Anyone who’s grown up in the South like I did has a very intimate familiarity with ants. And in Texas, it’s red ants, fire ants, giant termite-y winged ants, and even little black sugar ants. My friend Michelle had sugar ants in her room for a bit when we were growing up, and I remember her telling me “Oh it’s fine, they can’t bite, so don’t even worry about them.” Right. Just like daddy long legs. “Their mouths are turned inside out and they can’t even bite you!” I don’t give a shit if it can bite me. I don’t want the fuckers in my vicinity. End of story.
Anyhoo, on a trip to my hometown a couple years ago, I stumbled across one of these:
If you’re not familiar with that, it’s an ant bed. I’m not sure if these are around up here in Chicago. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one here, and I know from experience that ants don’t solely make their homes in peoples backyards so I tend to believe they’re much more rare up here. In fact, I know in Texas they love to plop themselves in the most inconvenient places, like the playground or on the field where you practice soccer.
For those of you who aren’t experienced in the topic — that ant bed is just the tiny tip of an insane iceberg that sits beneath the ground. It’s like the little baby tip of an Egyptian pyramid of intricate tunnels filled with, well, ants. (Check out this Gizmodo article. They pour hot aluminum into an ant bed (mwahahahahaha fuck you assholes) and you can get a good look at the structure.)
And I’m going to fill you in on this from the knowledge I retained from my childhood. There’s like, one queen ant, and all the others are worker ants. The queen ant is like wayyyy down in there. Like, you’ll never see her. And I’m pretty sure she’s mega gross, too.
Never mind, I googled it. She’s like a regular ant, but with a giant abdomen. For eggs ‘n’ such. Gross. Ugh, I’m scratching my neck right now. I can’t look at them on the internet, which is why I’m not including a photo here. Look for yourself. I can’t. They’re ON me!
And also, ant beds can be really dangerous. They’re scary. You accidentally kneel down in a fire ants’ bed at 10 years old and by the time you’ve realized it you’re covered in more bites than you can count. You can try to jump in the pool, but it’s too damn late. Your whole fucking knee swells up and the damn bites eventually get pustules on them and you’ve got to wrap your knee in gauze, limp around for a week and sit uncomfortably in school through two episodes of Voyage of the Mimi.
The other thing that’s important to note about ant beds is, when you’re an elementary school aged kid, they’re great for experiments. For example: “What if I pour my Coke out on the ant bed, how will they react?” “Let’s kick our soccer ball into the ant bed. Will they stick to the ball and ride it?” “I’m gonna dump my water out on the ant bed, let’s see if ants can swim.” And of course the ever present, “What will the ants do if I stomp all over the bed real hard in my soccer cleats, then run?”
And so, the story I’d like to share with you today is about an experiment done by myself and my best friend in elementary school, Adam. (Because no one proves a theory better than two 5th graders.)
Hypothesis: Will ants climb a pinecone to get to a SweeTart (blue)?
Prediction: Ants will climb anything to get to sugary stuff, so yes.
Tools needed: One (1) Ant bed (located in the elementary school yard behind the strip center my mom’s Pharmacy was in)
One (1) Pinecone (obtained legally for free about 15 feet from the ant bed)
One (1) package of SweeTarts (purchased from Mr. Mercury convenient store at the end of the aforementioned strip center)
(C’mon, you know I didn’t take this photo. I have no patience for photographing SweeTarts. If I had them, I’d have eaten them already.)
(Sidenote: I don’t know why we gave the ants a blue one. I’m hoping it’s because it accidentally fell on the ground, which may have been the motive for the experiment in the first place. If I wasted a blue SweeTart on something like this I’ll never forgive myself.)
Experiment: Adam set the pinecone on top of the ant bed and put the SweeTart on top. We waited. The ants did nothing. We were impatient 5th graders, so we had to move on. For phase 2, we smashed the ant bed up a bit, then put the pinecone back.
Conclusion: After the ant bed was smashed, the ants didn’t really give a shit about anything. They grabbed a bunch of their eggs and carried them all over the place and swarmed the offending pinecone. They knocked it down, spilling the SweeTart into the bed. They swarmed that too. I don’t know if they enjoyed eating it because they started to spread their attack and we got the hell out of there.
So that’s that.
A Former Ant Scientist