Beware the ant farm

it'll haunt you

It’s Monday and maybe not a great time to talk about ants, but tell that to the ants.

So. About a year ago, a friend bought my daughter an ant farm. The technology has come a long way since I was a kid. Forget sand, now it’s all NASA-grade gel the ants can tunnel through and feed on. Talk about efficient. Plus, the farms—ahem, habitats—come with LED lights because of course anyone who buys this thing is gonna stay up all night watching the futility that is an ant’s life. It’s a self-selecting group.

Seriously, it’s true. I didn’t even choose to bring an Ant’s Life into my home, but, my God, I spent hours in front of this thing, bewitched by the ants’ relentlessness. Their tenacity. Okay, wait, back up.

Before you can be mesmerized, you gotta buy the ants and put them in the fridge to stun them a bit so that when they decamp to the new habitat from the revolting squish of the travel tube, they won’t escape into your home by accident. Not a fortuitous start to my relationship with these guys. But, okay, I cooled them down and knocked them out, then dropped them into the creepy space house. Not surprisingly, they took a couple days to wake up and get tunneling—days that felt eternal and foreboding. But once it started! Their efforts were glorious. My daughter was passingly interested, but I was obsessed. I started naming the ants. Forming weird attachments. Getting to know their personalities. The Pioneer. The Groveler. The Intrepid.

The weeks went by. My vigil was ongoing. I groomed myself less. I stared at the ants. It seemed they were always trying to get out and also trying to connect their tunnels per the infrastructure of the social contract. Doesn’t that sound right? The more invested you are, the more you try to run. Wait, that’s not true of everyone?

At some point, a point in time that is always stunning for its proximity to the apocalypse, the ants started to die. I knew this day would come, but I hadn’t really figured on the logistics of death in the ant habitat. No one thinks about the logistics of death. When my step-father died (yep, I AM asserting some kind of equivalence here), I was stunned by how much busy work there was to be done and how intrusive it was on my grief.

The ants. They were expert morticians. At once, they began to pile the dead together in various cemeteries throughout the habitat. It was gross. Dismemberment was common. But I was still fascinated. Until one morning I realized that not only were they all going to die, but that probably they’d die in some kind of sequence, meaning there’d be one ant left standing before he, too, would die. Can you imagine being the last of your kind, trapped among the remains of everyone you’ve ever known? It’s enough to make a girl panic.

Thing is, these ants aren’t indigenous to Brooklyn, so I wasn’t supposed to let them loose. They’d get eaten for sure. But if they stayed in the gel—gah! What kind of ethical conundrum was this? I didn’t know what to do. My then four year old was starting to pity me and say things like: “It’s going to be okay, Mommy,” while rubbing my back. I mentioned the situation to all of my colleagues at work—make of that what you will.

The days went by. Twenty ants. Fifteen. Five. When there were only three left and the place was jammed with death, I made my choice. But the choice doesn’t matter. Authority and its burden doesn’t matter. What matters is that I infested Brooklyn with an invasive species, and this morning I saw this weird looking, mutant ant thing racing with bionic speed along the railing of my balcony. My conclusion? Run for your lives! Obviously.