It has been raining incessantly for the past few days. To escape the waters that have entered their nests, ants climb up the trees in front of my balcony. When the branches sway in breeze, the ants fall into my balcony and enter my home. So these days I find them crawling on the floor, on kitchen countertop, under the microwave, on the laptop…basically on every ‘crawlable’ surface.
Sick of their intrusion into my space, I smush some under my slippers and spray insect repellents on the rest. Aghast at my action, Rukaiya, my house help said, “Why are you killing them, Didi. They are only clearing away the food crumbs you may have dropped.”
“They are disturbing me,” I said in my defense. “But they are here only because their homes are flooded. They won’t come here during the rest of the year,” said the house help, advocating for the Formicidae family, and sending me on a guilt trip.
I decry human deaths – in wars or due to disasters – but have no qualms killing these defenseless beings; forever snatching their right to live. Killing insects – spiders, roaches, flies and mosquitos – seem so uncomplicated. How easily I dismiss invertebrate consciousness.
A study by Andrew B Barron and Colin Klein, and published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences some years ago says that insects have a form of consciousness. They found that in insects, consciousness appeared to be associated with the ‘midbrain’. That part of the brain is the ancient core of the brain, which supports awareness for us and apparently for insects, too. However, because of the specific make-up of their brain, insects’ experience of consciousness will be different from that of human beings.
Also because of their brain being wired differently, only humans have the ability to reflect on the self --- be aware that we are aware of things.
Yet, this awareness did not guide me to not harm the ant. After all, it was only being true to its nature.
As I was struggling to find an answer to should I kill ants or not, Guru Nanak’s quote came to mind, “Even kings and emperors with heaps of wealth and vast dominion cannot compare with an ant filled with the love of God.”