Imagine going to buy eggs and discovering tiny volcanoes erupting all over usually groomed, green expanses.
The Saturday morning farmers’ market is held in the manicured grounds of the local TAFE college. But as we drove in, something didn’t look quite right. Little heaps of red dirt dotted the normally pristine lawns. A closer look revealed funnel like structures with at least one hole or entrance on top.
‘Lawn grubs?’ I suggested. ‘No, ants’, my daughter pointed to the busy little critters working on the mounds. ‘Mmmm,’ I mused, ‘but we’ve already had rain so they can’t be shoring up their nests in anticipation.’
I resolved to consult Mr Google about the mystery at first opportunity.
It appears these particular ants are known as funnel ants (genus: Aphaenogaster), so called for the shape of the entrance to their nests. The Australian Museum site says ‘These funnel-like entrances can be up to 4 cm in diameter and 30 cm deep. The nests can be so extensive and dense that their presence can severely affect soil structure, making it fragile and prone to collapse.’ Not good news for lawn lovers.
And there is more than one explanation for why they make funnel shaped mounds. One is that rather than preparing for rain, the ants are cleaning up the damage after a deluge by opening up the nests to dry them out.
Another suggests the shape of the funnel is a trap for unsuspecting insects to get caught in and be subsequently gobbled up by predatory funnel ants waiting for their next meal. It seems the explanation all depends on the perspective: pest controller or entomologist?
Whatever the reason for the behaviour, it reminded me what a morass the internet is. So much information right under our opposable thumbs, and not all of it correct or complete.
How much easier if we could speak ant. ‘So, how’s it going down there? Seen any good movies lately?’ Or, if I wanted to get right to the point: ‘just what function do your mounds serve?’
I see I have some serious ant-ism going on here. Who says everything in nature must have a function? But, it does, doesn’t it? I’m thinking hard and I can’t come up with even one example of a creature or natural phenomenon that doesn’t serve a function – a link in a chain of events – an enabler for something else. Including us.
As a meaning seeking species, is this the way we are wired? To see our world and all in it as serving purposes? If this is the case, why is it taking so long for me to find mine?
What is your ‘function’? Your raison d’etre; your reason for being?
“I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.”
― Hugo Cabret
Do you agree with Hugo Cabret?