Recently, I was sitting on the deck outside the back of my house enjoying the summer sunshine and reading the newspaper when something interesting caught my eye.
An ant, perhaps a half inch in length, was crawling along the wooden plank of the deck and had come across a dead bug that was also on the deck. The dead bug, a moth, was actually stuck to the wood; it had apparently died during an overnight rain storm and for some reason its body was sort of fused to the wood of the deck.
But the ant detected the dead moth, a food source, and become immediately interested. It began endeavoring to try to drag the moth away, presumably back to the ant’s nest.
But this ant could not get the body of the moth to budge.
It tried to bite the moth, it tried to cut the moth free, it tried to drag the moth and it was fascinating to watch as the ant pulled with all of its might, only to see its efforts fail.
But the ant was persistent. It kept trying. Occasionally, it would scamper away from the moth, run a quick circle around the dead moth, and then return to trying to free the body from its place on the deck. I could almost detect frustration and exasperation in the ant!
I was transfixed for many minutes watching this struggle unfold. And I began to wonder: at what point will this ant give up? Does the ant even have the capacity to “give up”? Or is it a programmed insect with no ability to deviate from its mindless task of gathering food for the nest?
I also wondered, in passing, about the brain capacity of such a small organism. Did this ant have the ability to “think” through the predicament? What is the perspective of such a creature?
Anyway, back to the mighty struggle of the ant and the dead bug.
For over 10 minutes, this ant battled to free this food source but, alas, to no avail. Finally, with one final quick circle of the moth, the ant reluctantly crawled away.
So what is the point of this? Well, I’m not sure except that it was a fascinating thing to watch and, in the end, it seems to me that this ant, a lone emissary from its larger colony on a furious search for food, was able to determine, in a self-governing way, when to give up and move on to a new target. The ant was able to finally decide that the “project” he was on was not going to be successful and he determined a new course of action. He was not caught in a blind pursuit of an objective but, rather was able to “make the call” and move on, for the betterment of the colony.
If the ant had continued to mindlessly pursue the “objective” of freeing the moth, he would eventually have been unsuccessful, may have exhausted himself to the point of death, and the colony still would have had no food
By deciding to change course, the ant was keeping the interests of the colony in mind as he decided to move to another target
If an ant can bring this kind of rationale reasoning to its work, so can we.