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Stop to Marvel at the Little Guys

On a nice, almost too hot, sunny day as I was walking the dog up the hill on a grassy open area where I could let him sniff freely to his heart’s content, I noticed that there were these strange dark brown, meandering streaks across the sidewalk. In some places they were thin and others were several inches across, usually with a blob shape at each end where the grass met the edge of the sidewalk. I didn’t remember those here before, as I stopped walking and looked closer.

Then it moved. The whole streak sort of wobbled just slightly, but continuously. I leaned over more closely, and then I could see them. Thousands of tiny little brown ants, doing their ant thing of furiously running along in a horde, continuously in contact with legs and antenna. At least I assume they had antenna, since that is a part of their species’ body structure, but they were really hard to see since the whole ant was so small. As a kid, I used to watch much bigger ants doing their communication bit, so I knew what was going on with these little guys too.

But it wasn’t the massive numbers in each streak and blob at the end that got me, nor the hole that they eventually disappeared into. It was their size. My god, they were so, so small! Alone away from the crowd, I’d never notice a single ant—probably even if I were purposely looking for one—without the horde around to give me a clue that they were there. I didn’t have a magnifying glass with me (do you ever have one in a pocket when you need it?), so I just marveled at them for a bit and moved on. Chewy had used up his supply of marking ink at the doggie newspaper message spots and was forging ahead anyway.

While walking I was thinking and comparing their size to . . . Chewy, for example, or us humans. Or elephants or whales, and that is about as big as we can go on our planet (don’t know about other planets, of course, but interesting to imagine). Now, being a life form in so many ways similar to the rest of us giants, those ants would have to meet the same needs that we do, such as protection from the elements and other life forms, food for energy to function, a digestive system to process the food, a system of getting that food to its bodily cells and waste back out, and some way of all the body parts communicating with each other in order to make the whole system work.

So, how the hell does that tiny body have all the parts and systems required to do all that? It’s pretty overwhelming to imagine. I mean, our human body in comparison is absolutely super gigantic, to say nothing of elephants and whales. And we still have trouble figuring out all our parts and how they work, and those parts are pretty big in comparison to the ant’s.

Well, maybe the comparison problem isn’t only the difference in size but also in the complexity of our tiny friends and the rest of us mammalian giants. I’m not an expert in ant nor human physiology, but I’ll bet complexity is a massive difference between us, especially since I know that the structure of our bodies is ultimately composed of millions of microscopic elements too. Which is part of the problem in finding solutions to our diseases, to name just one issue with size.

Furthermore, we mammals also have lots of little guys residing on and in our bodies such as little arthropods like mites and lice, or bacteria such as the millions we now know live in our digestive systems (usually for good but not always). This is to say nothing of the individuals cells that compose our bodily tissues and function in concert to make us function but still are separate little guys inside us, just with specific tasks and structure—like nearly every other life form on the planet.

Regardless of size, all the little guys and big guys have to control the same basic requirements of protection, food procurement and processing, growth, and reproduction. Otherwise, the individual dies or the species goes extinct.

So, the next time you see that tiny little spider spinning a bitsy web in the corner of a room or across two leaves of a plant in hopes of eventually snagging an even smaller life form for food, remember that it’s merely trying to control the elements of its environment in order to be successful in fulfilling its needs—just like you and me. And, occasionally do stop to marvel at the little guys in your life. Ultimately, we’re all on this ride together.

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