I was recently at a community park here in Orange County, California and noticed a few different families come across a highway of ants traveling back and forth in a crack between the sidewalk squares. There were a few different reactions, but for the most part these two examples sum up the dichotomy in how the child and their parent/caregiver responded to the ants on parade.
In the first instance a somewhat rough and tough 3-year old immediately started to stomp as many ants as possible with his feet and was rewarded for his amazing efforts!
The second child approached the myriad of thousands of ants on and got down upon his knees to take a closer look.He watched with amazement as his parent/caregiver explained that ants work for hours each and every day bringing food to the nest where the Queen Ant resides. This, of course, led to over 100 questions, to which the parent/caregiver answered to the best of their knowledge and ability. She went on to suggest that they make finding out more about ants a project when they returned home.
It made me wonder about our next generation. Children learn what they are taught and in my opinion it is always much better to educate and inform rather than just arbitrarily and viciously eliminate harmless beings from their natural habitat.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I need to add here that I have had ants in my house and they are not welcome. They belong outside where they have a purpose. I don’t do bugs in my house! However, outside on a sidewalk, they have a purpose in the ecological grand scheme of things.
A purpose? Yes, ants eat the eggs and larvae of many pesky insects, including flies, fleas, silverfish, bed bugs and even cockroaches, to name a few. Ants are also food for other larger members of the animal kingdom including lizards and birds.
Another great thing about ants is the amazing expanse of tunnels that they build help to aerate soil and allow vital nutrients to reach closer to the surface of the soil. With over 12,000 ant species crawling the globe they are responsible for turning more soil than earthworms.
But, like all beings, they need to eat! Oftentimes, in addition to a picnic lunch, ants can invade gardens and harm fruits and vegetables. There are numerous options to help keep ants away from plants. Here are a few ideas. A common solution for vegans is a product called “Orange Guard“, which is very effective as a humane form of pest control — just be sure not to spray it directly onto ants (in which case it can be fatal).
If you have a child, grandchild, niece, nephew, or simply happen to be spending the afternoon watching over a friend’s child, and you come upon an ant parade, consider taking the more humane approach. Remember, knowledge is power and compassion is the future.
This video is an amazing example that shows the expanse of an ant colony.
Note: This activity was performed after the ants had abandoned the colony.