Ants are some of the trickiest subjects for my trusty lens. Apart from being very small, they are rarely still. They do however strike some appealing poses, however fleetingly.
In an earlier post, I mentioned my discovery that the study of ants is called myrmecology and that, according to Greek myth, Achilles’s Myrmidon warriors were said to have been created by Zeus out of an ants’ nest. The Myrmidons were known for their ferocity and loyalty. In this passage from Thoreau, a war between rival ants is described in appropriately epic terms:
One day when I went out to my wood-pile, or rather my pile of stumps, I observed two large ants, the one red, the other much larger, nearly half an inch long, and black, fiercely contending with one another. Having once got hold they never let go, but struggled and wrestled and rolled on the chips incessantly. Looking farther, I was surprised to find that the chips were covered with such combatants, that it was not a duellum, but a bellum, a war between two races of ants, the red always pitted against the black, and frequently two red ones to one black. The legions of these Myrmidons covered all the hills and vales in my wood-yard, and the ground was already strewn with the dead and dying, both red and black. It was the only battle which I have ever witnessed, the only battle-field I ever trod while the battle was raging…. On every side they were engaged in deadly combat, yet without any noise that I could hear, and human soldiers never fought so resolutely.
Henry David Thoreau
Perhaps it is not surprising that humans have tended to anthropomorphise ants, and also to view their apparent relentlessness, and hive mind, with some apprehension. Does anyone remember the 1954 sci-fi classic movie, Them! in which nuclear testing causes ants to mutate into giants? 1954 was a bad year for ant-PR: in The Naked Jungle, Charlton Heston has to defend a cocoa plantation against a 2-mile-wide, 20-mile-long column of army ants. Perhaps you may have seen Phase IV, the, now cult, 1974 movie in which ants evolve into the dominant life form on Earth? Other sci-fi villains, like Star Trek’s Borg, appear modelled, at least partly, on ants.
The more I photograph ants, the more fascinating I find them. But I am glad they are small.
The shadows now so long do grow,
The brambles like tall cedars show,
Molehills seem mountains, and the ant
Appears a monstrous elephant.
Charles Cotton, ‘Evening Quatrains’ (1689)