Saturday, February 25, 2012

An Epic of Miniature Proportions

Last night I watched a movie called "Besieged Fortress." It was not an action blockbuster. Rather, it was a documentary about a real war between termites and ants. It was totally mind-blowing.

I'd never given much thought to termites, except that they eat wood. But the termites in this film were an incredibly advanced and beautiful civilization. The termite colony starts with a king and queen who mate and lay eggs to create the beginning of their colony. To protect themselves, they create a fortress by combining their saliva with dirt to build what looks like an ever-growing castle. Their first children, workers, devote their lives to building this fortress.

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As the queen establishes herself and begins to lay more eggs, her children take on very specific functions. Some are workers. Some are soldiers, established with protecting the colony. Some are winged "princes and princesses" who will take flight and one day establish new colonies.

Inside a chamber deep inside the fortress, the hive queen begins her career of laying eggs at an astonishing rate, almost 30,000 a day. She grows into a massive egg-laying machine, protected by a kind of royal guard.

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The termite colony is alive with efficiency and communication via scent trails and sound. Each member of the colony knows its role and performs it with unflagging determination. Everything is done for the benefit of the colony. When threats arrive (storms or invaders), the colony adapts and communicates to protect itself.

The film Beseiged Fortress is all about a war between a colony of nomadic ants and the termite colony. The ants invade with equally astonishing efficiency as the termites protect themselves. Who wins the epic battle? You have to watch the movie. I promise you will never look at ants or termites the same again.

The film made me realize again that there are mind-blowing natural wonders happening in the world all the time, often unseen by human eyes. And that size has nothing to do with the complexity and beauty of an animal species.

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