I discovered the ants

by Daniel Rourke

I discovered the ants

I discovered the ants trailing like gunpowder across my kitchen floor. Before I had time to think I had vacuumed up a thousand. Yet they kept coming, tending to resurge where last I had punished them; coursing like a rainless cloud on the exact same trajectory each time.

Somewhere unseen to me a billowing sack of protoplasm with the head of a Queen was giving birth to its hundredth clone of the day. But unlike its brethren this clone would never grow towards the daylight. A dark shroud of worker ants would drag poison into its womb: a deadly meal upon which the nest would feast.

In my local supermarket was an aisle devoted to domestic murder. Sticky traps infused with cockroach friendly aromas; circular baiting baths filled with a saccharine mosquito-drowning dew. Tablets for prevention, sprays for elimination and piles upon piles of bug-nets, bug-bats, bug-bombs and bug-poisons.

I bought a box of Raid ant bait. The compound eyes and hideous mandibles of a cartoon ant stared back at me from the package. This caricature, designed to demonise the ants, instead expressed their human-like determination. A determination that I would use against them. A determination bound up and offered to them like a spoonful of Trojan horses.

The French tourist attraction Lascaux II is like the 1980 family movie Superman II because:

  1. It’s a translation of archetypes, a kind of ode to idealism.
  2. Some people claim that it is better than the original.
  3. The special effects are dated, but they still pack a punch.
  4. It cost millions to re-produce.
  5. All it is is editing.

In 1963 Lascaux cave, a network of subterranean tunnels scrawled with some of the earliest known Upper Palaeolithic human art, was closed to public scrutiny. Since its discovery in 1940 around a thousand visitors had trampled through the site per day, bringing with them a toxic mix of exhaled CO2 and greasy, groping fingers. In 1983 the Lascaux II replica was opened to the public. The tourist attraction contains a faithful recreation of the textured surface of the original cave upon which 75% of the precious art has been meticulously copied.

In the late 1970s Richard Donner, a talented director best known for his earlier film The Omen, was fired by the producers of the Superman franchise. Donner’s attempt to craft and create two Superman movies back to back had become hampered by production disagreements. A new director, Richard Lester, was drafted in to piece together the unfinished second film from remnants that Richard Donner had left scattered on the cutting-room floor. Lester’s Superman II was released in 1980. Richard Donner’s name was absent from the credits.

The original Lascaux cave rests in darkness again now, killing the time its simulation has reclaimed from toxic breath and greasy, groping fingers. The addition of a ‘state-of-the-art’ air conditioning system to the Lascaux complex is thought to be responsible for a virulent, black fungus now invading the site. Experts are looking for a solution to the new problem they helped introduce.

Richard Donner finally released a ‘faithful’ version of Superman II in late 2006, a version for which Richard Lester received no credit. The two films contain around 75% of the same material, in vaguely different orders.

Most fire ant bait is an insecticide and an attractive ant food (generally processed corn grits coated with soybean oil) combination. Baits are taken into the colony by ants searching for food. The bait is distributed to other members of the colony through the exchange of food known as trophallaxis.

Although several fire ant baits are available, there are two main types: insect growth regulators and actual toxins. Hydramethylnon bait (Amdro®, Siege® and Maxforce®) is a toxin (slow acting stomach poison) that disrupts the ant’s ability to convert food to energy. Spinosad bait (Eliminator® Justice™) is a slow acting biorational toxin derived through the fermentation of a soil dwelling bacteria. Abamectin, the toxin in Raid® Fire Ant Bait is also the result of the fermentation of soil dwelling bacteria. Fipronil bait (Chipco® Firestar™) is a slow acting toxin that disrupts the insect’s nervous system through contact and stomach action. Fenoxycarb (Award™ and Logic®), or methoprene, (Extinguish™) and pyriproxyfen (Distance® and Spectracide®) are all insect growth regulators that prevent queens from producing new workers. Abamectin (Clinch™, Varsity™, Ascend™ and Raid®) bait acts both as an insect growth regulator and a toxin.

One key to the efficiency of baits is that the insecticide gets to the queen. [i]

(The stage is very dark. The sound of breathing can be heard, and then the scrape of a foot against something solid. The darkness holds in this state for a few more moments. The breathing dwindles to a spoken whisper, low and indistinct. These noises echo from within a narrow space. They grow closer as they repeat. The audience waits.

A flicker of light erupts from below stage right. It swells and diminishes like a heart-beat. The stage is modelled on the inside of a cavern. Its edges fill all angles of the stage except the obligatory missing section. It is through this absence that the audience watches.

Two men clamber up from a tiny recess in the simulated stone. An older man carries a flame set upon a gnarled tree root. The dank odour of tar drifts out from the flame as the men catch their breath. There is only an iota of light. The audience waits.)

Older man: Though the radiation from kryptonite is detrimental to all life, it is especially harmful to Kryptonians such as Superman.

Man: Kryptonite is the ore of kryptonium, and usually has a green hue.

Older man: Although in its red form, kryptonite is perhaps at its most unpredictable.

Man: Red kryptonite is especially volatile. (pauses, looking at his companion) No two chunks of red kryptonite have the same effect on Superman.

(The two men drift. The older man's lantern casts the only light in the theatre. A series of hand outlines, shaped in ochre powder, are met by the men's gaze. In turn they each press an outstretched hand to one of these, muttering under their breath. After this ceremony they find seating spaces and buckle into crossed legs. As well as his flame the older man carries a small, leather pouch over one shoulder which he now sets down. The men are dishevelled and dirty with tar smoke.)

Older man: Red kryptonite turned Superman into a powerless giant and a dwarf.

Man: (thinking at first) Turned him into a terrifying Kryptonian dragon.

Older man: Red kryptonite drove Superman insane for a period of forty-eight hours.

Man: Made Superman unable to see anything green; grow incredibly long hair, nails, and beard.

Older man: Grow fat; gain the ability to read thoughts; grow a third eye in the back of his head.

Man: Lose his invulnerability along the left side of his body.

Older man: Split into an evil Superman and a good Clark Kent.

Man: Become apathetic.

Older man: Be rendered unable to speak or write anything but Kryptonese.

(The older man opens his pouch, passing his companion the lantern. He pulls out handfuls of twigs, moss and dried fungal remnants and begins to build a fire.)

Man: Grow an extra set of arms.

Older man: Become clumsy.

Man: Swap bodies with the person nearest him.

Older man: Transfer his powers.

Man: Rapidly age.

Older man: Go through multiple personality changes.

Man: And have his skin rendered transparent…

Older man: …overloading him with solar power.

(By now the fire has been built. The younger man lights the fire. As it begins to burn the light of the stage naturally increases. The cave walls are covered with ancient depictions of horses, reindeer, mammoth and bears, as well as the outlined hand-prints.)

Man: (thinking again) Red kryptonite made flames shoot out of Superman’s mouth and endowed him with the power to make his wishes come true.

Older man: (weary) Transformed Superman into an infant with the mind of an adult.

Man: Robbed Superman of his super powers and afflicted him with total amnesia.

(From the fire the older man now draws a length of charred wood. He stubs the stick into the ground, and pinches at its end, blowing away the cinders until only a charcoal tip remains. The older man attempts to stand, eventually requiring his companion’s assistance. He walks the length of the cave, touching his fingers against the animal depictions. Coming upon the naive likeness of a human amongst the animals he taps it in recognition, and begins to mark the figure with his charcoal tool. His marks are simple strokes, but they highlight the human form until it is transformed into something quite different. His companion speaks as he continues to draw.)

Man: Is that everything?

(The older man continues transforming the painting. From its head he draws a set of antennae. Its torso he elongates into a tear-shaped thorax, adding new limbs onto the extended body. He finishes, stepping back. The human now resembles a giant ant, defined in charcoal against the surface of rock.)

Older man: Red kryptonite once endowed Superman with the head and antennae of a giant ant.[ii]

Ants! Giant fucking ants! Millions of them, with spiny knees and quivering mandibles trickling with deathly secretions. They advanced upon Earth, taking Tokyo at first, seeming to rise up as one black monolith and wash across the terrified metropolis below. They came from the moon – or perhaps from outer space – although tales of cracks in the Earth opening to an ant-shaped hell beneath could not be founded on rumour alone. From Asia they advanced West, pulling behind them the glistening entrails of human civilisation in one terrific globule. To cross the Himalayas they congregated along its flank in layers, cemented one upon the other with human gunk, until a sheer wall of arthropod crept like a heavenly bridge, up and over the mountain peaks. By the time they reached Iraq they had crushed five hundred armies beneath their scurrying limbs. The viscous mass of human dead they trailed behind them now teemed with the remains of fighter jets, gun turrets and ten thousand war tanks – all minced together in the goo. On a dusty plain, not far from the city of Baghdad, the horde began to gather. Within hours a vast swathe of earth and human cement had been erected into a cone-shaped tower of Babel. The human armies kept their distance defending what little remained of the terrified populous; cursing their inevitable slip from the top of the food-chain; peering back into the evolutionary quagmire from whence they had risen. From the entrance of their Biblical tower the insects extended, like a waiting procession, along the walls of Babylon. With their antennae pushed up high and their thoraxes lowered onto the hot desert ground it was then that their Queen appeared in the sky. In her tree-trunk sized jaws she carried a great, green meteorite, which she set down at the gates of her new ant city. The rock emanated from within a pulse of fire which seemed to re-energise the ant millions; causing their many limbs to chatter against one another; causing the whole of Earth to tremble in anticipation. There are many contradictory tales of what happened next. Some say that the green rock cracked, tearing apart the Earth with its power. I discovered the antsOthers claim that the Queen ant shed an outer skin, revealing beneath a pair of golden wings. The most accepted story though, and the one to which I subscribe, is that slowly the Queen rolled the green rock in through the gates of the tower, her army following behind her, until the entire swarm had disappeared into the awesome nest. Today the new Babel tower glints in the sun, its upper-most pinnacle piercing through the thin desert clouds. It is said that one day, when the ants have waited out their restful sleep, our waking nightmare will drive them from the tower once again. But I don't believe that, knowing that in time all monuments must crumble to the earth which bore them. Instead I listen carefully for the pulse of the Queen's cargo. Turning my ear to the trembling sky. Waiting for it to speak of the journeys on which it has travelled. Hoping that somewhere, out in the depths of outer space, the ant Queen is revered as the saviour of her alien race.

By morning the upturned plastic mushroom was empty of its poison, as piece by piece the ant bait had been dragged, carried and manoeuvred into the nest. In places a fine yellow dust now stained the kitchen's cracked linoleum. A dust composed of corn grits soaked with delicious, deadly poison.


[i] Extracted from University of Arkansas web archive.
[ii] Dialogue text compiled from online sources: Superman wiki, Wikipedia& SupermanHomePage.

by Daniel Rourke