Demon Ants from Hell

Ant superhighway

This morning I was taking a standard tourista photo of some exotic rain forest foliage when I absent-mindedly planted my foot on a plot of sand about a foot in diameter. It looked harmless enough, and I paid it no mind as I aimed and clicked my camera. Suddenly, I felt a sensation as if a stinging nettle were wrapping itself around my right foot. I looked down and found a dozen tiny red ants roaming over my toes and metatarsal. The bitty bastards were attacking me!

I moved away and shook them loose. I could see that the sand was swarming with the little varmints.

I’ve never encountered the likes of this in Virginia.

In his latest book, “The Meaning of Human Existence,” E.O. Wilson wrote briefly out the highly structured social lives of ants. The leafcutter variants of ants, he observed, shared the distinction with humans as being the only creatures on the planet that cultivated another species for food. Workers chew off pieces of leaf from a particular plant (the identify of which eludes me) and carry them back to their colony. Underground, the leaf fuels the growth of a fungus that the ants eat. As it turns out, the ants that bit me were that kind of ant. These ants have evolved highly sophisticated social behavior.

Before: nothing much to see here, just a patch of sand.

The Belizean leafcutters I encountered had blazed pathways the width of a bicycle tire track from their colony to nearby trees.  These trails are like ant highways. Interstate 95, you ain’t seen nothing! If you get down on your hands and knees for a close inspection, you can see the little demons racing in both directions, many of them bearing bits of leaf 20 or 30 times their size. I don’t think they even pay taxes.

After: Poke the colony with a stick, and the swarm will take out your foot in the blink of an eye.

Such ant colonies are found all over in Belize. In addition to being far more ilndustrious than our fat, lazy American ants – they surely would surely perform work in the United States that our ants wouldn’t want to do — Belizean ants are furious warriors. Try swiping a stick across the placid top of an ant colony, and see what happens. Instantaneously, a swarm of hundreds of ants will boil out of the ground to defend the homeland.

I don’t know if my metaphor is anatomically correct, but I do feel safe in saying that Belizean ants kick American ant ass. If we want to make America great again, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.

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21 responses to “Demon Ants from Hell

  1. Ah well, sorry to say Jim we do have invasive fire ants in the southern USA, and they seem to be encroaching on southern Virginia. The fire ants (imported from South America) have wicked stings and sent me to the hospital ( in another state). Did the leaf ants sting you? I would have to have Benadryl handy. In the hospital for the fire ant stings they gave me intravenous Benadryl and Pepcid AC tablets, I guess the Pepcid AC is a another type of antihistamine.

  2. Pingback: Demon Ants from Hell – Collective Intelligence

  3. Wonderful post. At least come back with your hands. You need them to type.

  4. not uncommon to fairly common in parts of the south. Always wonder what conditions they liked… in terms of habitat, food and temps…

    but stepping on them is a little like touching a hot stove to most – once is enough to figure out that you don’t want to do it again!

    I must say that the Bacons do seem to have a fine family tradition of vacation in neat and interesting places, notwithstanding the occasional travails. Motivated me to spend a few minutes learning about Belize of which I sorta knew was there but often just overlooked it.

  5. Now at last the origins and ancestors of modern Northern Virginia and Northern Virginians come cleanly into view, the Belizean leafcutters who now having migrated north harvest tolls for freeways and expressways neither free nor express, a living hell instead.

    Even stomping the Belizean dirt, J. Bacon is Lord Root of the matter.

  6. Plenty of fire ant nests visible around my kid’s neighborhood in San Antonio. I learned long ago in my childhood in the desert not to disturb a nest of ants and to look before I sat on the ground or placed a sleeping bag. But a shock to gentle Virginians, I am sure, and these new invasive species seem even more formidable. Ask not for whom the bell tolls…..

    • And always shake your shoe or boot before stepping into it lest you learn (the hard way) that a scorpion has decided to take a nap in the friendly confines of your footwear.

      Jim Bacon – You’re in the jungle man, not the Shockoe Slip! You might want to shake your shoes before stepping into them. Also, keep an eye peeled for any of these critters …

      I would tell you to get a Smith & Wesson 351 PD revolver with centerline shotshell ammo in case you encounter any of those poisonous snake-beasties but I am sure my advice would fall on deaf ears. At least take a machete.

    • The time I got bit I was just mowing my lawn…in Louisiana we lived a few years. Couple times a year you would treat your whole lawn with Amdro granules. which was pretty good stuff, but apparently a few stragglers got me. But it’s a whole different life-style with the fire ants…you really cannot sit on the ground or leave your baseball mitt on the ground or anything like that.

  7. Does anybody remember a book I read in junior high school about swarms of man-eating Brazilian ants invading a plantation?

  8. You’ve never been bitten by a fire ant? Gotta get out of Richmond more often Jim. When I fish for bass in drainage ponds in south Florida it’s common to get bitten. Of course, the rattlesnakes and alligators are more substantial potential problems. Fortunately, I never had any near encounters with those varmints. But the fire ants have their own issues – one of my sons is so allergic that he has to carry epi-pens in case he is bitten. The pens help for a while but he still needs to make a bee line to the hospital. If you don’t know whether anyone in your family is allergic you might want them to steer clear of venomous ants.

  9. Seems like I read somewhere that hombres captured by Native Americans way back when were sometimes buried up to their neck – near fire ant mounds.

    I suppose there are modern equivalents.. political and otherwise…

  10. I am still concerned about the Howler’s toes and metatarsals. Witness this:

    “I looked down and found a dozen tiny red ants roaming over my toes and metatarsal. The bitty bastards were attacking me!”

    Might the bitty bastards infect toes with exotic and virulent tropical editions of Lime Disease? Gangrene too thrives in heat, like in The Snows of Kilimanjaro. And of course too our dummy got down on his hands and knees amid the demon critters!

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