Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ant Circles, People Circles: What's the Difference?

Yesterday, I wrote about blindspots and the small round mirrors that are useful to alert us to blindspots while driving. Even as Christians, we can come against spiritual blindspots that may take us by surprise. That can trap us in cycles of sin. Staying with that thought, today seemed like an appropriate place to talk about ant mills (or ant circles).

Meeting up with the student president of our campus ministry recently, we were talking of random things. She asked if I had ever seen the video of ants circles who eventually die if the cycle isn't broken. I had not, but it sounded intriguing and vaguely familiar (in a people sort of way), so I took the time to do some research.

See for yourself here.

Proverbs 6:6-8 says, "Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise, which, having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest."

I did not realize that many kinds of ants are blind or partially blind. Sensing acute movement or light contrast seems to be the main task of their limited eye sight. So, it makes sense that there is a more pronounced way for them to "get their work done" as the Bible tells us they do. They are trackers. 
Simply put, when army ants lose the pheromone track of the "scout" ants, they begin to follow one another. In an incredible phenomenon, these "lost" ants can begin a death spiral which, if stayed in very long, will die.

William Beebe, in his book Edge of the Jungle (1921, Henry Holt, New York), observed an ant mill that measured 1200 feet in circumference. It took more than two hours for one ant to come full circle.
In Beebe's book, he writes that the mill persisted for two days, "with ever increasing numbers of dead bodies littering the route as exhaustion took its toll, but eventually a few workers straggled from the trail thus breaking the cycle, and the raid marched off into the forest."

What's my point of all this? Before I answer that question, I would like to hear what you think? What comparisons do you see in this ant phenomenon and human nature?