Antics of 'Festive' Ants Far from Anticipations

Article excerpt

Byline: Burt Constable

I think my kids' ant farm is gay.

At first, I'm thinking "cruise-ship gay," because if you determine homosexuality solely by the portrayals you see on TV sitcoms, these ants are easily excitable, flamingly festive, excessively touchy-feely, spend an inordinate amount of time decorating their sand abodes and seem incapable of moving from one level to another without forming a conga line.

Then, I come to believe the ants are "female prison-movie gay" because if you judge homosexuals solely by what you see in cable TV movies featuring group shower scenes, these ants are on 24-hour lock-down and condemned to a life sentence in their plastic cell block without hope of freedom or a single male ant to attend to their feminine needs.

Finally, I seek a scientific opinion and discover these ants are not any kind of gay, rather a bunch of adult females who have no interest whatsoever in any sexual activity of any kind at any time - like the TV sitcom stereotype of married women.

Phil Parrillo, a curatorial assistant in the Field Museum's insect division, says my kids' ants are genetic females who became workers because they didn't get the hormones needed to become breeders.

Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Federal agriculture laws prohibit the shipping of ants that can breed, explains Frank Adler, vice president of sales and marketing for Uncle Milton Industries, which began selling ant farms in 1956 and has shipped more than a billion ants - all collected in the wild by "ant wranglers."

That ban is to ensure breeders won't escape, mate with the local suburban ants and create a mutant species that teams up with Japanese beetles to form a dynamic bug duo that will raise our park district taxes.

For an ant colony to last longer than a few months, it needs a queen ant who is a full-time stay-at-home mom to the masses. …