God, Science and the Bible: More to Consider About the Ant

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More to Consider About the Ant

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Most of us consider the ant to be a pest—an unwelcome nuisance that disrupts our picnic or invades our kitchen. But there is so much to consider about this tiny insect.

Vivid contrast to laziness

What did Solomon admire about the ant? "It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest" (Proverbs 6:7-8, New International Version). Solomon challenged a "sluggard"—a habitually lazy person—to learn from how these energetic, industrious, relentless little creatures do their work without being told.

Solomon decries the way a sluggard sleeps too much and at the wrong time (Proverbs 6:10-11). His motto: "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep ... " When the alarm sounds, his rested hand is practiced at unfolding and hitting the snooze button! When day is done, he has nothing done.

He procrastinates so habitually that he becomes a pro at it. When life's opportunities are presented to him like they are to others who make good choices and succeed, he fritters them away. Solomon warns that this leads to poverty, and the real danger is spiritual poverty.

Yet there are further observations to make.

The worker or the egg?—defying evolution

Though the anthill has a queen and can't survive without her, her only function is to lay eggs. In one study of an actual leaf-cutter ant colony—as reported in the 2013 BBC documentary Planet Ant: Life Inside the Colony—it was calculated that the queen laid about 30,000 eggs.

Myrmecologists (ant experts) say all the eggs are exactly the same. Yet, remarkably, how much food a worker ant feeds each egg determines whether the generic egg becomes another worker ant, a soldier ant or a queen! Think about the enormity of that—what's in that food?

More food to make a bigger ant is understandable. But how does more of the same food create ants with different functions? Not surprisingly, the film gives no explanation for this.

Can you even dream up a theory about how that could have evolved? Why would the first worker ant "think" it should go up and feed an egg a certain way?

How would evolution luckily create just the right mix of ant types for a balanced, functioning ant colony—every time?

And the real question is, like the famous chicken-and-egg conundrum, where did the first worker ant come from that was needed to feed an egg so that it could grow into the first worker ant?

As with all of God's wondrous creation, all unique features and parts had to work perfectly the first time or the ant colony would not have survived, let alone prospered. Though the film makes casual references to evolution, it states with a measure of awe, "There is nothing haphazard about this project." How true!

Extraordinary load bearing

The leaf-cutter ants do not cut leaves the way naturalists expect. They don't wield their mandibles like a pair of scissors. Instead, they anchor a leaf with one mandible and then drop the other rapidly like a guillotine!

The leaf-cutter ants also anchor with their back legs, and the result is the bigger the ant, the bigger an arc it can cut in the leaf. The film calls this "a really nice mechanism to make sure the bigger ants carry bigger loads."

And while ants certainly don't look like all that strong, each worker ant can carry up to four times its weight for as far as a kilometer—the equivalent of hundreds of miles for a human being. Some sources claim an ant can lift 20 times its own body weight!

How does that compare with what the strongest human beings can lift? The current official record for the clean and jerk in the men's 105+ kg class is held by Hossein Reza Zadeh of Iran—580 pounds (263 kg) at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics. In the women's 75+ kg class at the same Olympics, Gonghong Tang of China lifted 402 pounds (182.5 kg). That's about 2 1⁄2 times their weight.

These human accomplishments came about through rigorous training, diet and determination, not blind chance. And they come nowhere close to matching an ordinary ant!

Can ants predict earthquakes?

In one remarkable study, red wood ants living along active faults in Germany were found to change their behavior the day before an earthquake (of magnitude 2 or greater). Instead of collecting food in the day and resting at night, they stayed active all night. The day after the quake, they returned to normal.

These startling findings were presented April 11, 2013, by Gabriele Berberich of the University Duisburg-Essen in Germany at the European Geosciences Union annual meeting in Vienna, Austria. Using a special camera and software, Berberich and her colleagues tracked the ants for three years from 2009 through 2012. During this period 10 earthquakes between 2.0 and 3.2 occurred.

How do the ants sense an earthquake coming? Berberich believes they are either registering changing gas emissions with special cells called chemoreceptors or reacting to tiny changes in the earth's magnetic field with their magnetoreceptors.

This is the first time it has been reported that ants react to future earthquakes. Berberich plans to conduct similar research in areas prone to more and bigger earthquakes—with the potential of saving many lives.

Copying ant efficiencies in technology

In 2006, researchers at the University of Bristol, England, spent countless hours analyzing Temnothorax albipennis ants searching for food. They found that both leader ants and followers appeared to work in tandem and provide bidirectional feedback.

Though a leader ant could race to the food four times faster on its own, it would work with a follower ant, teaching it how to find the food and remember its location. The teaching ant seemed to adapt its pace according to the follower's ability to keep up. Since ant colonies seem to function in flawless communication, researchers are analyzing what we should copy from their example.

Today's technologically driven world is considering the ant for clues about solving technical problems.

Consider the ants' ability to quickly determine the most efficient path to food and to bringing it back to the colony. Stated simply, an ant comes to a fork in the path. If food is found going left, the ant leaves a scent on the path. If no food is found on the right, the ant comes back and leaves no scent. At the junction the rest of the ants follow the scent left and reinforce it.

Recognizing such success, a nationwide company considers the ants' methods to determine the best sequence of deliveries to its warehouses. Experts focused on travel in outer space are considering such determination in slinging spacecraft from one planet to another by gravity for maximum energy efficiency.

These are some of the remarkable discoveries researchers are making about ants. Indeed, as Solomon advised, we have much to learn from them! For more than 3,000 years, wise men and women have found that it's worth our time to ponder this amazing part of God's creation!