by Jovel Queirolo, ’14
“Look to the ant, though sluggard – consider her ways and be wise. Without chief, overseer or ruler, she gathers the harvest in the summer to eat in the winter.” -Proverbs 6:6
For the past month or so, I’ve been spending about three hours a week watching video footage of harvester ants for an ant behavior project I’m working on in the lab of biologist Deborah Gordon. The more time I spend with the ants, the more intrigued I become with the relationships between an individual ant and its colony. Perhaps human activists can learn from harvester ants and their ability to see their lives as a part of the colony’s life. No ant is born or raised to do one specific task. Rather, at any given time, ants do tasks that will benefit the colony and enhance its chance of survival. For example, if there’s a lot of food around, more ants switch into foraging mode to gather food. If a part of the nest is damaged, then more ants switch into nest maintenance mode to repair the nest.
The ants appear to be quite selfless and are able to live in harmony with their fellow ants without any sort of “power ant(s)” orchestrating their work. In Ant Encounters, Stanford Biology Professor Deborah Gordon explains that, “An ant does not perform according to instructions – from some inner program, or from other ants of higher rank. Ants use local information, such as chemical communication, but they do not tell each other what to do… An ant’s behavior depends on both what it perceives in the world around it and on its interactions with other ants.”
What if humans could perform according to local information without telling each other what to do? What if our actions depended on our surroundings and on our interactions with other humans? Continue reading