Tony Picardi: treason (February 2019)
This report was written by a particularly astute carpenter ant named Cindi camponotus. I let her use my computer at night in exchange for the promise that she and her 200,000 sisters will not eat my house. Cindi can push down one key at a time, but not while also holding down the shift. In consequence, I ask you to give her a break but don’t consider her disabled – she is anything but. Cindi is the latest in a long line of literate carpenter ants of the genus camponotus. Her tribe aspire to rule Planet Earth once again after Homo sapiens is gone. Her knowledge of the natural world is profound and scientifically accurate as befits a species resulting from 140 million years of eusocial evolution. Her opinions are acerbic, like her sting.
dateline – august 2018
boss, i always thought homo sapiens was the species with the greatest capacity for destructive self-delusion and corruption. in our symbiotic relationship, i laboriously push your computer keys one at a time all night to report local farm events. i have reported stink bugs in the deep state. i have intercepted spies in your woods. but yesterday the corrosive clouds of conspiracy thundered over my own carpenter ant colony. i was summoned to the queen’s chamber. i trembled in my exoskeleton. i was commanded to investigate and prosecute the case of the missing children.
the colony is roiled by rumors of missing children, kidnapping, aliens infesting tunnels, babies dragged off and devoured. hysteria reigns. mischief is loosed. it could be six-footed. the queen doused me with royal pheromone scent. this gave me access to all colony chambers and a passport to the elites. here is the transcript of my investigation.
i started in the nursery. forensics showed that the piles of shredded exoskeletons in the corridors were ant larvae. dna showed they were camponotus – our clan of carpenter ants. you can’t get into the nursery without smelling like a nurse ant. i interrogated the head nurse.
cindi — are you sure no aliens have been admitted to the nursery question mark
nurse — absolutely. no one gets in without passing the sniff test.
cindi — how about antennae bumps. is that required all the time question mark
nurse — not all the time. larvae don’t have antennae.
cindi — so it is possible that an alien could have entered the nursery, smelling like a camponotus but feeling like a larva question mark
nurse – that’s right. a few days ago, we had a really big visitor, but it disappeared.
i found a nursery guard and questioned her in the dismemberment interrogation chamber.
cindi — were you on duty this past week question mark
guard — yes mam.
cindi — did you smell a large visitor enter the nursery with no antennae question mark
guard — yea. large bloke came through a week ago. nothin’ unusual. smelled ok.
cindi — how large question mark
guard — two and a half ants.
cindi — how many legs question mark
guard — dunno. didn’t count ‘em.
cindi — let me help you remember.
i motioned to my sergeant to bite off one of her tibia for the purpose of memory enhancement.
guard — ouch exclamation point ok there were six up front and a bunch of bumps in the rear.
cindi — when this visitor left, where did it go question mark
guard — after a few days, it climbed up the bush over there.
i followed a strangely sweet scent trail out of the colony, up a bush and out onto a twig. there was a chrysalis, mute, immobile and disguised as a dead leaf. the suspect hung out in plain sight, mocking its victims below. i posted a guard armed with a royal subpoena and with instructions to arrest the suspect after it emerged and before its wings dried. it was a flight risk. your sherlock holmes used to say, ‘when all the possibilities have been exhausted, whatever is left, however improbable, has got to be the truth’. the truth was we had been attacked by a feniseca tarquinius, the harvester butterfly, notorious consumer of aphids. this beast is the only carnivorous butterfly in north america. of all the colonies in all the states in this country, this rogue had to wander into ours.
but something wasn’t right. the larval tarquinius lives among and devours aphids for lunch. no science says it sucks on ant larvae. how did this terrorist tarquinius acquire the secret smell that admitted it to our colony question mark was this the act of a lone mutant freak or a conspiracy between colony sisters and a foreign adversary question mark i suspected i was dealing collusion to defraud the defenses of the hive with lethal consequences. a carnivorous lepidoptera had entered the nursery with the pre-meditated intent to consume larvae. in this caper, some of my sisters were at least unwitting co-conspirators.
i staked out the shipping and receiving tunnels where foragers returning from all directions were unloading pieces of rotten fruit, crumbs, assorted parts of dead insects and a protesting legless grasshopper which was carried by three soldiers. sometimes a forager would return looking quite happy but with empty mandibles. a few arrived together in a conspicuous cacophony of comradery. i intercepted them.
cindi — avast nestmates exclamation point. why do your return home with nothing to share with your sisters question mark
1st forager — arrrgh not empty. we are loaded to the gunwales with sweet nectar from yon floozie in the bushes.
2nd forager — you want to sample ‘er wares, see scarface.
3rd forager — we been protecting her from ambush bugs.
i backtracked on the trail of the sugar-high revelers to a small beech tree. i climbed up and out to new growth where a dozen ants were standing guard over a small herd of aphids. in the midst of the aphids was a whiteish caterpillar with orange fuzz and green spots. the ants took turns licking droplets secreted from the rear of the caterpillar. another ant caressed the caterpillar with her antennae and rubbed her abdomen on the corpulent slug, coaxing more secretions from its nether region. all the while, the caterpillar masticated aphids — their bodily fluids dripping from its face in a disgusting display of gluttony. horrified, i realized this was the creation of a spy. it was secreting honeydew from its anus to compromise our guards. whatever the caterpillar wanted, our guards willingly supplied.
a scar-faced ant approached.
scarface — arrrgh sister, you want some butt, pay up and get in line.
cindi — pay up question mark
scarface — one aphid per minute… in advance.
cindi — so…i thought you folks were supposed to be herding aphids. is this caterpillar stroking legal question mark
scarface — don’t give me your legal mouthwash sister. this is the quid pro quo game. you stroke the worm, you get the good stuff. when the worm gets fat enough and smells like us, we sneak it back into the hive and charge admission.
cindi — whoa. you escort this fat dude back inside the colony question mark.
scarface — what’s the harm of a little off-the-books business question mark and don’t think you’re gonna be a hero sister. once you suck some butt, you are one of us. if you sing to the queen we’ll come after you – you’ll be toast, hon.
i appreciated the frankness of scarface’s explanation of how i would be compromised and thenceforth inhibited from spilling the beans on their off-the-books business, protection scheme and caterpillar stroking. i was never inclined to lap ‘whatever’ from the anus of a caterpillar anyway, so i wasn’t compromised. but i couldn’t arrest this criminal mob all by myself. i retreated and used my royal writ to send the ‘cops’ parenthesis camponotus operations and protection service close parenthesis to round up the gang of conspirators. the cops assembled the suspects in the dismemberment interrogation chamber.
cindi — did you knowingly aid and abet the admission of aliens into the colony question mark
scarface — it ain’t illegal if a creature walks in on its own six pins.
cindi — i didn’t ask for your bogus self-serving legal ignorance. each time you lie to the prosecutor, you will lose a leg. answer the question.
i nodded to the sergeant-at-arms who bit off scarface’s right rear tibia at the thorax.
scarface — ouch exclamation point we just laid some stink on them so we could bring them back and set up a sucking stand.
cindi — did you accept payment or any other emoluments in exchange for your help in entering the colony question mark
scarface — oh no.
i nodded to the sergeant who bit off scarface’s left rear tibia.
scarface – ouch exclamation point well, the worm gave us honeydew if we stroked it.
cindi — how many were in on this scheme question mark
scarface — i dunno. just me and the girls.
i nodded again. scarface lost his middle right tibia.
scarface – ouch exclamation point i remember now, it was all of the guards on the aphid rotation… about 300.
at this point the queen and her escort marched in shouting, ‘treason, treason, off with their heads, off with their heads’, exclamation point
the wheels of justice screeched to a halt, after three legs, on account of the queen’s impatience and desire to get back to egg laying.
‘hear me’, she commanded, ‘i will not have treason. i will not have a witch hunt distracting the orderly operations of my colony. round up the entire aphid patrol and purge them exclamation point’
i was called aside. ‘dump their carcasses in the trash heap’, hissed the exasperated queen.
the queen felt her legitimacy would be threatened if she was seen to treat treason tenderly. she would cleanse the gene pool forthwith. i ordered the colony guards to round up the honey-sucking aphid patrol and extirpate the lot of them, along with their lawyers, without further trials. it was an efficient operation. in the presence of the queen i demurred as to whether some clueless sister would ingest the traitors’ dead carcass pieces from the trash heap and thus be infected with treacherous treasonous tendencies. when the ‘night of the great purgation’ was over, the queen discharged me from my duties as special investigator with a commendation for meritorious service.
boss, i am very worried. how did we miss this question mark who would have known that a cute little butterfly could have such nasty adolescent offspring question mark even worse, what possesses a normal middle class ant, raised in the lap of formicidae eusocialism, to compromise her sacred democratic values and commit treason question mark
i am afraid the queen’s swift justice accomplished little beyond the optics of rescuing some baby ants. we are all sisters, descended from the queen herself. we all share the same gene pool. we all have in our genes the capacity to look the other way while aliens march past our sentries and eat our babies, for consideration. i am afraid some of us will always turn out to be gangsters with little thought of the consequences of a pernicious hunger for power and lucre. we purged the aphid patrol but did not educate our sisters about how to recognize compromise. we are all still at risk. maybe, someday, if we survive another million years, a greater capacity for hive intelligence will evolve in our genes. but for now, i fear that we may have missed an important teaching opportunity for the colony. we have also destroyed jobs in the aphid livestock enterprise which will have political consequences.
boss, there is a lesson here for you too.
factually reported and respectfully submitted as per agreement by
official holly point farm investigative reporter
by order of the queen, temporary special council and investigator into treasonous behavior