Lessons from Ants in Green Innovation

I was going to write about the lessons we can learn from ants in avoiding traffic jams. Or more particularly, how their swarming behavior can show us a thing or two about how to move large numbers at great speed without bumping into one another or getting caught in gridlock. And as intriguing as that is, I am compelled to share an equally fascinating lesson from ants related to our physical health first. Why? Because my eye settled upon an ad for Raid, the bug killing spray.
In my minds eye I see myself in days gone by reaching for that can of Raid and killing ants that made their way into my house. But now I know that I can rid an area of any ants without killing them or my lungs, or damaging the environment, in the process.
A few years ago I stayed in a lodge in a jungle in Cost Rica to learn about the fascinating science of biomimicry. One evening, I noticed a trail of ants coming in from the outside, marching up the wall in my room to the ceiling, and outside again. I decided to ignore them as they were on the other side of the room and clearly not heading in the direction of my bed.
The next morning, though, they were still marching upward, only now, the line seemed a little thicker. I made a mental note to find out how to fix this irksome problem.
By evening time there were thousands of them, in a line about two inches thick, quietly, and with apparent purpose, still marching upward. It was interesting to watch, but the thought of sleeping in the room now was repulsive. I had to find a way to get rid of them immediately so I consulted with one of the biologists in the group.
The answer was so elegantly simple, it was unbelievable. I went back to my room armed with a dampened paper towel ready to do the deed. But despite my bravado, I could not place myself close enough to these creepy crawly things to carry it through. So I asked a fellow in the next room if he would oblige. Relieved, he said yes.
It took all of three seconds to solve the problem. My colleague took the damp paper towel and swiped it across the line of ants, breaking the line, and erasing some of the chemical marker. Ants lay down chemical markers that attract other ants to follow. Once that chemical trail is broken, they stop.
We then watched as the top half of the line continued upward while the bottom half scattered a bit, then turned around and formed another line back to the floor and out the door. It took a few hours, but eventually, the ants were gone.
Wow. No chemical pesticides. No dead ant bodies to clean up. No worry about chemical pollution and damaged lungs. No harm to Mother Earth. Makes you wonder why we buy chemical cures for these types of problems we face, but then the science of biomimicry is still largely unknown. And, of course, companies don’t make profits on natural cures.
Scientists are discovering that there are millions of ideas like this in nature that can solve many of our ills. And I promise to share more with you. But for now, let me leave you with a reference to show you how ants can help us solve our problem of traffic jams: See New York Times, Nov. 13, 2007 From Ants to People, an Instinct to Swarm


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