The Ant World - The Miracles of Macro Engineering
It was one of those hot Saturdays, early this month and I was out for my usual weekend shooting spree. The sun shone bright as I packed my bag and left for the forest greens. The month of April welcomes spring in all its shades and hues. And the jungle I was visiting was no less adorned. Spring was in full bloom and the bright little wild flowers made the rough trails beautiful and eye soothing. Red and yellow poppy with blue cornflowers grew wild along the trail and the air was heavy with the fragrance they emanated. Even as I struggled myself through the thick undergrowth, the leaves gave out a strong woody smell that merged into my clothes and welcomed me into their spirits.
I was on a look out for my favorite subjects. I was rather peeping into my soul to search out what it kept telling me. Surprised are you? Nah, if you have read my previous blogs you will remember me mentioning that I simply do not go out as I wish, I depend on my soul call to discover my subjects and cautiously proceed to shoot them. That’s how I have always got success. Mother Nature was kind enough to soon guide me towards a fruit grove. At my height the spider webs woven around dry leaves and dead twigs scratched across my face and I had to be careful of my gears. They are my most precious possession and while I removed the webs and dry leaves entangled in them with one hand, the other hand was gripping on the camera and all its accessories. And then suddenly I felt that sudden urge to stop. Stop in the middle of dry bushes under a thick canopy made by the cluster of mango and jackfruit trees. The air had that typical intoxicating fragrance. I looked up to see the sun peeping through the leaves and the star like appearance often dancing in between the cracks of the leaves. The dry leaves munched under my boots as I struggled to place myself under the tree and discover why destiny had brought me to the location.
As I describe, you are welcomed to imagine the thick green forest where sunlight had a difficulty in penetration. Towering trees with large green foliage that is nourished by the wet, humid conditions of Bengal pre-monsoons. Dense, tropical moist jungle where it’s all green, neon to light to dark and yellow tinted ones too. The forest floor is often a combination of soggy leaves and debris. Mosquitoes galore, spider webs criss-crossing, I search for a firm grip somewhere in the middle of the bushes. Added to the canopies and leaves these trees itself are a forest themselves, covered with a dense tangle of living organisms and other small plants. The upper branches often collect soil, dirt and other decaying matter. The dead fallen leaves, decaying organic matters, dust and dead barks collect in the crevices and holes of the tree trunks. These little pockets become habitable for seeds blown away by winds or deposited by birds and bats, and germinate to grow into epiphytic plants. Such weak plants grow aerial roots, devoid of any chlorophyll and generally take in their nutrients and water from the moisture in the air, rain or decaying matter accumulating around it. The host plant remains as a foundation to provide protection and better position in order to get more sunlight. Not typically parasitic, these epiphytes do not harm the host plant.
Well, as I stood observing the little macro activities going on around the trees with all little moths, flies and spiders busy leading their own life, I stooped down to the bushes below. There was an ant trail that caught my eyes. Gentle breeze swayed the creepers that were hanging from the jackfruit tree and few of their aerial roots hung in front of me and then the scene opens up…what I was about to witness will be leaving me with a life’s lesson taught in a simple way.
This little weaver ant seemed to be from the workers division of the nest somewhere nearby. Acrobatics at its best, it held on consciously to the end of one little thin nimble aerial root. As the breeze swept across, the ant was able to gather courage and gripping the root with its two hind legs, it managed to get hold of the edge of the leaf below. You can see from the photographs that though it seemed a feeble effort, the ant held on firmly to the leaf with its sharp jaws. The moment the gap was bridged, many more of his coworkers gathered around. Suddenly life became busy and the crowd hurried to climb up the root taking support of the ant that held on in a form of the bridge. They carried some white substance in their mouth that needed to be carried up the root to the safety of the tree leaves. Ration and stock piling is equally important in animal world too and ants are the most intelligent social creatures at that.
Amused, as I absorbed the turn of events and kept clicking in all possible focal angles, (it’s worth mentioning here that even with more than 2000 hours of extensive field work, my success rate is still not more than 5%), a surprise whiff of breeze swept across. Alas, all struggle went to vain and poor little ant could no longer sustain itself. The Power of Mother Nature won! It let go off the root even as other ones in the team got blown away. Some had climbed up to safety and some had escaped to the bottom of the ant trail in the broader branches below. Though I felt sorry, I could not stop smiling at the situation. That single poor ant stood haplessly looking at the aerial root floating away from the leaf and the destruction of the just constructed bridge. My camera could capture its hopeless emotional state as it stood alone wondering what to do next.
But then miracle was about to happen in front of my eyes. The group that had climbed up slowly crawled down towards the tip of the floating aerial root and made it heavy. They held on to each other and started forming a group that contributed to the increase in weight of the floating root. More came to the rescue and gradually holding- grabbing- clasping they joined and joined into a cluster formation. They grew in numbers in front of my eyes and continued their efforts till the aerial root got connected to the leaf again. This time it was not going to go loose and they were determined not to lose. Such was the intelligence and such was the miracles of ant engineering at work. The ant bridge was strongly created and fast movement soon started again. After all it was all about storing and hoarding ration for the difficult times that may befall them anytime.
Mixed emotions swept across me…I was a witness to such a beautiful act of “Being Human”…oops , no it was an act of “Being Ant”. They were all smart, intelligent, responsible ants, each with a huge ant heart. The bond that binds them into the most intelligent social animal group brought them success. After all, a group that works together wins together…success comes to those who let go off the egos and extends their helping hands to those in need.
However, more than the team work, it’s the sharp ant brain that needs a special mention and appreciation. How would these little creatures know that increasing weight at the bottom of the floating root would enable it to bend and help them build a strong bridge again? Witnessing the event keeps me puzzled and I still find it difficult to understand the queer brain work of these weaver ants.
Was it Mother Nature who wanted me to stop where I stopped? Was it destiny or just a mere co-incidence…Miracles do happen…even in the macro world of little weaver ants…and I discovered it, one hot Saturday morning...
NB: it's not easy being a photojournalist for the macro world. Capturing the life events of these little tiny creatures in a sequence and wording the emotions of their moment is a tough job. I hope I have done justice to my observation.