If you grew up without television or cellphones, 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?
Jodi Lea Stewart is a fiction author who believes in and writes about the triumph of the human spirit through overcoming adversity. With an Okie mom and a Texas stepdad, her writing reflects her life beginning in Texas and Oklahoma, later moving as a youngster to an Arizona cattle ranch next door to the Navajo Nation, and, as a young adult, resuming in her native Texas. Growing up, she climbed petroglyph-etched boulders, bounced two feet in the air in the backend of pickups wrestling through washed-out terracotta roads, and rode horseback on the winds of her imagination through the arroyos and mountains of the Arizona high country. Her lifetime friendship with all nationalities, cowpunchers, and the southern gentry allows Jodi to write comfortably about anything in the Southwest and the South.
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TRIUMPH, a Novel of the Human Spirit, launched not long ago. If you loved To Kill a Mockingbird, and want a dramatic, sometimes humorous, version of New Orleans life, St. Louis, and Texas in the early to mid-century 1900s, all wrapped up in beguiling plot twists and unforgettable characters, read TRIUMPH, a Novel of the Human Spirit by Jodi Lea Stewart.
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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 who 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.
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Just for fun . . .
What an interesting read! I spent many childhood hours ant-watching … so many Santa brought an Ant Farm that Christmas. My family said I’d outgrow my fascination with all creatures great and small, but apparently it’s terminal. We have TV now, but I still find the ants more entertaining.
Well, cool, Elaine. You’re actually an ant enthusiast!
Wow — I did not know all that about garnets, my birthstone, or that ants dug stuff up. I never paid much attention to bugs growing up — never liked most of them. I think my head was always buried in a book. But it makes perfect sense if you think about it. Creatures that dig underground must do something with the dirt, and if what’s in the dirt isn’t valuable to them, then it’s sitting around someplace on top waiting to be found with the cast off dirt. Interesting!
This may be the coolest thing I have learned in a long long time. Maybe ever. Thank you for this great post, Jodi!
Knowing how busy you are, I doubly appreciate your reading my blog, Laird. It was a fun one to write and reaches deep into my childhood. Thanks!
Wow, that is a lot of facts about garnets! I just bookmarked it for reference next time someone asks what my birthstone is.
Red is one of my favorite colors, especially in the deep shade of garnet, so I always loved my birthstone–but I’ve never heard many fun facts about it! 🙂
Now you can tell others that you have the coolest birthstone ever…it’s even loved in the industrial world! My mom’s birthday is also in January. For many years, her wedding set was white gold with garnets. Very beautiful. When she changed her set, she had the garnets made into a ring for me. Probably don’t need to tell you that I love it!
First, this is insanely cool. I mean, who knew?
I’m not kidding when I say that although I didn’t know any of these impressive Ant facts before reading your post, however I have always been a huge Ant Fan! I am so in awe of Ant skills, work ethic, ingenuity, strength (aka, when they’re hauling around stuff 4x their size!) … the list goes on. Have you ever seen an Ant that wasn’t doing something? Nope — no hanging out in the sun,taking naps … no ma’am! The little dudes are always on the move. Absolutely love em!
I LOVE knowing stuff like this. Just the sort of insane fact one can use in a fantasy story. Can I? Can I Pleeease? I have the PERFECT application!
Be my guest, Ellen!
Garnets are my birthstone, I do like them now, but I used to prefer sapphires. Love your ant picture, they are fascinating creatures. I might re-post this on my blog some time if you don’t mind. 🙂
Very interesting. As a child, I did watch ants, but never saw them bring up any garnets. I probably wouldn’t have know what they were if they did.
Talking about insects and such, when I moved to California in my early teens, we rented a house. I remember washing my hair and going outside to sit and dry it in the sun and found hundreds of black widow spiders all over the backside of the house. I was only briefly scared until I sat and watched them work in their webs; hurrying to a fly caught in the web and then rolling it’s spider silk quickly around it and storing it for future dinner. I know it sounds ewwww! but it really was more fascinating than scary.