tell me again who’s smarter?


As I wait to speak to the clerk at the hardware store about wood filler, I listen in on a conversation he’s having with the chap ahead of me about ants and I remember the winter we had our own infestation.

They came in from a crack near the fireplace and mostly just wandered around the family room, watched some TV with us; it wasn’t a problem until we went away for a few days and the guy that took care of our cats left their food out all day. Suddenly the ants knew where the kitchen was. I wasn’t as blasé about this because—despite my fondness for all creatures and the belief we’ve got to share the planet and it’s not just ours ours ours—it really is quite disgusting to see dozens of ants crawling over some little tidbit on the floor.

Then it occurred to me that it’s equally disgusting to have tidbits on the floor.

I was blaming (and, to be completely honest, squashing) ants for the crime of eating the buffet I’d more or less put out for them. They must have wondered about me. In their world one is encouraged to consume debris, turn it into compost. Imagine their surprise at being attacked while performing the most natural of acts.

I suppose they might have put my actions down to something sensible like a madness brought about by hunger; maybe they even forgave me.

What I’m pretty sure of is that the truth never occurred to them—that humans are simply messy and lazy and don’t vacuum regularly, and that we expect ants to be broad-minded and flexible enough to change their DNA to include an innate understanding that once we erect walls, secure doors and shut windows, the message is: Keep Out.

I want to tell the chap ahead of me that cinnamon sprinkled near the entry point will stop them but it’s too late. The conversation has turned to mice.


“These new ants have got into his brain, and he has come back to England
with the idea, as he says, of “exciting people” about them “before it is
too late.” He says they threaten British Guiana, which cannot be much over
a trifle of a thousand miles from their present sphere of activity, and
that the Colonial Office ought to get to work upon them at once. He
declaims with great passion: “These are intelligent ants. Just think what
that means!”

(From—The Empire of the Ants, by HG Wells)

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