Saturday, September 13, 2014


They are everywhere. They are in the sugar and the shower. They know where I eat and sleep (though frankly, I shouldn't flatter myself into thinking they care). I've grown accustomed to them but I'm still wary. I mean, they hurt when they bite (though admittedly, some worse than others).
They are everywhere. They are the most purposeful beings I have ever witnessed. Imagine the noise. The clickity click click of all six legs. The chemp, chemp, chachemp chemp of the mandibles. Then imagine the constant whir of an entire colony—industrial, destructive and cleansing— everyone working with Swiss Army precision.
Sometimes, they actually are everywhere. Hoards of them skedaddle up and down and around and through your bed and under the toilet seat and over you, if you let them. And then they leave, without a backwards glance. When you return to your room it is spotless. Nature's little housekeepers don't miss a single insect, a solitary spider, not a one.
An hour into our hike to K├Ękoldi, Sebastian, our guide, stopped us in a clearing and told us to look down. We were standing on a leafcutter ant nest. But it was more like a fortress. Sebastian told us how important the leafcutter ants are for the forest. They are constantly excavating nutrient rich soil to build their tunnels as well at cultivating more organic matter underground. Because when they take those leaves, that are taller and wider and heavier then they are, and take them underground, the leaves decompose and grow fungus and that's what the leafcutter ants eat. Can you imagine if we ate our compost? 
An ant has approximately 250,000 braincells1. I have roughly 100 billion. The average leafcutter colony contains over 5 million ants2. This means that in that clearing, I was potentially standing on over 12 times more brainpower than I will ever possess. You argue it doesn't work like that. I know. But I do not know precision, and social structure, and hard work like they do. Most importantly, I do not know how to destroy and then create again. I am four weeks into this tropical medicine and public health program. Ideally, by December, I will be a more conscientious consumer, a global player, an advocate for giving back, and cultivating this symbiotic relationship with the earth that we must maintain if we hope to flourish. I hope so. I just don't think I'll ever be as effective as an ant. 
Keelin M.
1. All About Ants. (n.d.). Retrieved September 12, 2014, from
2. Leafcutter ant fact file. (n.d.). Retrieved September 13, 2014, from

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