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November 3, 2010 / Dan Whipple

The ants of Kenya

People come to Kenya to see the big five—tembo, simba, twiga, kiboko, kifaru. We have none of them around our house, however, so I’ve taken to watching the ants parading along our deck. I don’t know what species they are—I’ll have to ask E.O. Wilson or Bert Hölldobler—but they provide hours of entertainment.

They are moving along the rail or across the side of the wall in remarkably straight lines. Periodically eight or ten of them drag an insect victim with military coordination into the darkness where, I presume, they eat it. So far, these unfortunates have all been alive during the dragging. Most of the victims are considerably larger than the ants, are in fact considerably larger than eight or ten ants, but their fate is sealed. Ant food.

One of the most curious things is recorded—well, sampled—in this short blurry video. The ants are marching in both directions. Each time one meets another, they stop and what? … Sniff? Say hello? Trade chemical signals? Discuss the political impact of the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rally? Then they continue on their way, in a more-or-less straight line toward their mysterious destination.

I hesitate to anthropomorphize, but it looks to me like they are checking to make sure they’re going the right way. Nearly all ants are female, after all, and they don’t mind asking for directions.

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