Scientists at Georgia Tech recently reported this fascinating example of altruistic behavior in the animal kingdom as a survival mechanism (Proceedings of the National Academies, April 25, 2011). They reported that the dreaded Amazonian fire ant when swept up by the seasonal floodwaters came together by the thousands to save each other. Alone they soon drowned but when they clung to each other locking arms, legs and jaws to form a raft, it was impenetrable to water, and the living raft could survive for months.
They come together without a single ant being in charge of the process and become what entomologists call a super- organism. Bound together in this way the raft can survive for months sailing off to new lands. Fire ants have succeeded in landing in the southern United States.
Binding together in community is an amazing social behavior; it ensures the fire ants survival. There is a lesson here for us… as a species we too are wired to hold onto someone other than ourselves. Connecting in an intimate way.is what helps us survive in the hard times.
This is the theme of Tom Shadyak’s new movie I AM (which I encourage you to see). Shadyak, the successful director of Hollywood comedies like Ace Ventura, The Nutty Professor, also Patch Adams. This is a new genre for Shadyak, a personal memoir about his recovering from a serious accident and what he learns about how we survive as people and as a planet. He interviews scientists and mystics to show how the whole basis of survival in nature is based on connection and cooperation. We are hardwired to be our brother’s keepers.
Here’s a practical application of what the ants are telling us? We are in a serious time of economic upheaval. The globalization of the economy has left many nations drowning in debt. How about responding to these desperate times by legislators coming together and building a structure based on mutuality of interest. Let Democrats and Republicans shelve party politics and find a way to keep us afloat until we reach the other side.