In September 2021 I received a package in the mail from AliExpress. Enclosed was an endoscopic camera labeled as New Multifunctional USB Ear Cleaning Tool HD Visual Ear Spoon Earpick with Mini Camera Pen Ear Care In-ear Cleaning Endoscope. The camera plugged into the USB drive of my laptop and the images were captured through Photo Booth, limiting their resolution to 640x426 pixels. I stuck the camera in my mouth and my ears, used it to look at fabric and to see how dirty my keyboard was. It was hot then in Los Angeles, and there was a continuous streams of ants across my front porch. I brought the camera and laptop to the porch and pointed the camera at a small group of ants. I watched the ants on the screen, the enlarged image providing a view of them I had never seen before aside from films like Microcosmos or children’s science videos. Looking at ants, it’s impossible to pick one out of the crowd, to identify with it, to choose a favorite. But on the screen you could see them stopping to do things, moving a twig around, running into each other, pausing for unknown reasons. Two ants who I thought were attacking a third were revealed through magnification to be helping it. It was stuck on the painted cement of the porch, and they pulled and probed and pried at it’s body trying to free it. I watched the screen transfixed, swept up in the drama, anthropomorphizing wildly as I imagined the stuck ant to be their brother, friend, or mom. As they pulled on it’s leg it stretched to an unfathomable length, seemingly about to snap off. After two minutes the ant was loose and ran off re-joining the group. I realized I would never see that ant again. Even if it ran right past me, I would never recognize it. Earlier this year I wrote to an insect identification service offered by UC Riverside to ask what kind of ants were in the video and within a few hours got this response:

Velvety tree ant, Liometopum occidentale

They can vary a bit in how red versus black the thorax is.

Googling the scientific name will get you more information.


– Doug Yanega


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