Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Potent Ant

So back to the Moon of Omnipotence, which starts today.  The reverse is Impotent and so often this Moon had been about Impotency for me, being out of control and swept along by events.  A time when my life flips over and becomes something else for a time.  This Moon though, I have choosen to stay on the rollercoaster, to see where it takes me.  I definately had a choice, to leave my job or to stay and here I am.  Waiting to see where else life takes me.

My totem for this Moon is however Ant and I know Ant has helped me before.  It helps me do little things to accomplish a big thing.  One more step up the mountain and then one more until I reach the top.  Ant has also bitten me a time or two (I went through a phase of accidentally sitting on Ant nests as a child) and every summer they try and invade my house at least once...

Ants are related to Wasps and Bees and like Wasps and Bees, they form colonies like Wasps and Bees as well.  These colonies vary considerably in size, from a few dozen predatory individuals living in a natural cavity to highly organised millions with a huge territory.  Virtually all colonies have a fertile female Queen and some fertile male drones but some have more than one Queen as well as sterile wingless female soldiers and workers.

Ants are everywhere except Antartica and a few islands.  In some places they form as much as 25% of the Biomass.  They have evolved along with their environments so that they have a huge variety of relationships within ecosystems.  Some mimic other species to act as a lure for prey or to scare predators away.  Some have a parasitic reltionship with their food...  In some relationships they benefit without harming the other beings in the relationship but in other relationships, both species benefit.

Their colonies are considered a super-organism because they are so organised and work so well together.  They tap resources, modify environments and defend themselves.  They solve problems.  They have been around since flowering plants evolved over 150 million years.

They vary in size from 0.75 to 52 milimetres.  The largest ever Ant found in a fossil was a queen 6 cm long with a wingspan of 15cm!  Most are red or black but a few in the tropics are green and some even have a metallic lustre.  They have an exoskeleton but they do not breath as gases are taken inthrough the exoskeleton.  Their circulatory system is not like ours either with a single tube, which is perforated, along the top of their bodies.  They have generally poor eyesight and some are even blind.  They are very good at detecting movement but se in low resolution. Their antennae are extremely good at detecting chemicals and vibrations and they communicate with each other through touching with their antennae.

They have six legs and only fertile males and Queens have wings but the Queens lose them after their nuptial flights.  Some species have changed their reproductive organs into stings but for most the fearsome part is their mandibles. 

Ants begin as eggs and if they are fertilized they become female and if not, male.  They hatch into larvae which remain pretty much stationary and have to be fed.  The workers feed the larvae but regurgitating liquid food but they may also receive pieces of solid food and in some species they will be transported to food sources.  In some species the amount of food supplied controls the caste the of the ant.  In others the role of the ant changes throughout their life, beginning with feedin larvae and the progressing to nest digging and finally to defence.

Winged Males leave the nest first on nuptial flights and look for a mating ground.  They secrete chemicals for the new Queen to follow.  Some species will have the Queen fertilized by one male but other by multiple males.  The Queen then finds a suitable nest site, breaks off her wings and begins to lay eggs.  The first born are small but do not pass through the larval stage so can begin to serve the colony immediately. 

A Queen can live for 30 years and some workers as long as 1 to 3 years but males only live for a few weeks.  In the tropics colonies are active all year round but in cooler regions they may have a period of inactivity with larvae in stasis or with no larvae present at all.

Ant communications are highly sophisticated and are largely based on the release of pheromones.  If an ant finds food, on it's way back to the nest it lays a scent trail which other ants find and reinforce.  When the food runs out they stop laying scent so that the trail fades.  If the path changes due to a blockage then they lay scent along the new path.  Some species use scent to distinguish groups on different tasks.  Some ants will release an alarm scent when crushed causing ants to aggresively swarm.  Some ants even use scent for propaganda, causing enemy ants to attack themselves.  They pass scents to each other to communicate and when a Queen stops producing a particular scent, workers begin to raise new queens.

They defend themselves by biting, stinging or spraying.  Some Ants have incredibly painful stings while others spray formic acid.  One species has an incredibly fast bite reflex, like a sprung trap.  Some ants use their bite reflexes to catapult intruders away while others will catapult themselves away from danger.  Some ants commit suicide when endangered in order to release chemicals to kill foes and save their colonies.  IN other colonies a small group leaves each nght to seal the colony from the outside.  Defence against disease is also important and some ants remove dead ants from the nest based on smell.  Physical threats such as flooding have a range of responses too, from drinking the water and excreting it outside the nest to anaerobic respiration in some mangrove species.

Ants learn and they teach.  An experienced Ant will lead an unexperienced ant to food in a process called tandem running and the leader will slow down for the other ant.  Some experiments show that where some individual workers are less successful in finding food, eventually they will take on different roles such as caring for larvae.

Ant nests vary hugely but not all ants make them.  Some are nomadic and make temporary nests with their own bodies by holding each other together.  Weaver ants use their larvae to make silk and tie leaves together.  Many ants will avoid a site with dead ants and some species will abandon a site as soon as disease becomes present.  Some Ants even cut and chew leaves to grow a fungus which is what they live on.  Some Ants even farm, feeding aphids and tapping them for honeydew before herding them to new food or caterpillars which are herded to food in the day and taken to the nest at night.

Ants are endlessly varied in their tactics for living but they have also uses for humans.  Some are used as stitches for wounds, biting across the wounds and then having their bodies sliced off.  Others secrete chemicals that are used as medicines.  Ants are used to harvest rooibos tea as the seeds are small and hard to harvest the ants gather them and then they are gathered from the ant nests.  We also eat many different types of ant eggs and also ants themselves in various parts of the world.  Of course they can be pests as well, we all know that....

I think Ant is an amazong totem to have for the Moon of Omnipotence.  As a superorganism they achieve incredible things by doing one small tiny task each, by cooperating.  They are patient, ordered, disciplined.  They work for the community and plan for it's future.  They are happy to see dreams grow slowly, as long as they are growing.  They are the diligent workers of life.  They sacrifice themselves knowing that in the end, they will get there.  They just get on with it, without emotion, they ride the wave of life.

They are also well placed to cope with adversity.  If a flood comes and washes them away they make a raft.  If they get hurt they call in reinforcements.  If their nest is flooded they suck out the water or carry on as normal using bubbles of air to survive.  They are flexible and they learn and they get there through dogged persistance.

I guess Ant came along to help me survive the wild rides of fate I seem to have during this Moon sometimes but it also adds to that diligent work ethic of mine.  I do a boring job for the team and I just get on with it, but I am part of the team, getting us all somewhere...

No comments: