The Rights of Humans vs. Others, Part One


The ants have been invading our house on a regular basis.  California is in drought.  The ants are thirsty and hungry.  I do my best to keep them out by spreading turmeric or cinnamon over the cracks where they’re coming in.  We’ve set the legs of the little stand that holds the cat’s food in plastic containers of water, but Magic the Cat is a messy eater and whenever he drops a small piece of kibble on the counter (yes, his food is on a counter in the bathroom so the dogs won’t eat it…) the ants swarm in from some new place after that tiny piece of kibble.  I spread turmeric over the new place, and then… then I proceed to wipe out the ants.  At the first awareness of me they scatter in every direction like humans in a Godzilla film.  I can almost hear them screaming.  In my head I hear a whisper – “murderer.”

Wikipedia says, “Ant societies have division of labour, communication between individuals, and an ability to solve complex problems. These parallels with human societies have long been an inspiration and subject of study.”

You can read about their pretty advanced communication skills there, as well. And that they teach each other things!  Wikipedia says, “Many animals can learn behaviours by imitation, but ants may be the only group apart from mammals where interactive teaching has been observed.” (Ibid)

Ants have set up an aphid ranch in my artichokes.

Yes, they’re herding the aphids like cattle.

Wikipedia says, “Aphids… secrete a sweet liquid called honeydew, when they feed on plant sap. The sugars in honeydew are a high-energy food source, which many ant species collect.  In some cases, the aphids secrete the honeydew in response to ants tapping them with their antennae. The ants in turn keep predators away from the aphids and will move them from one feeding location to another. When migrating to a new area, many colonies will take the aphids with them, to ensure a continued supply of honeydew.” (Ibid)

Brings to mind covered wagons with cows tied behind them…

Ants have also been used for the benefit of humans.  Somewhere in Africa they’ve been used as sutures holding wounds closed with their mandibles.  Once the wound had been sutured, the ants were beheaded.

But the ants, too, can be brutal.  Sometimes colonies attack each other, steal from each other, and take slaves. Yes, slaves!

I get a very strange feeling when I kill ants.  What don’t we know about them?  Am I killing one of their greatest poets?  How could we possibly know whether or not ants have art forms that are important to their culture?

How does my right to an ant free home balance with their individual rights to life?


  1. Some scientists at Harvard have posited that the “Manna” provided for the long journey to the Promised Land, was actually aphid secretions, that were on the ground each morning, and couldn’t be kept overnight (so they had to rely on ‘God’s grace’ each day).

    Manna happens.

  2. Pretty interesting, Craig! Makes sense!

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