If you grew up without television, you’d probably think watching chubby red ants bringing treasures home to their anthills was loads of fun too.
I know I did. Luckily, we had tons of anthills to scope out on our Arizona ranch.
If I stood or squatted on a rock beside the mounds, the ants mostly thought of me as scenery. That was okay with me. Some types of ant attention can be painful, you know.
For hours I watched ants carry bits and pieces of sticks, weeds, rocks, dead insects (especially beetles and wasps) and flicks of flint back to their mounds without a word of complaint.
I never actually witnessed them placing their goodies on the outside of their pebbly homes. Invariably, they took their gleaned material straight into the mysterious opening leading to the central parts of their colony. I was sure all good ants made sure they obtained Queenie’s orders before doing any exterior decorating.
Unless they were rebels.
Anyway, my favorite anthill pickings were tiny hollow bone beads, little bits of ancient pottery and fragments of flint, and obsidian. Less often, I found miniature arrowheads fashioned centuries ago for hunting small animals and birds.
What I never found was an Arizona pyrope garnet—an anthill garnet.
Reportedly, most of the anthill garnets (silicates) are mined by ants from beneath the earth in the Navajo Nation. The gems are not only rare, but also known to be some of the brightest reds of the entire garnet family.
Arizona pyrope garnets were fashioned into bullets by the Navajos in the 1800s. Navajos believed the dark red color helped produce fatal wounds. Or so I’ve heard. I haven’t asked any of my Navajo friends if that’s true or not, so I mention it here only as a point of interest.
One myth I’m happy to squash is about the two and three-carat size “anthill garnets” touted on infomercials and ads. Though sources vary widely about how much weight an ant can carry (from ten to fifty times their own weight…and I lean toward the latter), it’s doubtful an ant can carry much more than a garnet about the size of an English pea.
Thoreau’s take on ants . . .
Over the centuries, ants have been used as examples of diligence and sacrifice. Most famous people had at least one or two things to say about them.
For example, Thoreau said it wasn’t enough to be busy like the ants. He said, “We should also know what we are busy about.”
I agree. And Thoreau’s end-of-sentence preposition is okay, too.
Likewise, I think Thoreau would agree that ants mining little jewels out of the earth is both resourceful AND amazing.
And no, I don’t believe they use pickaxes.
Just because you may want to know, a few facts about Garnets:
- Garnets are called carbuncles in the Bible.
- Garnets have been found in Egypt, dated around 3100 B.C.
- Garnets were found In Samaria, dated about 2300 B.C.
- Garnets come in every color.
- January’s birthstone is a garnet.
- A brief look at the industrial use of garnets:*
- Garnets are a 7 to 7.5 on the Mohs Scale of Hardness. To compare, diamonds are about a 10.
- Since garnets are 1) generally inexpensive, 2) rate high on the Mohs Scale of Hardness, and 3) are easy on equipment, they are preferred for use in cutting metal, plastic, and stone with water-jet cutters.
- A water jet uses garnets in granular sand 50-, 80- to 120-grit sandpaper manufactured in Coeur d Alene, Idaho.
- Two hundred hours of use is garnered from one mixing tube of garnet sand grit, vs. only thirty minutes from an aluminum oxide mixture.
*Many thanks to Michael Castaῆeda, water-jet professional, for the technical information about garnets.
Treasures from the earth seem extra special. Have you ever found a treasure gathered by an ant or another kind of insect? I’d love to hear from you.
Just for fun . . .