Well, last week something kind of amazing happened. We finally started getting our summer rains (yeah!), which was great for all the gardens and yards and to cut down the persistent dustbowl effect.... but it also had some unexpected effects on our Fritizens. We've already talked about how the Gangsta's are handling the rain (grooving away in their underground recording studio and not paying too much attention to the outside world), but how have the Fritizens coped?
After all, the torrential rains hit immediately following the wild celebration of the new queen taking off on her honeymoon flight with her consort. With all the emotional upheaval and that raucous party-till-you-suddenly-burst-into-tears kind of energy, I had been a little concerned about how the nest would be affected by the exit of the virgin queen. Of course the Fritizens have their own beloved monarch to focus on, but you may remember she's been troubled by some strange dreams of late. I had good reason to be a little worried.
As usual, however, the presence of a real crisis clarifies things and gives extraordinary focus, and the the reigning Queen of Antioch soon got a royal distraction in the form of a storm that left the entire nest flattened. It rained and rained and rained for over three hours!
I was so worried about them, I confess to going out into the yard at 2 am with a flashlight to see how they were faring. To my horror, I found nothing at all... it was as if Antioch had never existed! The whole low mound had been dispersed over th eplains of New Persia... I couldn't find any sort of entrance to the city, and very little evidence of all the frit they had collected to build their own version of Mount Silpios. I was pretty upset, but as I stood there in my pj's in the rain, lower lip trembling and unable to believe my eyes, I did finally spot a tiny movement, completely off to the side of the nest, a good 6 or 7 inches from what had been the main entrance. To my tentative joy, there was one very soggy looking Fritizen, struggling to lift an equally soggy clump of dirt and actually finally opening a new entrance to the crypt-like city. As she staggered wearily forward into the cool night air, a whole crowd of Fritizens spilled out of the hole behind her like champagne from an uncorked bottle, many of them carrying little bits of this and that as they raced out. In fact they suddenly were so active that it seemed like a good idea for a slow moving human in bedroom slippers to get out of their way. I quietly took my leave of them, knowing they had a full night's work ahead of them and there was absolutely nothing I could do to help.
By the next morning, a truly amazing sight greeted my eyes. I admit that I have not paid a whole lot of attention to ants before recent weeks, but I don't remember ever seeing an anthill with multiple entrances. Perhaps this is common as dirt, but I prefer to see it as more evidence that our Fritizens are truly extraordinary.
The "emergency exit" that I had seen open in the wee hours appeared to have caved in again, but there was a hole further south, about 5 inches from where the main gate had been, and it was bustling with activity. The original main gate had been reopened as well, but instead of the gradual descent under the grand promenade of twigs, it was now little more than vertical drop with an army of ants crawling up and down at a frenetic pace. As I watched, a few brave souls popped up in a third location, fairly close to what I was thinking of as the emergency exit. I ran to get my camera, and by the time I returned they had reopened the emergency exit as well.
I suppose it could simply be a survival tactic, maybe every sodden anthill undergoes the same sort of transformation after a deluge, but I could not help but notice that the Fritizens did not stop until they had opened four new entrances. Not three, not five, but four.
Could it be our visionary queen was making a subtle ant-ipodean and wry homage to that comrade in arms, the radical author Doris Lessing, and her post apocalyptic novel "The Four-Gated City"? What better send-up of Lessing's fashionably post-modern despair and morosely analytical view of the uber-mechanized city than the survival of their own sacred communal society, where ants have triumphed for millenia following precepts that human beings just can't seem to make work?
And of course all four entrances were streaming with Fritizens, most of whom were carrying something.... a soggy mattress, a pebble, a bit of straw, and an awful lot of these round, flat white pellets. What in the heck were they?
After long consideration, I decided they might be the white bits from that garden soil additive (the name escapes me at the moment). Where Ant-ioch is may have once been part of the flower garden, before we owned the house. Whatever those little white things are, there are a whole lot of them, and the big storm was the Fritizens chance to do some spring cleaning, as it were.
Here you can see several Fritizens working to pass the flat white disks hand over hand up out of the tunnels. You can tell they are very light from the way they are being handled, in contrast to this photo below, which looks like it could be an outtake from Rocky, where one Fritizen carries an enormous pebble on her shoulder as she runs up the steps out of the city. Inspirational!
Can't you almost hear the theme music?
Here's a close up view of the remains of the orginal city gate, with the collapsed timbers.
and here's a wider view of the new entrance... as you can see it's just about vertical, but I feel sure they are going to keep working on it.
Finally, here's a north-south view of the four gates, all in continuous use.
A monument to the vision of their extraordinary Queen!
Well, as always, there is more to tell about the adventures of the Fritizens, but I think that's just about story for one night.
Now go brush your teeth and sleep tight!
What is the sound of one ant clapping? Well, actually, the activity is called drumming, or strumming, or body rapping, and it consists of "fast stridulatory scrapings of roughened body parts." It's a vibration which other ants can read although they have no actual ears. Human beings can detect it as sound through the vibration of other materials, much the same way that we hear and also feel the beating of a drum.
Here's a very rough mix of the title cut from the Gangsta's new album:
I've also got a bunch of new Fritizens photos, I just haven't found time to post them yet, so check back later!
Well, okay, perhaps I was a bit harsh with the Gangstas. After writing that rather judgmental blog entry last night, I woke this morning and went outside to look at them with new eyes.
Yes, their hill is much the same as it was yesterday, and yes they don't gather frit on their own, but maybe their talents lie in other directions... who am I to judge?
One astute reader asked:
|Kevan said on 7/27/11 - 12:42AM|
Do the Gangstas have a rap album we could buy to help support them?
And another reader commented:
Nancie (220.127.116.11) at 12:02PM on 7/27/11 commented on The Importance of Being Gangsta's
I'm worried, Jo, that the real reason you have written off the ganstas is that they no longer seem to be very interested in collecting frit, one way or another, & that means there is no more free advertising for you. (Where are the smilies?? Where's that wryly winking smilie when you need it?)
I even got a phone call this morning from a friend who was worried about what I had written! Okay, I was a jerk.
I felt like such a bad ant-thropologist! I have to ask myself, am I guilty of only loving the Gangstas when they loved my frit? Loved it enough to kill for it? I hope I'm not that shallow, but I do realize that I have not seen the Gangstas for who they really are, appreciated their own unique sugar-antness. Why did I not see through their tiny, tough posturing to the inner teen angst that was so close to the surface? I just hope they can forgive me!
Did you know that ants make their own varied and different noises by strumming a washboard-like section of their own abdomen with a thumb-like projection on one of their front legs? They also pick up eachother's vibrations and appear to pass commands down the line by reproducing the same vibrations for the next ant they meet. Amazing!
And yes, actually, the Gangstas are in negotiations with a very, very minor record label to put out a little tiny cd of their own. The challenge is that their sounds are largely inaudible to the human ear, so it will take some fancy sound engineering to make it viable. I'll keep you posted!
I have a confession to make. It's about the Gangsta ants. Over the past several days their little hill (unwisely built right on the sidewalk in front of the garden) has been washed away repeatedly. Now, their little gangsta town (which we are wisely NOT naming after any number of American cities know for their organized crime connections)... the town itself, I mean, is under the sidewalk. That part seems smart, I guess. They're pretty impervious to attacks from other ants, digging dogs, etc. In a way, their little gangsta town is a fortress, but like most fortresses, it is also a prison. Today is the third or fourth day in a row when I have gone out to the backyard to check on the Fritizens and the Gangstas, and on each day, after each rainstorm, the Gangstas basically rebuild their boring little hill pretty much the same as it was before. In the photo above, you can see all the mulch and stuff that has washed out of the flowerbed, and then in the middle, the little same-same Gangsta hill that they remake every day. What's that about? So here comes my confession: I don't care anymore whether or not the Gangstas remake their nest. I just don't care.
The only real spark of creativity (if you can call it that) we have seen from the Gangstas was building their nest right on the trade route between Ant-ioch and the Frit Depot so they could waylay Fritizens and rob them of their frit. It was nothing more that disturbing, miguided gang violence, and they gave up on it pretty quickly too. Now, honestly, what is more tedious than a half-hearted crime wave?
I know some of you have really been rooting for the Gangsta's and possibly identifying with them as the underdogs in this situation, but I really think they aren't a very good influence on you and I would prefer that you not encourage them. You can tell them I said so.
p.s. Stay tuned for the amazing tale of how the Fritizens have coped with the recent storms!
Emma stirred restlessly in her sleep, and her eyes opened into the inky blackness of the night time nest. Moist sand from the curving tunnel wall drizzled down her back as she tried to turn without disturbing her sleepmates. Dozens of black legs shuffled as weary Fritizens shifted, moaned soft protests and rearranged themselves. Emma gazed sightlessly at the blank wall above her head.
For an unsettling moment, she felt as if she might be the only ant awake in all the world, but then she felt the steady drumming of the night crew overhead and in the tunnels around her, gathering food, clearing tunnels, and nursing the babes in the maternity ward far below. Emma exhaled gratefully... it was calming to know that even when Ant-ioch sleeps, it is still awake, and no ant is ever alone.
She drowsed a while, lulled by the endless activity around her, but then she heard it again, that plaintive sound that must have first woken her. It was hard to discern through so many tunnel walls, and over the gentle snoring of her close comrades and the steady laboring of her more distant comrades.... but she heard it, a wordless cry, the sound of running feet, and then the sobbing, the pitiful lonely sobbing.
Emma jumped to her feet. This was a voice no ant can ignore... even in incomprehensible despair, that voice was unmistakable~ it was the voice of her queen. She rushed blindly toward it, her heart pounding in her tiny chest.
Inches below, the Queen's attendants tried to soothe her as she roused from restless sleep. She was offered sugar water, fanned with blades of grass, and her fretful limbs were gently stroked by her minions.
The Prime Minister rushed to her side, accompanied by the Queen's scribe.
"What is it, Majesty?" the Prime Minister inquired solicitously, "Another dream?"
The queen turned her head to the wall and let out a low, ragged sigh tinged with despair.
"Yes, and it was the same as before," she responded tersely.
No one could make sense of it, and the tale of the dream filled those few who heard it with a painful foreboding. Something like that could surely never happen to their precious monarch! Using the telepathy that rules much of ant society, the Queen had shared her dream only with her closest advisors. All others had been barred from the throne room, lest this terrible image be carried afar and seep into the collective unconcious of all Fritizens.
As her eyes drifted shut, the Queen saw it again. Each time the dream began with some variation of the same scene. She was a young Queen again preparing for her Honeymoon flight which would end in the establishment of her fair city, Ant-ioch. The dream images were jumbled, but it always ended the same way.
There she was in the chamber, preparing for the ceremony. She could feel her transient wings like it was yesterday, but when she looked up to meet her winged consort, instead of a handsome drone, she laid eyes upon this:
Though she assumed he might be quite handsome by human standards, she could not help herself. She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound would come out.
The Chancellor's soothing voice broke through her delirium, and she awoke, trembling, but safe inside her sleeping chamber, surrounded by the lovely faces of her own kind.