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Mein Insects

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Dr. Matthew Knox, Head of Myrmecology in the zoology department at the Imperial College London, has been studying ants for almost 35 years. “Not only their biology, but their sociology, is absolutely fascinating,” Knox says as he leads me through his laboratory in South Kensington. “Studying ants can reveal so much about the basics of animal societal formations. Work habits. Family structures. And, as we recently discovered… evil.”

Knox is the lead of the team that were part of last month’s salacious Guardian headline “Ant Hitler!” “We were watching this one group of ants and noticed a disturbing pattern. One group of smaller ants were being crowded and grouped in the bottom of the habitat. And then, at the very top, was this one ant that we observed to be controlling it all. This was Ant Hitler.” Normally ant colonies operate as a unified entity, but a schism was noticed after Knox accidentally ruined part of the colony. “I am a fumbling British intellectual,” says Knox. “It keeps me up at night wondering if I am responsible for this all.”

What was observed next was extraordinary. Half of the ants began the work of rebuilding the broken colony. The other half, looking for some cause or reason for their ill fortune, started to pick fights with the rebuilders. The fights soon escalated and a single leader, ant XR-1007, emerged and was soon nicknamed “Ant Hitler.”

“Many ants have died or are awaiting the inevitable while in bondage, but we’re unsure if we should intervene and do anything.” says Knox. “Is it our place? Should we kill Ant Hitler?” The same questions has filled the myrmecology forums on the internet, such as Alitrunk’n’junk and ThoraxChat. Responses vary in support of killing Ant Hitler, to objecting to interfering with the colony any more, to even deifying Ant Hitler. Neo-Nazis across the world have pledged to continue the fight long after Ant Hitler’s demise. Yet, as the head of the department, it all falls to Dr. Knox.

“Some of the ants actually tried to solve the problem themselves,” says Knox. “They had an entire scheme. One of the ants dressed up like a blonde bombshell in a tight red dress and distracted the lieutenants as another poisoned his ant food. And then, as all British professors do, I spilled my hot tea and the ruse was up. They… they did awful things to that ant in the red dress. Sometimes I wonder if I spilled that tea on purpose. I’ll never know.”

“I… I am not sure what to do,” continues Dr. Knox who has started to spend many hours staring at the colony. “I try to look away, but it’s the world I’ve created.” Knox offers me some of his gin while he stares closely at Ant Hitler, sitting at the top of Ant’s Lair surrounded by his top lieutenants. “I could do it, I could take him out right now. I could use a pair of tweezers… or just blow kind of hard and his head would fall off. But, then what does that do to the rest of the ants? How will that harm their world?”

“Then again,” Knox says while stumbling around the lab, “I’ve been getting emails suggesting that letting the weaker ants die will only strengthen the ant race. It’s an interesting theory.”

Despite this uncomfortable situation, Knox says he will continue his ant research without disruption and will implement additional safe guards. “I have soil samples from all over the world: Sudan, Armenia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Juarez, Detroit. I promise to never ever let another Ant Hitler rise to power ever again.” ♦