It was a marvel of nature; an opus of engineering unmatched by all humanity. It was otherworldly. Something that could have been laid and dug out by a sentient, hive-mind species. For ages, we see ant mounds as nuisance to our creation; this habit of turning our surroundings, exploiting it according to our wants. Older, less threatening societies conjure tales that are paranormal in essence - to keep our fits of destruction away from these subterranean ecumenopolises. Mostly hidden from the naked eye, we see only the passages that lead to these worlds. And for this reason, we seldom see their true value. We destroy what we deem crude and backward to our sensibilities.
The last time I came across an ant colony, the pot of soil where they took residence was soaked in hot water. The Basil, whose roots intertwined with their tunnels have become their feeding grounds. The plant wilted, its leaves crumpled. The method didn't solve the ant problem as they have founded settlements elsewhere. But taking out their eggs ceased the colony to exist.
Such protracted, one-sided assault by mankind happens everyday, repeated million times over to assert our supremacy. It so happened that the ants number in trillions and they multiply rapidly. This is the reason they have not cowered yet. But if by some divine reversal or evolutionary leap these creatures grew in size to half our own, we would be overrun as the dominant animal on the planet in less than a generation.
This suspicion, this dormant uneasiness was magnified after watching a clip on YouTube. The video, lifted from some old documentary tells of a scientist who pumped tons of cement into an ant mound. His study aims to uncover the extent and design of the ants' structure. He wants to learn the ecosystem within as these colonies sink underground.
The result was staggering.
However, curiosity turned into horror as I realize the cruelty behind such experiment. At the price of learning, the scientist wiped out the colony and the singularity behind it. I could just imagine the millions of innocent ants - workers, soldiers, eggs and its queen permanently encased in concrete for our own amusement. The structures we now see - the tunnels and pods, the lifeless inhabitants - will forever remind us that we are, and have always been agents of death.
I watched the video clip once more, and as the camera pans out to show - in human scale - the massiveness of the ant world, I tell myself over and over.
To reach the stars and land on inhabited planets will only be, but just a foolish quest.