the life and death of ants

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. This is something that has played on my conscience a bit over the years.

Many years ago, when I was a kid (or maybe I was a teenager…? I can’t remember exactly when this happened, to be honest), I was out in the backyard not really doing anything. The drought and consequent water restrictions meant that there were usually a number of buckets of water in the backyard (from laundry, washing dishes, cleaning vegetables, etc), waiting to be utilised, as appropriate, on the garden.

It wasn’t uncommon for me to have a look in these buckets when I passed by because I’d sometimes find ladybugs in them, floating in the water, and I’d rescue them. Being the kind soul that I am, I liked rescuing these poor, helpless bugs.

But there was a dark side.

On the particular day in question, I believe I found a bucket with ants in the water (my memory is a bit fuzzy on this particular detail, but the rest of the story doesn’t quite make sense if the ants aren’t in the water).

I rescued one of these ants with a small stick I found nearby. I remember looking at the ant on the stick, noting that it was still alive, and then plunging the stick back into the water. In my young mind, I was conducting a science experiment – something along the lines of “can ants swim?” – and I suppose the findings are kind of interesting.

So, imagine, if you will, an ant clinging to the end of a stick, which has just now been submerged in a bucket of water. If you were the ant, you’d probably just let go of the stick and float up to the surface, right? Take the most direct route? But the ant did not do that; it stayed on the stick and started climbing along it, up to the surface.

As it got closer to the surface, I submerged the stick further, or I turned the whole thing around, and made it start its climb all over again. But, still, it wouldn’t let go. Of course, eventually, it drowned.

Ok, so I don’t like ants at all, but I don’t think that I did this weird little experiment with malicious intent. My observations from that day have given me a lot to ponder about over the years. In fact, I can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to finally write a post about it (although I do keep getting the feeling like I’ve already written a post on this… But I couldn’t find anything when I did a search of my blog before, so I’m just gonna run with it.)

Something that I think about now and then is whether it is “ok” to kill insects/bugs like ants, flies, spiders, etc. Well, I’m not vegetarian, so I’m not against killing animals as a general thing, but we should avoid pointless killing, or inhumane killing. And the reason this memory resurfaces now and then is because that ant would have died slowly and maybe also painfully. I assume it would’ve been quite distressed too. If it was a mouse or another pest, I wouldn’t even think of drowning it, so is it “ok” that I drowned this ant?

Sometimes this leads into thoughts about whether or not ants have feelings – did the ant feel hard done by? Did it feel sad that it was dying prematurely before it could fulfil its duty to the colony? Did it wonder if other ants would notice that it was gone? Did anyone notice that this ant was gone?

Well, no, probably not.

But does that make it ok?

And isn’t it interesting that it just would not let go of the stick? Maybe it didn’t know that it could float; or maybe it was afraid of letting go of the only solid thing it had, and drifting around, unanchored, in the water…?

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