The Ant Condition

The Ant Condition

A Story by Nicolas Jao

A scientist studies a colony of ants, only to find something strangely familiar in their actions.


The scientist had invested in a few glass ant farms in the winter season, for behavioural study. In his lab, he set them up. One would be operational, to start. The rest would be on tables around the room. 

He designed the environment himself. The tank would be a decent size, home to seventy ants and a queen, filled with sand that formed hills, vegetation that resembled a miniature rainforest, and a small pool that he called the “ocean.” An iceberg would be placed in the ocean, to represent Antarctica, the only continent ants had never visited. The scientist wanted to find out if they would find a way to survive on it if they ever would choose to travel to it. A giant watermelon was given for their food. The top would be enclosed, so they could not escape. Above the tank was a powerful lamp that provided the colony with light, as well as heat, if it would ever get too cold in the room during the winter months. Everything was set up. When the ants were put into their new home, the study began. 

Week one. The ants worked together as they were lead by the queen. They burrowed into the ground, while some cracked a hole in the watermelon and carried pieces out to bring underground for their young. They thrived as a colony, and the scientist found them amusing. How harmonious they worked! It was marvellous to see how perfect they were. They carried food in lines and created a system that benefited all. They ignored the iceberg completely, which disappointed the scientist, but it was only a small test. He would keep it there, he decided. 

Days passed as the scientist continued to study them. Soon came week two. Things were still fine in the colony. They were progressive, they had special jobs, and their population grew well. They would only continue to advance. Although, there were a few things that the scientist noticed. As the population grew, the queen could not control everyone at once. She allowed a few of them to find separate areas in the big space that they had to form smaller colonies. This was necessary, the scientist thought. The ants would still respect the queen nonetheless. 

When week three came, things got somewhat harsher. The colonies began to draw lines in the sand for their areas. And they were strict on who crossed and who did not. This angered the queen. So she retaliated, by sending some of her strongest ants to see what was going on. The colonies felt threatened, so they sent some of their own ants to get back at her. By the end of the week, tensions had risen in the once proud and mighty ant colonization. All respect was lost. 

By the time week four had arrived, they were in an all-out battle. The colonies elected their own queens, and they produced more ants for them. Colonies fought for control over the lines in the sand. Some expanded their own lines while others lost them. Dozens and dozens of ants died every day, murdered by their own brethren. It broke the scientist’s heart to see them tearing each other apart when they were once united. And to think that they were the same kind! They were all ants, and they killed as if they were alien to each other. 

Week five came. Things were beginning to get desperate in the ant farm. Queens were constantly fed by the workers, who fought for control over the watermelon’s juicy fruit. The queens knew that to win the fight, it would be a matter of numbers. So they produced and produced eggs, never resting too, not inclined to think about future consequences. The watermelon’s insides were beginning to run out. As more ants were born, less were fed every day, to preserve the food. It was a smart idea by the ants, but unfortunately, it was too late. Ants starved by the hundreds. The battle worsened over this, as the ants did not fight over the lines in the sand anymore, but over the watermelon resource. The scientist found this very interesting, and he wanted to find out what the ants would do when it would run out. 

On the first day of week six, the ants had entered a desperate era. Many of them starved on the ground, on their backs. Many of them also could not find homes in the once-big-but-now-small space that they had. It was too crowded. The queens had produced too many ants, and they were too late to realize it. It was then they knew they had to find a new home. They had to get out. All the queens of the colonies told their ants to work to escape from the top. They climbed on each other to reach the ceiling, where by the hundreds they began to work on getting through the glass. The scientist watched as they desperately tried to break through. Tiny holes in the glass ceiling were formed as days went by. 

But something terrible happened once many holes were formed. The holes allowed more light from the lamp above their farm to seep through. This began to melt the iceberg in the ocean. Some smart ants saw this and worked as hard as they could to tell all the other ants what was happening. They constantly told all the ants to stop what they were doing, but barely any listened. Barely any believed them. Worst of all, barely any cared. The holes were almost big enough to escape! They all continued to break the glass. By the end of the week, the iceberg had fully melted. Only catastrophe was to come. 

The sea levels rose until the farm began to flood. Hundreds of ants were swept away as they drowned in the water. It was hard for the scientist to watch them suffer, but he was still curious. What would they do next?

When week seven finally arrived, all hope was lost for the ants. Too many of them had died. The remaining survivors, very few left, scavenged for food. Watermelon pieces were still around, distributed by the flood, and conflicts began to rise over them. It was back to fighting. 

The original queen, the very first one, wanted something to end it all. Something to finally make her colony win. So she ordered her smartest ants to arm the empty watermelon. She envisioned a weapon of mass destruction.

She made them all push it to the top of the highest hill. It was a small cliff, which overlooked the entire farm. For days they laboured as they pushed it to the top. When the day came that the queen would unleash her weapon, every ant trembled in fear. 

She ordered them to push her weapon off the cliff.

Down fell the watermelon, gaining velocity. In a giant splat, it exploded down below, effectively killing every ant on the surface. There were no survivors, except for the queen and her colony. 

Her weapon had killed them all. And for that, she felt an overwhelming surge of guilt. Those were her brothers and sisters! How could she? What had given her the urge to do this? Not only did it kill all the ants, but it also ruined the farm, making it an uninhabitable, contaminated home. Watermelon juice was everywhere. 

The remaining ants, starving and surrounded by a massive ocean and watermelon-covered land, knew that the farm was a place they could not live in any longer. They looked through the glass wall of their farm to see another replica of their home, on a separate table in the scientist’s lab. It was right there, but something was wrong. It had no watermelon or water. It had no sand or vegetation, and the light of the lamp they had above their own farm was too far to give it warmth and light. It was a potential home, but only if all their needs were met. And of course, they had absolutely no way of getting to it. They could not even escape the ceiling of their own farm. How would they ever get to the other one across the room?

There was only the end left for the ants. Dozens at a time, they starved to death and fell on their backs. Their antennas dropped down on the sand, their legs at the sides of their bodies. The queen, devastated at all the death and destruction, knew that this was their fault. It was too late to fix their mistakes. The last thing she did before she died was gaze at the other tank across the room, longing for it, staring at something impossible to reach.

By week eight, all the ants were dead. On the last day, the scientist continued to stare blankly at them. He contemplated for a long moment. 

“These ants,” he said. “Their actions. Everything. It’s all… vaguely familiar.”


© 2020 Nicolas Jao

Author's Note

Nicolas Jao
It might be hard to understand the meaning of this story, although I tried to make it as obvious as I could without directly telling the reader. It's not just a story about ants, it's a story about mankind. It's an allegory about the human race and the human condition. About our drive to kill and hurt each other when we shouldn't. There are many symbols that relate to our story as a race here, see if you can find them all. The birth of nations, starvation, climate change, and an atomic bomb.

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Added on June 12, 2020
Last Updated on June 16, 2020
Tags: literary, literature, satire, metaphor, symbolism, humanity


Nicolas Jao
Nicolas Jao

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

It's the cliche story. I've been writing since I was six, and it's a passion. I like to read, listen to music, watch the NBA, learn science and programming, and eat food. My favourite book is The Hous.. more..

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