A Bug’s Life: How I Tried to Stop Worrying and Love the Ants
story| Amanda Leong, Staff Writer
photo | Amanda Leong, Staff Writer
As I was doing my Modern Social Thought readings in my room, I felt a sudden itchiness. It was a small sensation but prominent enough for me to investigate. A wiggling dot was crawling along the surface of my hand. Gently, I waved it in the air, hoping to shake it off. The dot anxiously crawled to my fingertips, gripping onto the edge of my fingernail for dear life.
“Hello ant,” I said to my silent friend. It rested on my nail cuticle, more quiet then. When I placed my hand back onto the table, it crawled onto my readings, sauntering around one of Tocqueville’s lines the same way my concentration meanders around his arguments.
Insects scare me. Their smallness makes them more threatening and predatory because they can enter places out of reach. When I was younger, I used to cover my ears with my hair before I went to sleep, as a fragile defense against any insect that may want to make my inviting ear canals their home. I hated them with a vengeance. Out of boredom, I’d compulsively trap them with clear scotch tape. Later, I’d hold the tape up, proudly displaying my massacre to the light.
The old me would have squished the ant to death without hesitation, but this time I let it go. A part of me believes that this particular ant is precious to me, even though I will not be able to identify it if I see it again. An hour into my readings, I remember the ant that I had forgotten and wondered where it was now. I only know that it is somewhere in my room where I cannot see it.
After this encounter, I tried to delay their eventual annihilation for as long as I could bear.
It has been an interesting two weeks sharing my room with these pest-pals.
Some days, our co-existence is more peaceful than others. I go about my day without interruption, occasionally noticing the perforated line moving along my floor from the corner of my eye. Other days, our confrontations are tense. I opened a jar of honey in my room and found a few of them crawling on my hand. Instinctively, I ran the jar of honey under the tap water, wishing violent deaths upon their swirling bodies.
Turns out, I’m not the only one with complicated feelings toward their house pests.
Rachel Lee ’21 tells me about her experiences with the ants in her room. “There were ants in my room. I left Tau Sau Piah (a snack) on my window ledge and the ants started crawling into my room. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a serial ant killer. Whenever I see an ant, I will just kill them. At the same time, I also feel quite guilty because it’s kind of my fault; I left the food out. Seeing that ant reminded me of a story I read online about a man who was just about to commit suicide. However, he saw an ant crawling in his room and he thought, ‘This ant is so small, and yes it was trying so hard to live. What more, I?’”
House ants are pests. But perhaps, they could also be our friends. It’s easy to think that these house ants are not worth our time and care, just because they are so small and numerous and they look identical to us. Yet, how we see insects is akin to how someone else across the world might see us on Google Maps – just an imperceptible, insignificant blur.
Just as how friends have different thoughts and opinions, ants too have a different way of experiencing the world.
Sebastian Pohl, Postdoctoral Fellow of Science (Life Sciences), who studies the decision-making of slave-making ants, tells me that ants live in a world of smell. “They use chemicals to recognize who belongs to their colony, and they use trail pheromones to guide their nest mates to food sources. This is why they can find food in your kitchen even if you remove the ants you can see, as long as you don’t clean away the trail that leads from the nest to the food,” he explains.If only ants could speak. If only we could listen to them.
These were noble thoughts, but useless – a day later, I found myself cleaning the floor, crushing valiant ant bodies with my fallen hairs and unidentifiable trash bits against the base of my swiffer.