the shortest route to a source of food. The antennae, cantilevered at the elbow, twitching at speeds our eye cannot follow. The slender waist, the shimmer of the  exoskeleton. How they represent 25% or more of the insect biomass on the planet, how collectively they weigh more than all the humans in the world, how they assist humans by aerating the soil, surturing wounds , or as in South Africa harvesting the rooibos seeds for farm workers to collect.

How ancient they are. In 1966 an Ant was identified in a shard of Amber that was 80 million years old. Ants emerged with flowering plants 130 million years ago by contrast , the Genus Homo Sapiens diverged 2 million years ago. The same laws of population , biology and evolutionary theory that govern behaviour  in Ants govern us. All living things are subject to the same laws of physics and biology.

The Ant is lungless, so it’s muscles get their oxygen through fine holes in it’s exoskeleton. The ant has prodigious strength which can lift many times its bodyweight above its head, not with its legs which end in hooked claws but with its mandibles. Despite its small brain, the ant teaches its young, with foragers taking novices along in “tandem running”



The Socio biology in the insect world that is, those twenty or so species of ants, termites and bees have developed complex civilizations, can teach us something about how humans interact with each other. The social and caste systems are supported by acts of seeming charity, the beneficence of ants show how an Ant with a full stomach will regurgitate liquid food for those without, and how the old will venture into battle so that the young can survive. To the casual observer the ant colony looks more like a Nazi ideal, where the weak are shed and fed upon, and those who have the slightest scent of another colony are sprayed with a chemical marking them for death, it makes one glad to be human.

This Is more than a little alarming. Ants, after all, fight enormous battles to the death. With “Leaf cutter Ants”, there is a 1-in-10,000 chance a Queen will succeed in colonizing a new colony. So there is an intense pressure to stick to the rules of an organization. An Ant colony “insists upon absolute sovereignty “, and demands “constant population growth and ever-rising productivity”. Traits which seem shared by humans.

A defining factor of Ants is the speed at which they communicate through chemical cues. These pheromone messages are simple-“look this is my caste”- “ this is my condition”, or , “Raise more soldiers”. But in the context of the super organism they create a common intelligence capable of dealing with complicated problems.


There are specialist jobs. Many Ant colonies have cemeteries. The cemetery workers live at the edge of the city, where their sole responsibility is to arrange the dead, and parts of limbs, and rubbish, and to bury it. They dispose of the dead both as a service and to protect the nest from pathogens.

An Ant Queen is carried from one nest to another, along the ground, a  “Praetorian guard”, of nurse workers hides her from view, and indeed there is something Martian about the description of the Queens Mate. When the transformation was complete, and the adult male stepped out, complete with wings, large eyes, massive genitalia, rudimentary jaws, tiny brain, and the one big purpose programmed in his tiny brain followed by a quick death--- his life's work would be a single ejaculation.



Only 12,000 of 22,000 ant species have been classified. Among Earth’s creatures as a whole, only some 1.8 million species out of an upper estimate of 90 million have been recorded. The extinction rate of species is a hundred times what it was before human civilization began and it will accelera
te to a thousand times the pre-human level before the end of the century. There are several million species of micro-organisms in a tonne of soil, most of them unknown, it is speculated that plumes of bacterial life from other planets may exist on earth. Understanding micro-organisms is essential because the human domain on earth is far more limited than we credit.

The question of conservation is a moral one. Forms of life should be protected because they exist. Habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, human overpopulation, and over harvesting is a fundamental process to the destruction of our earth. Earth’s population will reach 9 billion well before 2050. The challenge is to raise living standards of the poor while preserving as much nature as possible. We are not doomed but we are fragile. We have to pull ourselves together with honest understanding. You won’t get the answers out of religion, because they have their creation myths on the big question of who we are, what we are, and where we are going.

We now live in an age in which science is a court from which there is no appeal, time is short, and humans can only save themselves by joining forces, becoming more positively antlike, so biologists with historians, economists, gardeners, not politicians can look at saving the world from disaster. We must view the struggle of humans, not coldly, but nevertheless in the view of Homeric ants marching to the picnic ground.



We are not driven from Eden. Instead we destroyed most of it.

 

 


Excerpts from the book ANTHILL by E.O.WILSON