Consider the Lowly Ant


Many years ago, a wise observer bent his gaze upon the lowly ant, and took notice of its incessant purposeful activity. He then wrote for posterity this sage advice: "Go to the ant, thou sluggard: Consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, ruler, or overseer, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest" (Prov. 6:6-8).

Solomon, of course, wrote of the ants he was familiar with in the Middle East. Later observations have shown that there are some 8,000 varieties of ants around the world. Some are large (up to an inch long), others are small; some carry potent stingers in their tails, others do not; many live in nests, but some do not.

The army ants of Africa, for example, spend their entire existence on the march, moving in large columns that feed chiefly on insects which they have overrun. The ant army rests periodically, while its queen lays her eggs, and these are then carried along when the march is resumed.

A number of types of ants are dubbed "honey ants," from their habit of eating "honeydew," a sweet secretion of aphids. The ants actually "milk" the aphids, by gently stroking their abdomens with their antennae.

So close is the association of the corn root aphid and corn field ant that this species of aphid is almost totally dependent upon its ant "masters." The ants take care of the aphids just as a farmer cares for his cows. Each fall the ants collect aphid eggs, which they maintain over-winter in their underground nests. In the spring the young aphids are moved to the roots of early weeds and grasses, which are the first "feeding grounds" available. Then, after the corn fields are planted and sprouted, the farmer-ants move their charges to their favored food source, the roots of the corn plant. It has been determined that the corn root aphid is nearly helpless at finding its preferred food source without help from the ants.

One ant species, the acropyga, makes sure of the honeydew supply by a sort of marriage dowry: the virgin queen-to-be carries along on her nuptial flight a fertilized female mealy bug. When the queen nests, the mealy bug's progeny provide food for the ant queen's offspring.

But perhaps the most interesting ant livelihood is that of certain species called "leaf-cutter ants." The ants do not eat the bits of leaves which they drag down into their nests, but instead chew it into pulp and use it as garden material on which fungus grows. It is the fungus that the ants eat.

At least one species of leaf-cutter ants also "fertilizes" the leaf pulp with ant manure, and transplants fungus "starts" from an old garden-and then "weeds" the garden by making sure no other fungus creeps in. The entire ant colony lives on the fungus thus grown.

But how, we ask, do the ants know to do these things? How is it possible that ants "learned" to make gardens out of chewed leaves? And how do they understand that fertilizing their garden produces larger crops? Who taught them the art of transplanting? And how did the corn field ant become a livestock raiser?

A moment's thought will show that the fungus-eating ants, for example, could never have survived while they laboriously learned how to cultivate their food, one incremental detail individually mastered, over huge periods of time. By the same token, no one teaches the acropyga queen-to-be to take her dowry with her on her mating flight.

Farmer ants, aphid-raising ants, army ants, nest-building, and non-nest-building ants of every description all do what they do by instinct. They do as their kind has always done, through instinctive wisdom implanted in them by someone much greater than themselves.

We are pointed to a Master Intelligence, capable of creating each life form with its own intricate life processes-often intermeshed with those of other life forms. Obviously, this is someone far greater than man.

In the Bible, God asked Job: "Who hath sent out the wild ass free? Or who hath loosed the bands of the wild ass? Gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks? Or wings and feathers unto the ostrich which leaveth her eggs in the earth and warmeth them in the dust, and forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may break them. Her labor is in vain without fear, because God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath he imparted to her understanding" (Job 39:5,13-17).

Truly, the more closely we delve into Nature's secrets, the more surely we can see God's handiwork! The stamp of His creation is unmistakable, if we will but open our eyes.

The Old Scot (Ted Kyle) served as managing editor for Pulpit Helps magazine (Disciple's predecessor publication) from 1993-2008. He was always fascinated by the natural world, and readily saw God's hand in every detail. Ted went to be with His Creator and Savior in April 2013.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th Ed.: Micropaedia Vol. 1; Macropaedia Vols. 8 & 12.

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