by Rita Goldner
Many of my author colleagues have eschewed New Year’s Resolutions, which are often worded negatively. “I’ll give up bad eating habits,” “I’ll quit procrastinating,” “I won’t complain so much,” “I’ll organize my messy office,” and so on. They feel (and I agree) that the ritual January 1 self-bashing leads nowhere. So since I have the New Year’s Day blog assignment, I’ll try a different approach this year. I offer a rallying cry, a model to follow, an interesting animal (my bailiwick) to inspire us. Look no further for your spirit animal than the lowly ant.
I should use the plural ants, because as individuals, they can’t accomplish much, but in a colony, they are a superorganism, a powerful force to be reckoned with. There are more than 12,000 different species of ants, and all of them form colonies. Ants have no ears. Some have no eyes, and the ones that do have eyes have poor eyesight. They don’t need these senses because they have such a developed sense of smell. They communicate by pheromones, secreted as they walk. Each ant follows the scent of the one in front of her. You’ve likely seen this in a long Congo line across the sidewalk, following the melted Popsicle some kid dropped.
Ant colonies really have perfected the concept of the hive mind. As a group, they can hunt and kill insects much larger than themselves, and even sometimes small birds, mammals, or reptiles. The group can handle decisions that one individual couldn’t, like where to relocate if the nest is ruined. This sophisticated communication mode, through pheromones, is not just for finding food, but for recognizing nest mates and identifying enemies, forming an army when attacked, and dividing up the jobs to keep the hive thriving. They can even switch jobs when needed. When pheromones tell them not enough food-gatherers are returning to the mound, (someone might have stepped on them), the soldiers guarding the entrance become food-gatherers.
Speaking of jobs, there are three kinds of adult ants in the hive. The queen, who does all the reproducing, the few males, called drones, whose only job is to mate with the queen and then die, and the female workers, who do everything else. Any ant you see outside the anthill is probably a female. When a hive becomes very big and successful, the queen hatches a few winged baby queens who take off, with some drones, to start new colonies.
Hopefully, if you’re gaining any inspiration or strategy from all this, it’s because you identify with the worker. The queen and the drones are basically one-trick ponies, and pretty boring. The workers, as a group, make all the decisions. The queen, in spite of her lofty title, does not boss them around. She’s imprisoned in the bowels of the mound, spewing out thousands of eggs. The industrious and tireless workers are the real champions, taking care of everyone else, and ensuring the future and success of the community. March on!
Your comments are welcome.
Rita Goldner is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series.For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit OrangutanDay.com. Or by the Kindle version here. Rita’s newest book, Making Marks on the World: A Storybook for Left- and Right-Handed Coloring, is available for purchase here. Works in progress: H2O Rides the Water Cycle, The Flying Artist, and Rose Colored. To view additional illustrations and Rita’s books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook. Subscribe to Rita’s newsletter, Orangutans and More! and receive a free coloring page of today’s illustration.