29 October 2016Last updated

Features | People

Lori Borgman: digging life on the ant farm

Lori Borgman tries to resist chasing after the ants in her home with a bottle of bug spray

25 Apr 2016 | 04:18 pm

I was suspicious the first time I saw them. But I slapped on a happy face and agreed to give them a chance. Still, I wondered if they wouldn’t overextend their stay, or worse, go where they weren’t wanted. You never know about ants.

It was the second ant farm among the grandkiddos. The second one didn’t impress me any more than the first. I don’t care how educational they are, ants should never be in a house without being chased by a bottle of bug spray.

I’ve never understood why anyone would deliberately bring a household pest into a house, encased in plastic or otherwise. They assured me it was impossible for the ants to escape.

Fine, but check your pantry anyway.

‘First we got the farm and then they sent the ants,’ one of the kids said.

‘Lovely,’ I said.

‘Then we put them in the refrigerator.’

‘Of course. And why was that?’

‘So they’d want to get in the ant farm.’

Yes, I imagine you’d have to refrigerate most living things to make them want to crawl into an enclosed plastic container.

‘They’re worker ants,’ one of the kids proudly said.

‘What work do they do?’ I asked.

‘They move grains of sand up and down the tunnels and then they make new tunnels and carry grains of sand through them.’

And so they did. The ants scurried up the tunnel and back down the tunnel. They were working, but what were they accomplishing? It reminded us of when the girls went on a mission trip to Haiti as teenagers. They spent a week moving rocks from one end of a property to the other. The husband suspected that the next group of kids to arrive just moved the rocks back to the other end.

‘What’s that?’ I asked.

‘It’s a dead one. When one ant dies the other ants just crawl over him.’

What are you teaching these precious children? These ants are sick!

‘We fed them a tiny bit of a blueberry yesterday. There it is, right there.’

‘No, that’s not the blueberry,’ another said. ‘That’s where they go potty. They all go in the same place.’

Well, that was definitely worth the cost of shipping.

Several weeks later it still did not appear the ants had created anything remarkable. They just kept travelling the same tunnels over and over, carrying grains of sand back and forth.

Then I happened on an article by scientists who studied five ant colonies for two weeks and concluded that worker ants are – and I wouldn’t tell this to the kids – slackers. Just as I had suspected. Only 3 per cent of worker ants always work, 25 per cent were never working and 72 per cent ants were inactive at least half of the time.

Then, the ants began dying off one by one.

‘Eventually they will all die,’ my daughter said. ‘You know, worker ants – they work themselves to death.’

That’s what she thinks.

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Lori Borgman

finds the funny in everyday life, writing fromthe heartland of the US. Now if she could just find her car keys…