Our Shared Hum-Ant-ity

I’m arriving back at Sydney airport following a joyous trip with a dear friend to Thailand. In high spirits we pick up baggage from the carousel and a customs officer notices that I am carrying a canvas painting suspended on a wooden frame. “Are you declaring that young man” says the customs officer. “I am now sir” I hear myself reply.

A customs official scans my bag whilst a stiff looking woman begins to investigate the wooden frame. She becomes more animated as she studies the frame. “Hmmm” she says intermittently — “this is always a high risk item” she declares, pointing to small cracks within the frame. My friend and I exchange a gentle smile.

She identifies a particularly deep crack — and with an expression of deep concern uttered “this doesn’t look good at all”. She tilts the frame and gently begins to tap it against the steel tabletop. What could she possibly be looking for?

A few taps, and then something very unexpected happened… an ant fell out of the frame onto the table. “I knew it” she said triumphantly. She slipped a glove on and with her thumb squashed the ant completely flat into the table. Its little bodily structure was damaged beyond recognition. She then proceeded to scrape the mortal remains off the tabletop with a metal implement and places it into a small test-tube of acid to be sent off for testing. “This is why we do what we do” she says looking invigorated from the interaction. No funeral. No kind words from loved ones… Just a squelch and a test tube casket.

My friend and I were absolutely shocked. Firstly that unbeknown to us we had almost imported a Thai ant to Australia, and secondly, we were shocked at the viciousness with which this lady woman-handled the ant. It was brutal!

Ants are an incredible little creature. Ants occupy more mass in the world than humans do. They are capable of carrying weight in excess of 200–300 times their body weight — equivalent to a human weight-lifting 15 small motorcars. They work together in colonies with each ant performing their specialised task in the interests of serving the greater whole. Worker ants change their functions depending on their age — undertaking safer work within the colony in their youth, and venturing out into far riskier work as they reach maturity. Queen Ants and Drones are responsible for reproduction. Moreover, ants have highly sophisticated mechanisms for communication. Each ant carries a kind of chemical signature indicating which colony they originate from, and older foraging ants leave a chemical trail when they have identified a rich food source. It’s like a hyper-efficient commune … perhaps if humans had ant consciousness, communism may have stood a chance.

If you observed ants closely for long enough, you would notice something miraculous about their behaviour — they are the only known creature beyond humans and beetles that have developed the capacity to harvest their own food. What do I mean by this? Ants can farm other species. For example, one of the creatures that ants farm are called Mealy bugs, tiny insects which feed on sap, a substance indigestible to ants. Mealy bugs eat sap, and excrete honey due, a highly nutritious form of glucose and fructose — a substance fully digestible by ants. The ants take extremely good care of their cattle, protecting them from predators and heavy rains. Just as a farmer milks their cows, ants stroke the stomach of the Mealy bug and it excretes honey due…. a perfectly symbiotic relationship. It is estimated that these little industrious creatures have been farming for up to 50 million years.

This is particularly impressive when you consider that humans only learnt to farm 12,000 years ago. Until about 10,000 BC, we sustained ourselves by way of hunter gathering and when resources wore thin, we’d pickup and relocate. Farming represented a watershed development for humankind as, amongst other capabilities, it enabled us to settle more permanently in one location and strengthen our armory against predators.

To place these developments into context, evolution has been taking place since the dawn of time, which most physicists agree began roughly 13.8 billion years ago. If we think of humans and ants running along an evolutionary marathon (42.195 kilometers) starting at the big bang and ending today, 153 meters from the finish ants took the lead, developing the capability to harvest their own crops and cattle. Then about 3.6 centimeters from the finish humans finally caught up. And in that last 3.6 centimeters, we developed and discovered innovations beyond our wildest dreams — ships, the wheel, money, the alphabet, electricity, engines, the airplane, the transistor, the internet and most importantly, Facebook. These innovations are all hallmarks of our developing consciousness and reflect a radical change in our evolutionary trajectory. And so fate has it that we crossed the finish line just ahead our little 6-legged friends. Who knows why or how we edged into the lead. Perhaps a bout of cosmic flatulence propelled us forward. It certainly begs the question, what will the next 3.6 centimeters look like, both for the ants and us. Will the ants develop their own version of Facebook? Perhaps Antbook?

As many of my spiritual teachers have reminded me over the years, we have all developed from stardust — every atom in the universe evolved out of the Big Bang, and at our very essence we are all part of that one indivisible vibrating consciousness. The term Universe comes from the Latin words Uni and Versus, meaning ‘turned one’. The universe, in its multiplicity of forms, is developing the consciousness to re-cognise its own oneness. Ant shaped consciousness and human shaped consciousness appreciating their shared hum-ant-ity… how spectacular. Perhaps next time we’ll think twice before violently squashing this co-participating evolutionary miracle into a steel tabletop. After all, the race was so close that the cosmic umpires had to review a photo finish.

I opted not to mention any of this to our dear customs official. She was just doing her job… just as the worker ant does her job within the ant colony.