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Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man (Proverbs 6: 6-11)

The Book of Proverbs highlights the wisdom of “four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise” (Prov 30: 24). One of these creatures is the tiny ant: “The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer” (v 25). Despite their insignificance, the ants are called “a people” because they go about in colonies and are united in their purpose to provide and care for themselves.

 

In an earlier passage in Proverbs (6: 6-11), King Solomon directs us to this diminutive creature that we may learn from it. Let us look at some interesting facts about the ant that will give us a better understanding of this humble but complex insect.

Though minute in size, the ant is an amazing creature. Ants are so feeble and small that multitudes of them can be easily crushed with the stamp of a foot. One species of ants called “dsar” are so tiny that a grain of barley weighs more than one hundred of them.

Varying in their size and habits, ants are social creatures, living in colonies of a dozen or so to hundreds of thousands.

o Morphology

Though ants have eyes that can detect acute movement, they do not see very well compared to other insects. But they have a pair of long, thin and mobile antennae which can perceive smells and alert them to the source and intensity of nearby scents.

Ants also have two powerful mandibles which they use to transport food, move objects, build nests and defend themselves. Some types of ants store food in their mouth to pass to their young or to other ants. 

o Diligence and skill

Known for their diligence and skill, ant societies divide their labour for activities such as gathering food and building homes. “Some of them build wonderful houses; these are often several stories high, sometimes five hundred times the height of the builders, with rooms, corridors, and vaulted roofs supported by pillars” (Smith’s Bible Dictionary).

o Farming

Some species of ants are agriculturists. Also known as “harvester ants”, they have underground farming plots where they grow a mushroom-like fungus for consumption. It is believed that Solomon was referring to these harvester ants in his counsel to the sluggard in Proverbs 6: 6: “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.”

One type of ant even raises “insect cows” – tiny insects called “aphids” – that feed on the sap of plants. The ants capture them and keep them in herds. The sweet, sticky syrup excreted by these aphids is the ants’ favourite food.

o Communication

Besides using sounds and touch, ants communicate by means of pheromones – a scented chemical produced by their bodies’ glands.

“Pheromones are detected at the tips of the ants’ super sensitive antennae; the left and right antennae tell the ant which way to turn with the varying pheromone strength. Ants that have missing or damaged antennae become very disorientated.

“There are about ten to twenty different (species-dependant) pheromone perfumes; each represents a ‘chemical word’ that the entire colony understands. Pheromones can be used to summon a few ants to thousands of ants, depending on what is required. This may be the attacking of prey, the defending of the colony, the location of a sweet food source or the relocation of the colony …” (https://antark.net/ant-life/ant-communication/pheromones/).

Interestingly, ants also use pheromones for self-preservation. “A crushed ant emits an alarm pheromone that sends nearby ants into an attack frenzy and attracts more ants from farther away. Several ant species even use ‘propaganda pheromones’ to confuse enemy ants and make them fight among themselves” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ant).

o Life span

Ants appear to have a comparatively longer life span than other creatures of similar size. Their queens can live for up to 30 years while their males survive only a few weeks. Worker ants or drones live from one to three years. (… to be continued)

– Pastor