Them!

Southern California heatwave prompts a thousand ants to swarm home

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Earth

Giant mutant ants from atomic weapons-testing in the desert are multiplying faster than we can kill them. They will annihilate our doomed human race within a year. That’s the scenario of the 1950s movie Them!

After re-watching this classic film with fascination and horror, I freaked out this morning when I saw black Argentine ants attempting to take over my kitchen. Was I suffering from heat stroke after temperatures hit 120° F in Southern California? The heat seemed to make them desperately aggressive, searching for any hint of food or water.

A thousand ants swarmed my sink for a few water droplets. Last night I took extra precautions to ensure every counter was free of food scraps. To no avail.

Lately they’ve taken to sampling my flesh, with nasty little bites. My survival instinct kicked into gear: “Kill them all.”

I’m no Buddhist who has to avoid the killing of sentient beings. So I sprayed some ammonia on a sponge and wiped all my counters down. No more pheromone trails to guide them. Death without suffering; better than the alternatives. I feel no pangs of guilt.

Well… maybe one or two after I learned 100 amazing things about ants. Their vision range is about a foot and they can’t hear. When some giant comes into the kitchen and rattles a pot, they register the presence by vibrations and tremors.

What’s got me worried is that ants are the smartest of insects, each having 250,000 brain cells. A colony of 300 million ants can be quite intelligent. They can come together as a super-brain to use their intellect as a whole. Ants instruct each other. They are the only non-mammals who can learn by interaction.

Now I feel like a mass murderer.

I could go on about their human-like similarities: farming mushroom fungus, herding tiny aphids for honey, or policing their colony with militant soldier ants who protect and serve their queen.

I was under the foolish impression that I lived alone. Not any more. Now I’m concerned that during the night those little guys might retaliate. Their 30-year-old queen may decide that I should be stung to death while asleep. It could happen. And who’d know why?

Repentant, I resort to bibliomancy, like St. Augustine, opening at random to the relevant passage: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!” (Proverbs 6:6).

 

Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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