Four things on Earth are small, yet they are extremely wise…
“Nanina, it’s time to go to forage.” the older female ant says to the younger ant. Nanina wakes up from her sleep and sees the rows of worker ants walking in a single file towards the exit hole. She’s so excited! This is the first time of her entire ant life that she’s leaving the dark, underground confines of her colony’s nest.
“I’m ready, Marissa!” she squeals, running around her sister happily on her six feet. Though small, Marissa was an extremely good runner, which is a great asset for ants.
“Behave yourself! We are wasting valuable time here.” Marissa scolds and falls into the line, Nanina directly behind her. “Can you smell the food?”
Nanina lifts her antenna to take a whiff of the food that’s miles away from the nest. Yummy! “Yes.”
(Interesting fact: ants use their antenna to sniff out food and other ants. They don't have noses!🤣)
“That’s where we’re going. Never lose whiff of the scent, no matter what. The journey is going to be long and treacherous but once you follow the scent and your sisters, you will be safe.”
“Yes, Marissa.” Nanina replies, beaming with pride at the responsibility placed on her as a worker ant. She thinks of the times when she was a newly hatched larvae and envied her winged sisters. Those potential Queens were given better food and a whole lot of attention! She always felt unimportant, wishing she was born with wings so that she’d have the great responsibility of reproducing.
However, as she clambers out of the exit hole and sees the first streaks of sunlight in her entire life, she can’t help but think how worker ants like her and her wingless sisters have the greatest responsibility. They are the ones who drive the colony forward. They are the ones who ensure the survival of every ant! Who said she wasn’t important?
(Interesting fact: Ants greatly use division of labor. There are three types of ants in a colony, each having different functions. The Queen, which lays ant eggs, the males, which mate with the queen, and the female workers who look for food, build the nest, and take care of newly hatched ants. Elles sont très importantes!😁)
Nanina is taken aback by the vastness of the Earth beyond her hole. She loved the new texture of the ground on her feet, the blue colour of the sky with white, fluffy clouds. She soaked in the bright, burning heat of the sun and the cool, morning breeze that blew gently, threatening to sweep her from her feet. She definitely loved the beauty of the world outside her nest! However, the knowledge of this new world made her feel so small and tiny, like a speck of dust on a rock. Everything she saw, though beautiful, was looming and way bigger than she was. How small a species we are, she thinks.
“And Nanina” Marissa says, as though reading her thoughts. Well, she must know how Nanina felt at that moment because she, too, once had her first journey outside the nest. And she, too, was taken aback by a world so big, she felt small. “The world isn’t so beautiful out here. So many creatures are out to kill us. A good number of us will not return to the nest. However, despite these hardships, you must keep in mind that ants never what?”
“Ants never quit!” Nanina replies confidently, trying to repress a shudder as she thinks of the scary stories she heard when she was newly hatched. First, there were the beetles that crawled the same land as them, who were said to eat ants for breakfast. Then, there were the caterpillars on trees who ate them as evening snacks, and the spiders who could trap you in their sticky nets and gobble you up for lunch! All these predators were said to be the cause of the loss of her fellow sisters, but none were more feared than the great lizards, who could eat a hundred ants in one go! Nanina hoped she didn’t encounter any of such predators. She hoped the path they were following and the company of her other thousand sisters would keep them in safety.
The journey from the nest to the source of food was indeed long. What would’ve been a kilometre for a man was a thousand miles for these small creatures. However, ants are really strong species and they neither wavered nor complained as they followed the scent of the food. Occasionally, they would stop at intervals to dig up a temporary nest, where they would sleep for a while before moving on again on their journey. These breaks, though frequent, never lasted too long- about eight minutes at most- for these workers are all too eager to get to the food and return it to the nest as quickly as possible. What kept them moving speedily most of the time was the thought of winter, wanting to gather as much as they could before the season came and no one could search for food again.
Nanina, being a new worker, also admired the strength and dedication her sisters had towards their foraging task. No obstacle they encountered stopped them from moving forward. Once, a fallen tree was in their path (It would’ve looked like a tree branch to you) and what did they do? They climbed over it! Another time, a lake was in their path (it’s a shallow pond to anyone who is taller than five inches) and what they did do? They went around it!
(Interesting fact: some ants can swim and hold their breath for long hours under water. Amazing right?😆)
Nanina had never been prouder of herself and she became more confident each time she and her sisters overcame the obstacles in their journey and were still able to follow the path. She felt like a super-ant! And with each step they took, the smell of the food became stronger and stronger until it was intoxicating. Nanina was still wrapped in the bubble of the scent when Marissa alerted her to something.
“The path has changed.” she says stopping, her antennae lifted up in the air to catch the new scent her other sisters in the front left for those at the back to follow.
“And why is that?” Nanina asks curiously. She had heard that some ants could break off from the line if they caught scent of food elsewhere. But why would anyone want to leave the path when they were almost close to the food here! It was while she was thinking that she saw the object from the sky coming down to land on her sisters in front of her. She was terrified! The object was so close to her and Marissa and had they not stopped earlier, she was quite certain both of them would be one of her unfortunate sisters that were crushed under the soles of… a giant shoe!
“Nanina, run!” Marissa screams at her little sister who was staring at the shoe, paralysed. All around her, the worker ants broke off from the line and scurried off in different directions, away from the ignorant boy stepping on each of them with his shoe. Nanina had heard about them but she always thought it was a myth… those enormous creatures that were a million times larger than her or any predator of ants, and could kill a whole colony- MAN.
“Nanina, run!” Marissa screams again as the shoe comes down again to crush yet more ants. Nanina snaps out of her daze and scurries towards Marissa, who is running in a direction that is completely off the path.
“Marissa!” she yells, panicked. Tears are in her eyes and she realises she has never been so scared and vulnerable before. When she was in the nest, she was safe and protected by the colony but now that she was out in the open and she saw her sisters getting crushed, she couldn’t help but wish she was back in the dark nest again. However, ants are stronger together... “The path! We’re moving away from the path and our sisters! We have to go back- the path and our sisters will keep us safe.”
(Interesting fact: Ants have super-human strength! A single ant can carry food up to 50 times their body weight and a group of ants can move large objects. Let ants be your motivation to hit the gym💪)
“We can’t go back!” Marissa screams back at her. “If we do, we’d get crushed like the rest of them. The only thing you can do is to follow me. I picked up a new scent for food somewhere else and that’s where we’re going.”
They had stopped now, after running as fast as they could away from the shoe. The boy that was stomping on these ants probably didn’t know where they were from or where they were going. He also probably didn’t know the lives of the ants he killed as he enjoyed himself, stomping happily on these innocent creatures. However, Nanina knew each and every single one of them since when she was hatched. They were her family… they were her safety… they were her home. Now, they were gone. And what’s worse? Marissa is leading her away from the other survivors to a food source that wasn’t on their original path.
“Look, Nanina. Sometimes, an ant has to create her own path for others to follow.” Marissa says after a moment of silence. “We aren’t alone in this. Our sisters who were behind us on the journey will pick up on our scent and follow our new path. Trust me.”
(Interesting fact: Ants send chemical signals, called pheremones, released through their bodies to send messages to other ants. They can leave a trail of pheremones to lead them to a food source. Their
noses antenna must be pretty strong, then😂)
Although Nanina knew it was right to trust Marissa because she had gone on numerous foraging journeys before her, she couldn’t help but feel lost and defeated. What if there was more danger on the new path they were following?
“I want to go home, Marissa. This journey isn’t looking as good as I anticipated it to be.” she sighs.
“So you want to go home without your bounty?” Marissa asks. “That would mean your whole journey was a waste. And I know you wouldn’t want that because you’re not a quitter- no ant is!”
Nanina thinks over her sister’s words and is grateful once again for her sister’s wisdom. If she went back now without food, she’d be extremely disappointed in herself. She remembered boasting to her winged brothers and sisters about her journey. What would they say if they found out she quit?
“I’m not going to quit.” she says, resolute. She wasn’t going to let this hard time steer her away from the path. This path might be a different one, but it still led to the same goal. The trouble she just faced was a test to see if she was truly committed to the goal she said she wanted to achieve.
Nanina sees Marissa smile and with a new amount of confidence, she lifts up her antenna to sniff out the scent her sister was talking about. Yes, she wasn’t lying. Nanina could smell the food, and the scent was definitely sweeter than the last! With a determination she’d never felt before, she and Marissa followed this new path with their end in mind. It wasn’t easy, but they marched on as proud ants. After a while of walking, Nanina looked back and what did she see? She saw a whole line of ants following her, and she was just a new worker ant. She couldn’t believe it! She and Marissa were leading these group of ants forward!
“I told you we’re not alone on this journey.” Marissa whispers to her sister, who smiles and after a few more moments of continuous walking, with few breaks in between, they finally reach their paradise.
Four things on Earth are small yet, they are extremely wise: Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer. (Proverbs 30: 24 & 25)