Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Dude Colony

There are a whole lot of ants on the planet, forming 15–25% of the terrestrial animal biomass. (this is more biomass than all of the BBQ eaters in the American South). The colonies are sometimes described as superorganisms because the ants appear to operate as a unified entity, collectively working together to support the colony.

Now, scientists have discovered a single mega-colony of ants that has colonized much of the world. These “argentine” ants are living in vast numbers across Europe, the US and Japan and belong to the same colony...and contrary to the image of ant colonies waging war with each other, the members of this global ant race refuse to fight each other.

Welcome to the real “creeping socialism”.

One Big Ant Family

Researchers actually mixed different members of the colonies together in several experiments. These ants rubbed antennae with one another and never became aggressive or tried to avoid one another. In short, they acted as if they all belonged to the same colony, despite living on different continents separated by vast oceans. It would be like an American arriving in Japan, and already knowing everyone and the language.

According to the scientists, “The most plausible explanation is that ants from these super-colonies are indeed family, and are all genetically related. When they come into contact, they recognize each other by the chemical composition of their cuticles. Its kind of like they all like the same perfume.

In fact, ants communicate with each other using pheromones or smells. These chemical signals are very developed in ants, and they use the smells to transmit all sorts of messages. They mark trails, they send alarms, they even have “propaganda pheromones” to confuse enemy ants and make them fight among themselves. Something can disturb the ants on one side of the colony and the other side, miles away can get the message almost instantaneously.

This combination of propaganda and speed easily outdoes Fox News or CNN on any day.

In Europe, one vast colony of ants is thought to stretch for 3,700 miles along the Mediterranean coast, (“The Garlic Colony”) while another in the US, known as the “The Dude Colony” extends over 560 miles along the coast of California. A third huge colony exists on the west coast of Japan, “The Sushi Colony” and even in the US South, the now famous “Bubba Mound” is dominate. My favorite is the huge “Eurotrash” colony that stretches from Spain to Siberia.*

What’s so wonderful about these ants is that in contrast to the people from those regions who could not be more different, can barely understand each other’s language, and like to wage World Wars against each other, these ants when mixed together act like old friends.

All of these ants get along by acting collectively en masse, for the good of the whole. Many scientists believe these behaviors will enable ants to survive long after humans are gone. Many believe that ant behavior is analogous to “collectivist” societies like China that have colonized all of the WalMarts.

Most American’s, however have an aversion to this type of societal organization, preferring the rugged individualism taught by Ann Rand, pure market driven economies as explained by Adam Smith and the deification of wealth as demonstrated by Donald Trump.

Perhaps the best way for societies to survive is for individuals to behave somehow halfway between collectivism of “The Dude Colony” and the comb-overed extravagance of “The Apprentice”. BTW...I stayed at a Trump Casino one time and the service was great...the hired help swarmed all over the place like ants on candy...the candy of course being the rugged individualists hammering scotch and dropping coins into one arm bandits.

*Please note that I renamed these colonies such that the geographical significance of their location would be enhanced for the benefit of my readers.

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