The Ants Go Marching…

Each day when I drive to the Fruit Share office, I travel past one of our largest, local grocery stores. As I sit at the lights, I watch as people make their way towards the Great Cement Alter Of Food. All drawn by the same thing, the need for sustenance and supplies that they cannot make or forage for themselves. (Where is that bagel tree hiding?) It is the people who travel by foot that I notice most often and that I take the most interest in. Carrying their reusable bags, not rushing, but seeming to enjoy their pilgrimage through the heart of the city.  I couldn’t help but begin to see these shoppers as lines of ants, gathering their share of goods, before returning quickly home with the spoils of their visit. Perhaps these shoppers aren’t carrying 20 times their weight above their heads, but they seem to follow a similar path.

I read a statistic recently stating that the weight of all of the ants in the world is equal to the weight of all the humans in the world. I tried to figure out how many ants that could possibly mean were crawling all over the planet, but I couldn’t. (Then I started thinking about how many were underground and I got a little crawly). A foraging ant is known to travel up to 200 m from it’s nest in search of food for it’s colony. They keep track of how far they have gone using a natural, internal pedometer, which keeps count of how many steps they have taken away from the anthill. How many steps would a human be willing to go, especially in North America, to find their next meal? Aside from mammals, ants are the only other group where Scientists have observed interactive teaching. Ants use a technique called tandem running to help show others where and how to find a located food source, slowing down or speeding up to ensure that the new ant finds their way. Ants go so far as to form chains using their bodies to create bridges to go over water, underground, or through vegetation. To avoid floods they fashion themselves into floating rafts. Now that’s teamwork! 

Within an ant colony one can see distinct evidence of eusociality– or the highest level of social organisation. A cooperative division of labour where everyone has a job and everyone knows what they need to do to help provide for the group. Among leaf cutter ants, there are very specific jobs for the planting and growing of their fungal food source. The largest of the ants work to cut leaf stalks in to the tiniest pieces they can, the medium ants chew up the leaves, and the smallest of the ants plant and tend the fungus gardens. In the bigger picture, ants have a great number of symbiotic associations with other insects, plants, and fungi.  They also act as a food source for other predators who looking for a good meal. I doubt they even complain about it.

Of course, not all ants are friendly and cooperative.  There are some, such as the Australian Bulldog Ants, that don’t really  know how to get along. However, for the most part, I think that the way that ants act as a collective can be used as a source of inspiration. Looking to the bigger common goal, providing for each other in a fair and caring way. Imagine if all of those people headed to the grocery store were not only providing for themselves, but ensuring that everyone in their neighbourhood had dinner for the night. In once again taking a lesson from nature, I’m going to strive to be the best worker ant I can be. Collecting and donating food to make our colony (community!) stronger and healthier for all those living within. If you want to assist us in building this bridge to food sustainability, please bright it in together and visit www.fruitshare.ca to register.

The ants go marching five by five, the little one stops to take a dive…

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