Fire Ants

Since August I’ve noticed the quality of my work was dissipating. I was re-reading emails and reports that I sent and noticed they were missing syncategorematic words, words that do not stand by themselves. (had to do it. How often do you get to use syncategorematic in a sentence?) “of” “and” “at” “a” –just missing, my fingers said, “No, I’m too tired to type these today, thank you.” So, I scheduled some vacation time. My budget was $0 but the need great. Four days of stay-cation the solution.

On my third day in, a transformer blew right. in. front. of. me.  It filled my front windows with a bright blue, green, and pink light show.  The twisted sound of electrical screams shouted up to the sky! I was sitting on my couch watching the news and BOOM! It startled me.  I screamed.  When the flash was gone my brain took about 2 seconds to figure out the transformer 150 feet from my front door blew.  Opening the door I walked out along with 15 or so other apartment neighbors.  Our eyes wide, pointing and smiling in shock at the transformer.  Two of our bravest walked over to see if there was evidence of a fire starting in the pine needle laced lawn.  Everything looked good.  

One of the old-timers said, “It was a squirrel.  The last two times, squirrel.  They set them off around here.”

Electrical transformers transfer energy between circuits, switching energy from one voltage to another. But when flooded with too much electricity, the sudden surge can cause a transformer explosion. … Older transformers can explode when their insulating materials begin to fail. Or, when an animal touches them in the no-no spot.

Here they are the culprits in order of, um…number of casualties, highest to lowest according to the magazine Electrical Engineering Portal:

Squirrels,
Mice, rats, and gophers,
Birds,
Snakes,
Fire ants, and
Large animals (cattle, horses, bison, and bears).

What animal was a surprise to you? For me, it was fire ants. An investigation was spurred. Fire ants were accidentally introduced into the US from South America in the early 1900s. Since then, they have spread widely across the southern US, displacing native ant species and causing reliability problems by building nests in electrical equipment.

What…WHY would fire ants climb up a pole, possibly vibrating from their perspective, all the way to the top and then boom?  Sure it’s an excellent metaphor of GOP-types lock stepping behind trump, but ANTS acting as a Suicide Squad? No. 

The ant story is a bit more grounded.  (pun intended.)  The ants cause a transformer to blow by building nests inside the ground equipment casing. Like this photo shows. Ants learned fast that the casing provides warmth during winter months, a dry nesting site during heavy rains, and an undisturbed nesting site throughout the year.

Fire ants nesting inside a transformer (photo credit: iaeimagazine.org)

I continued to travel along the fire ant trail. Who were these trouble makers? My only personal run-in was at a lakeshore in Arizona many summers ago. I remember a bare leg receiving bite after bite because I had the audacity to stand in one place for too long. I saw them as savagely fierce creatures, like tiny packs of blood thirty wolves! Turns out they have a tighter relationship than any pack of wolves. In extreme conditions, fire ants have the ability to flip their minds from “individual” to “group” setting and form protective shapes. Shapes that can create air bubbles underwater and withstand moderate pressure. They become so like-minded, choreographed in unison, holding each other tightly, they can become a single squishy glob. This video blew my mind:

In America, we value our individuality. We use to teach constructive and critical thinking in the elementary grades. Any person should be able to hear the facts and come to their own conclusion. In a diverse group, there is strength when solving a problem because different types of minds (artistic or engineering for example) come up with unique solutions. One of those ideas is the answer to the problem.

Humans are not ants.

However, the idea of these tiny creatures holding on to each other, hugging each other, in order to survive a deluge, is inspiring.

Published by

Shannon Laws

Shannon P. Laws, born in Seattle, Washington, lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest. Author of three poetry books, "Madrona Grove", "Odd Little Things", and "Fallen" and an audiobook of her one-woman satire show on mid-life dating, "You Love Me, You Love Me Not". For seven years she produced award-winning community radio programs that promoted the PNW indie music & art community. Shannon's other interests include operating her voice-over company, Chickadee Productions, and Poetry Club. Since 2015 Poetry Club is dedicated to the neighborhood discussion and sharing of poetry, now available on Podbean at https://poetryclub.podbean.com/

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