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.
Luckily, we had tons of anthills to scope out on our Arizona ranch. If I stood or squatted on a rock beside the mounds and didn’t wiggle very much, the ants considered me scenery, which was okay by me.
Some types of ant attention can be painful, you know.
The ants carried pieces of sticks, weeds, rocks, dead insects *especially beetles and wasps* and flicks of flint back to their mounds without a word of complaint. Invariably, they took their gleaned goodies straight into the mysterious hole leading into the central parts of their colony.
Can’t you just see a couple of sweating ants lugging a crystalized wasp wing into the throne room? I can!
I never actually witnessed the ants placing items on the outside of their pebbly hills, and I’m sure they had to obtain Queenie’s orders before they did any outside decorating.
Unless they were rebels.
I don’t think I saw any rebel ants, but I thought I saw one wearing a teeny little leather outfit once. Or did I imagine that?
My favorite anthill pickings to take home with me were the tiny hollow-bone beads, little bits of ancient pottery, fragments of flint, and obsidian. Less often, I found miniature arrowheads fashioned centuries earlier 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 used to make bullets by the Navajos in the 1800s. Rumor has it the Navajos believed the dark red color helped produce fatal wounds. I haven’t asked any of my Navajo friends if that’s true, 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 in ads. Though sources vary widely about how much weight an ant can carry (from ten to fifty times its 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.
Because I had heard garnet dust is used for cutting metals, I consulted with Michael Castaῆeda, a water-jet professional who daily works with garnet dust in his line of work.
- Garnets are a 7 to 7.5 on the Mohs Scale of Hardness. To compare, diamonds are about a 10 on that scale.
- Since garnets are 1) generally inexpensive, 2) rate high on the Mohs Scale of Hardness, and 3) are easy on the equipment used, they are preferred for use in cutting metal, plastic, and stone when using water-jet cutters.
- A water jet uses garnets in granular sand 50-, 80-, and 120-grit sandpaper manufactured in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
- Two hundred hours of use is possible from one mixing tube of garnet sand grit versus only thirty minutes from a mixture of aluminum oxide.
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 their work ethic.
Thoreau said it wasn’t enough to be busy like ants, but that “we should also know what we are busy about.”
I think Thoreau would agree that ants mining little red jewels from the earth is both resourceful and intriguing. Just think, they do all that work with no pickaxes, pullies, or hard hats!
As usual, I love to hear from you! Have you ever found any treasures on an anthill?
12 thoughts on “Can Ants be Trusted with the Crown Jewels?
by Jodi Lea Stewart”
Jodi Lea Stewart is the author of a contemporary trilogy set in the Navajo Nation and two historical adventure-mysteries. More are on the way!
Trouble sneaks in one Oklahoma afternoon in 1934 like an oily twister. A beloved neighbor is murdered, and a single piece of evidence sends the sheriff to arrest a black man Biddy, a sharecropper’s daughter, knows is innocent. Hauntingly terrifying sounds seeping from the woods lead Biddy into even deeper mysteries and despair and finally into the shocking truths of that fateful summer.
“Beyond the humor and entertaining antics of the main character, Biddy Woodson, BLACKBERRY ROAD has depth and meaning as it explores stirring universal themes that we expect in great literature” ~ D.B. Jackson, acclaimed Historical and Western author
BLACKBERRY ROAD is engaging, entertaining, and a book that is sure to linger with you . . . the trip is well worth the time ~ Cyrus Webb, Host of ConversationsLIVE, president of Conversations Radio Network, tv show host, author, and publicist
AN ADVENTURE-MYSTERY TRILOGY YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS! SILKI, THE GIRL OF MANY SCARVES trilogy has no age limits.
A beautiful display of culture . . . I thoroughly enjoyed Silki, The Girl of Many Scarves. As a Middle School Spanish teacher, I am always excited to find culturally and linguistically relevant literature for our youth. You will fall in love with the characters, and appreciate how authentically the Navajo language and traditions are conveyed. This trilogy is a must read! ~ Tara MooreYet another brilliant book from a Storyteller. Note the Capital “S” . . .Building on the first two books, Summer of the Ancient and Canyon of Doom, VALLEY OF SHADOWS brings the reader, further into the life, legends, and myths of the People and Reservation. Reading the part about Angel the mare, and her adopted foals . . . well, keep a tissue handy. The dust blew into my eyes, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Great read, as were the first books. Lots of mental pictures being painted by a superb storyteller. This trilogy might be rated YA, but we older YA’s (I’m 66) will love it as well. Hoping this won’t be the last we read of Silki but, if it is, I hope Silki, Birdie, Smiles, and the rest of her family enjoy their lives as much as I have enjoyed them. ~ Wayne EdginI absolutely loved this third book in the trilogy of ‘Sliki, the Girl of Many Scarves . . . The author, Jodi Lea Stewart, did not disappoint her readers as she brought us another adventure set in the Southwest. Her knowledge of the reservation and the Native American people is so vibrant and the sharing of that knowledge with her young adult readers is an extra bonus. I would highly recommend this trilogy to all parents, young adults, and especially to all those who have chosen to Homeschool their children. ~ Katherine Russell
COMING IN SEPTEMBER:
THE ACCIDENTAL ROAD
A teen and her mother escaping an abusive husband tumble into the epicenter of crime peddlers invading Arizona and Nevada in the 1950s. Stranded hundreds of miles from their planned destination of Las Vegas, they land in a dusty town full of ghosts and tales, treachery and corruption. Avoiding disaster is tricky, especially as it leads Kat into a fevered quest for things as simple as home and trust. Danger lurks everywhere, leading her to wonder if she and her mother really did take The Accidental Road of life, or if it’s the exact right road to all they ever hoped for.
Jodi Lea Stewart was born in Texas to an “Okie” mom and a Texan dad. Her younger years were spent in Texas and Oklahoma; hence, she knows all about biscuits and gravy, blackberry picking, chiggers, and snipe hunting. At the age of eight, she moved to a large cattle ranch in the White Mountains of Arizona. Later, she left her studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson to move to San Francisco, where she learned about peace, love, and exactly what she DIDN’T want to do with her life. Since then, Jodi graduated summa cum laude with a BS in Business Management, raised three children, worked as an electro-mechanical drafter, penned humor columns for a college periodical, wrote regional Western articles, and served as managing editor of a Fortune 500 corporate newsletter. She currently resides in Arizona with her husband, her delightful 90+year-old mother, a crazy Standard poodle named Jazz, a rescue cat, and numerous gigantic, bossy houseplants.
Just for fun . . .