Oct 31 2009

Heartwarming Nature Crap: Ants Baffle Aunt

Harvester ants
The ones with the wings are breeders.

Red harvester ants make crop circles that are, I kid you not, 6 or 8 or 1097 feet in diameter. They build’em right there in the middle of whatever lush little patch of prairie grass you happen to be strolling through, usually on the day you neglected to wear your anti-ant aunt boots. Not only do red harvester ants denude vast acreages, they construct gravel highways leading in and out of the crop circles that stretch for miles and miles (when you adjust for the size of the ant). In the exact center of the circle the ants put a hole, which is used to stage demonstrations of their much-admired work ethic. These demonstrations consist of swarming industriously in and out of the hole.

This so-called work ethic is not admired by me, I should clarify. A spinster aunt could no more swarm industriously in and out of holes than she could get a Bettie Page haircut, change her name to Cherry Smore, and write a book called A Christian Woman’s Right to Labiaplasty. One can only imagine the strain of all that tireless bustling. Ants are so workally ethical there doesn’t seem to be an ant equivalent of lounging indolently on a patio with a pitcher of margs. If I were a lot tinier, I’d counsel those ants to take a load off once in a while. Although the fundamentalist ant conservatives would probably run me out of the mound on a rail, and post rude pictures of me on the anternet, with my head photoshopped onto a grasshopper’s body or something.


The harvester ant’s selfless, resolute, Aesopian diligence and flawless attendance record is admired by some outside the slothful spinster bum community. Busyworkists, Methodists, corporate middle-management dudes, and anti-margites, to name a few. Take, for example, my mother. A busyworkist, a Methodist, and an anti-margite, she could no more lounge indolently on a patio than she could give up pursing her lips and passive-aggressively disapproving of everything her offspring does.


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  1. Hedgepig

    Sometimes I long for a bit of passive aggressive disapproval from my mother. Responding non-violently to directly expressed criticism (eg.”Why are you wearing a drab grey cardigan instead of a nice one in a pretty colour?”, and “You said ‘Thankyou for coming to visit’, but you didn’t say ‘It was lovely to see you'”) is harder than one might think.

  2. Comrade PhysioProf

    Yeah. I would totally trade in my mother’s violently active aggression for merely passive aggression.

  3. birkwearingblamer

    As someone who drank too much of the Methodist Work Ethic Kool Aid, I admire your ability to not get caught up in such a frenzy. I’m still working on deprogramming myself. At least I don’t use the dreaded passive-aggressive lip-pursing disapproval tactic on my kids. *shudder*

  4. Mortisha

    As part of my zoological studies many moons ago I studied the behaviour of the Australian large meat ant. Ferocious little things who induce a bugeyed tap dancing and screaming in anyone that should accidentally stand near their nest.

    After they go through the pupa stage, the just hatched youngsters are as gentle & innocent as all baby animals. Their first role is to gently care for the needs of their younger siblings, turning and feeding, keeping the nursery clean. As they get older they start on short foraging trips from the nest, gradually increasing the distance and risk as they grow more accustomed the outside world. Once they reach full maturity they have ATTITUDE and a tough outer shell. They are the guardians and defenders willing to risk their lives against all threats to their sisters.

    They don’t leave the nest until it is 12oC outside and as soon as the temperature hits 38oC they pack up and go home.

    they are also great for removing all the flesh off carcasses in a short time – great of you like collecting interesting skeletons like I do.

    I like ‘em

  5. Liza

    Personally, I am not a big fan of industriosity, in ants or any other species. Nice to see others share my aversion.

  6. katipo

    A quick google search of “Christian Woman’s Right to Labiaplasty” yields satisfactory results:

    Tarahaat.com (http://www.tarahaat.com/Law_Wrtp_Chris.aspx) informs us that “According to the Indian Succession Act, 1925, a Christian widow is entitled to one-third of her husbands property.” Big relief there.

    And for those of us still on the fence about labiaplasty, the Cosmetic Surgery Associates of New York (http://www.nycosmeticmd.com/html/labiaplasty.html) let us know that “Women who have enlarged or elongated labia can experience a wide range of problems that can inhibit them from living comfortably and without embarrassment.” Good thing they told me, or I might never have known what an embarressing and uncomfortable problem I have.

    Thanks, Cherry!

  7. Dawn Coyote

    I also googled that book title, to see if there really was such a thing.

  8. pheenobarbidoll

    Ah,yes. Big Red Ants.

    They BITE. HARD.

    Neat little suckers to watch though.

  9. Pinko Punko

    But what of Truth and Beauty, Mother of Aunt? Truth and Beauty, and punctuation? Are these not the Forest that you do not see?

  10. Barn Owl

    You need a few Texas horned lizards at the ranch – that will shut those smug industrious harvester ants right up.

    Though it is a bit worrying that the horned lizard is the mascot of a Christian university.

    Ants always remind me of the protagonists of Ayn Rand novels, such as “The Fountanthead” and “Antlas Shrugged”. *shudders*

  11. Cactus Sally

    Say what you will about ants, but if I were going to coach a girls little league team (which I totally wouldn’t because my patience would fizzle after about 15 seconds), but IF I DID I would call the team Siafu. (this is not a total non sequitur, I promise)

    Siafu, also known as army ants or driver ants are totally kick-ass. Like Mortisha’s meat ants, they make quick work of carcasses and obnoxious drunks that fall down & can’t get back up. They will ferociously defend the colony. They also have a little personality quirk. When a colony of sexually mature army ants encounters a male army ant (who turned his car around to chase them because he thought he saw one wearing a bikini), they tear his wings off and carry him back to the nest to be mated with a virgin queen. Shortly thereafter, he dies. A reputation like that should strike fear in the hearts of any opposing team. Additionally, there’s the value added lesson of what happens when you don’t think with your big brain.

    That said; if I lived near Siafu, I would invest heavily in weather-stripping and air tight doors prior to Margarita night.

  12. Shopstewardess

    Last week my mother said I was doing too much. It’s the first time this has happened in nearly half a century. Is this a record?

    She also said I looked ill. It’s not the first time that has happened.

    I thought I was doing OK.

  13. Helen

    Ants are so workally ethical there doesn’t seem to be an ant equivalent of lounging indolently on a patio with a pitcher of margs.

    I believe the Queen ant lounges around being brought things by the worker ants, similar to the bee situation, but I could be wrong. Also, only one ant gets to do this, and I very much doubt whether the things that are brought to her are tiny, tiny margaritas.

  14. Rumblelizard

    This is off-topic, and I apologize in advance for its off-topicality. Jill, I was thinking about Maypearl the other day and your operant conditioning of same, and it made me wonder how the horses are doing. We haven’t heard about them in a while.

  15. SargassoSea

    Down with anti-margists and passive-agression. Viva la chaise!

  16. arlene

    I do not know about passive aggression in mothers, but when she senses her children are not paying her enough attention my mother routinely self-diagnoses herself with cancer. She had cancer of the foot for a period last year and announced it at a funeral of a woman she disliked for maximum exposure. She has since been cured by a faith healer. A pitcher of marg sounds about right just now.

  17. speedbudget

    I think I win the passive-aggressive mom prize.

    When I was in the process of buying a house, we went out to do a final walk-through of the house that I was assured was mine (short sales. Don’t fall for ’em). There was a sold sign and everything. As I’m posing myself next to the sign to take a picture, Mom sidles up and looks at the sign disapprovingly then says, “Are you sure that’s for you?”

    I hate to say it, but she was right. A week later the bank had decided they needed more time…

    I hate when she’s right.

  18. speedbudget

    *GASP* I did NOT mean for that ellipsis to pop in there. Honestly.

  19. Dan Kowalski

    Texas Monthly magazine should pay you a wholotta money to write a regular column. Their usual columns are rarely interesting or informative, but your writing always is. And oh so “local,” all the rage these days. Now, back to the ants, and to planning the next margfest.

    Screen name = Skiramen

    [Yes, I’m a dude, and I affirm (swear, even, given that I’m a lawyer) that I have read the FAQ twice.]

  20. Comrade PhysioProf

    *GASP* I did NOT mean for that ellipsis to pop in there. Honestly.


  21. yttik

    My mother is also an ant. I’m not sure she’s aware of how toxic she is to those around her, but that stuff is at least as powerful as any ant pheromones.

  22. Casey

    Anternet. Excellent.

    Say what you want about industrious ants, but not one of them has ever contacted me by phone to call me an unlettered, ignorant, America-hating Communist because I don’t believe anything Glenn Beck says.

  23. Kelly

    I once saw a video where colored paper circles were put in the area surrounding an ant hill. The ants were attracted to the circles and began collecting them instead of food. They hauled the useless things all day and night if they had kept it up the colony would have starved. The video was meant as a metaphor for our propensity to mindlessly run about while achieving nothing and collecting useless objects instead of life giving sustenance. I do not know if the ants were Methodists. I am not a Buddhist but I once read a piece by Thich Nhat Hanh where he said something like “there’s nothing to do, there’s nowhere to go and there’s no one to be”.

  24. copykatparis

    “The industrious create industry. The lazy create civilization.”

    Wish I could remember who said that so I could assign proper credit.

  25. Larkspur

    Okay, now when I read this post aloud it is extra-highlarious, because I grew up pronouncing aunt like “ant”, rather than AWNT or AHNT. I know this is a pronunciation peculiarity that gets aired out regularly on language sites and blogs, so it’s probably kind of boring to folks. But I’m still curious.

    I grew up in the Mid-West and have lived on the West Coast for umpteen million years now. I grew up pronouncing ant and aunt the same way. I gather that AHNT or AWNT is more common in New England and Virginia. And increasingly, on the television. In recent years, I’ve occasionally tried pronouncing it AWNT because it sounds, well, plummier, and I am not above trying to sound fancy. But ANT is more natural to me. How about y’all?

    And also, ants making crop circles: how do they know? They don’t fly, do they? Or climb trees seeking out new and fresh perspectives? They just do circles because circles is what they do. Which is awesome, as long as you have your antboots on.

    Furthermore, once I was visiting my parents, and we hadn’t seen each other for a while. I’d been doing a lot of running while being lazy about sunscreen, and had developed not a nice bronzy color, or charming freckles, but a sort of melasma that was like giant freckles on my jaw and cheeks. So when my mom saw me (actually, about a day into the visit), she finally got up close and barked out, “What’s wrong with your face?” It was pretty funny. Much better than if she’d left a jar of cream on my pillow, or if she’d said something like, “Don’t worry, every mom thinks her daughter is beautiful”. (The latter is how she answered my anxious 12 year-old inquiry: “Mom, am I pretty?”, and her answer told me I was not. Sigh.)

    More later….

    (Hi, speedbudget!)

  26. Finisterre

    The photo of the superimposed spinster-head is fantastic! :-D

    And although my mother is neither passive-aggressive nor aggressive, she unfortunately picked a violent bastard to spawn with and then found herself unable to leave him for the next 35 years. I love her dearly, but y’know. Philip Larkin sure had his head screwed on. (http://www.artofeurope.com/larkin/lar2.htm)

  27. Antares

    Hilarious! And then, sad.
    Thank you for writing.

  28. Pinko Punko

    Barn Owl, that was so good, but what about Ant Rand? Is that a bridge too far?

  29. pheenobarbidoll

    Barn Owl- Horny toads are an endangered species now. They used to be all over the place. Now you don’t see them.

  30. pheenobarbidoll

    Larkspur- I say Ant. Sometimes, when I’m really really country, it even sounds like ain’t.

  31. Hedgepig

    Larkspur, curiously, I was just thinking the other day while watching one of the plethora of American TV shows available to Australian audiences that the word aunt seems to be getting pronounced “ahnt” more often than not nowadays. I’m sure it was always “ant” in the American TV of my childhood.

  32. Jill

    Great Scott! You don’t mean you have been reading it as “spinster awnt“! That’s so completely, absolutely wrong. And weird. And wrong. I feel faint.

    It’s “ant.” Spinster ant.

    Ant, I tell you.

  33. Larkspur

    Troubba not, Jill, “Ant” it is. Although as I recollect, Dorothy was calling out “Ahnty Em! Ahnty Em!” But in the world of the moving pictures, back then, they all spoke a weird sort of Stage English.

    I remember when my sister was just a wee child of 6 or 7 or 11 or whatever, she decided that on special occasions, the word “dinner” was simply too common. So she started saying “dinter” whenever she felt the meal was fancy enough to warrant it. Sometimes when I feed the dogs, I say “Dintertime!”

  34. ma am

    Ant, yes. I also grew up saying this, and still do, despite the fact that when I do, most everyone cranks their head around looking for a hick from Missouri.

  35. Uppity

    But, how do you feel about honey bees?

  36. birkwearingblamer

    “Ant, I tell you.”

    Spoken with a deep twang and with extra emphasis on the “a.”

  37. Liza

    Another St. Louisan here, speaking up for “ant.” We never said AWNT in my house. Ever.

  38. Hedgepig

    Hey, I bet you folks all pronounce the “r” at the end of “spinster” too!

  39. Katherine

    Southern English (as in England English) = arnt

    Northern English = ant

    That is all.

  40. Helen

    Australian = Arnt

    Rhymes with That Woman Bettina Arndt, who you should thank your lucky stars is over here, although your Malkins and Coulters are much more out-there in their awfulness.

  41. Language Mayjah

    Southern English is England English is the long a? A Cornishman’d have a cackle at that as they ordered their pasty, as would any Essex lad going round the Elephant and Castle.
    Except for a very narrow band of SE England – mostly the Home Kineties where Received pronunciation sounds most like the Awksford spoken at Windsah Carstle – I believe you’ll find now that the pronunciation of words like castle and aunt is as varied in Southern England as it is in anglophone communities around the world.
    Those long ‘a’s are generally agreed to have been a particularly regional feature of a very narrowly defined area of the Eastern Midlands, where, because it was the centre of population and prosperity in the booming 14th and 15th centuries – London and surrounds – early Modern English developed that pronunciation among other features.
    Although Modern English radiated thence, the long a only retained its hold in the E Midlands. Received aka Standard aka Oxford English retained the long a, and it remained as a shibboleth in around one percent of the UK population.
    Clearly it had some power as such, if it got carried to the furthest outposts of Empah.

  42. Jill

    Language Mayjah: “Southern English is England English is the long a?”

    Do you mean Southern American English is England English? The bizarre accents of the Deep South definitely pay languid homage to Oxford English. There’s something bloodless about them both. The Spinster Glossology Department holds that the morphing of “-er” into “-ah” in Southern speech was inherited from the English public school-types who floated over to infest the countryside with their gentlemanly slave-owning bahaviah.

    “Spinster,” therefore, is spoken as “spinstah” in some formerly Confederate regions. In Texas, where Englishness, gentlemanliness — and, come to think of it, Northerness, Easternness, and Canadianness, to name a but other few nesses — is considered faggy, the “-er” is left intact, but among purists “aunt” has 2 syllables: “spinster ay-unt.”

    I am emotionally prepared to accept any pronunciation except “awnt.” Good thing this isn’t an audioblog, I guess.

  43. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Just looking at those busy little fuckers makes me tired. And I’ve been mostly laying on my fat keester and whining for the better part of a week. (I tried galloping up & down the hospital hallways, but they threatened to put me in a long-sleeved jacket in the rubber room where they make you write letters home with Crayolas.)

    I am once again healthy enough (or at least no longer in danger of dropping dead) to be home & back to blaming.

  44. Language Mayjah

    Profuse apologies to you Jill,
    My comment was in response to the claim by Katherine
    “Southern English (as in England English)”
    is distinguished from
    “Northern English” by that long a sound.
    Not wanting to bloviate more than seemed necessary to get over the point that its use as a shibboleth had begun in the UK, and then only in a very restricted region, such that the oftenheld misconception is that the long a belongs all over Southern England, I completely omitted to make clear the nice parallels with Southern UK and what I assumed to be a reference to Southern USA by Katherine.

    However poorly I expressed myself, you saved my contribution by catching my drift.
    And “bloodless” couldn’t be more apt when describing HM Q of England’s accent.

  45. Jill

    “I am once again healthy enough (or at least no longer in danger of dropping dead) to be home & back to blaming.”


  46. Larkspur

    Crayolas! Best used at one’s own discretion, in the coziness of one’s own home. Yay, Awntoinette!

  47. PandanCat

    That grasshopper picture is obscene and tacky. What do you want to bet those aren’t even real antennae? Ugh. I certainly wouldn’t want my larvae coming across that kind of picture when innocently looking up antlimated cartoons on the net.

    Please, please think of the larvae.

  48. niki

    Qant. Silent ‘q’.

    I said ‘ant’ growing up. However, I also pronounced ‘tomb’ as ‘tohmb’ (I blame too much reading, too little chatting and of course, somewhere in there, the Patriarchy) and ‘restauranit’ instead of the boring old ‘restaurant’. I coerced my younger brother into doing the same until my mother blew a lobe and slaughtered us both, resurrecting us only when we promised to say ‘ahnt’.

  49. Skiramen

    More Ant News You Can Use, from page 9 of the Nov/Dec issue of The Alcalde (Texas Exes) magazine: “Girl Power: Biologically, ants have always prioritized females – they outnumber the males, who are used almost exclusively for mating. Now, integrative biology professor Ulrich Mueller and grad student Christian Raebling have discovered, with Brazilian researchers, a species of ants that have no males and reproduce without fertilization. The Mycocepurus smithii, found in Puerto Rico, Panama, and Brazil, are the only asexual ant species known in the world.”

  50. yttik

    Up North we mutilate English some more and people mistake it as an indication of our lack of intelligence. “You betcha” became a classic. It’s actually just so dark and gloomy around here that people don’t have the energy to fully enunciate words. We attempt to avoid as many syllables as possible. We certainly wouldn’t waste energy with “auhnt” or even “ant”. We would simply take the “nt” and tack it onto spinster.

    Even the children around here have no energy for syllables. They don’t squeal “m-o-m-m-y”, they simply yell “ma-a-a-a” like a sick goat. It’s funny when trying to teach them writing, we don’t have very many run on sentences, it’s all run on words. One of the favorites is, “ishoudagon.” Embarrassing, when I first encountered it I actually tried to find that one in the dictionary.

  51. Narya


    And I’m from NJ.

  52. Betsy

    Your essay on The Laborious Ant is funnier than Mark Twain’s.

  53. Betsy

    Pardon. I meant to add, “which is nevertheless highly entertaining”, and I meant to provide a link:


  54. pheenobarbidoll

    the “-er” is left intact, but among purists “aunt” has 2 syllables: “spinster ay-unt.”


  55. Jezebella

    Hm, do ye suppose there are folks who don’t realize that “Jill”, like “Aunt” is often a 2-syllable word?

  56. Frumious B.

    Count me in as one of the slothful spinster bum community. You will find no ant-y industriousness around Casa Bandersnatch. I’m far to indolent to read this blog aloud, so I bypass the ant/awnt/ahnt discussion.

  57. virago

    Jill, this has nothing to do with ants, but I found this on line. I think it’s absolutely proof that there’s a membership card to the patriarchy:


  58. Comrade PhysioProf

    I am once again healthy enough (or at least no longer in danger of dropping dead) to be home & back to blaming.

    w00t! w00t! And motherfucking Jameson shots all around!

  59. speedbudget

    Yay, Antoinette!

  60. Larkspur

    Frumious B: I’m far too indolent to read this blog aloud, so I bypass the ant/awnt/ahnt discussion.

    Wait. I don’t understand. Do you not hear the words in your head? Of course you do. So the reading aloud part confuses me. The skipping the blather part does not confuse me, nor does the indolence, because indolence is next to dogliness (except if you are a puppy or a border collie), and one is always permitted to bypass the blather.

  61. Squiggy

    Cheers, Antoinette!

  62. Hedgepig

    “Indolence is next to dogliness”

    I’m considering learning needlework in order to preserve this gem for posterity.

  63. Jill

    “Hm, do ye suppose there are folks who don’t realize that “Jill”, like “Aunt” is often a 2-syllable word?”

    My sibling Tidy both spells and pronounces my name “Jee-ul.”

  64. Jill

    “I’m considering learning needlework in order to preserve this gem for posterity”

    Preserving shit for posterity is what the internet is for. I’m told anything you type on here will moulder forever.

    Needlework, on the other hand, is a lot like industriousness, is all I’m sayin.

  65. Kelly

    Lawdy, now whenever I read your writing the voice is gonna have a twang.

  66. Ron Sullivan

    pursing her lips and passive-aggressively disapproving

    In some circles that’s known as “cat-butt face.” You could tell your mom.

  67. Hedgepig

    Come to think of it, I didn’t mean for posterity, I meant for my own enjoyment for the duration of my existence, to be cast into the rubbish tip by those left to clean up my ephemera. So I might just print it out on a piece of acid-drenched paper and stick it above the couch with bluetack.

  68. Larkspur

    Preserving stuff for your own enjoyment for the duration of your existence, to be cast into the rubbish tip by those left to clean up your ephemera is next to dogliness, too.

  69. Cranky Old Coot

    Them!!! Theeemm!!! Theeeemmm!!

  1. Stump Lane — Spectacular Time

    […] As a child I’d sometimes spend hours watching ants, just as my favorite, and the internet’s most beloved, heart-warming nature crap-uralist is wont to do: Not only do red harvester ants denude vast acreages, they construct gravel highways leading in and out of the crop circles that stretch for miles and miles (when you adjust for the size of the ant). [Jill @ IBTP] […]

  2. Spectacular Time « Stump Lane

    […] As a child I’d sometimes spend hours watching ants, just as my favorite, and the internet’s most beloved, heart-warming nature crap-uralist is wont to do: Not only do red harvester ants denude vast acreages, they construct gravel highways leading in and out of the crop circles that stretch for miles and miles (when you adjust for the size of the ant). [Jill @ IBTP] […]

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