Army ants are fascinating and formidable creatures. With upwards of 15 million worker ants banding together in 20m x 100m trails to form devastating foraging raids, a colony may decimate up to half a million unfortunate victims a day.
Being mostly blind, they rely entirely on pheromones to coordinate this murderous march – and do so quite adeptly. Should a section of the foraging party get separated, however, the result is a bizarre phenomenon known as an “ant mill.”
Hang in there. There is a point here, I promise.
“Army ants are not only good at following trails but also have a propensity to form circular mills when moderate numbers are separated from a colony and restricted to a confined area, either in the laboratory (figure 2a) or naturally in the field during exceptionally severe rainstorms (Schneirla 1971; Franks et al. 1991; Gotwald 1995). After a period of disorder, the ants all begin moving in the same direction… As more ants move in one direction, it becomes increasingly hard for individuals to move the opposite way, and this causes the ants collectively to select a (randomly determined) direction.”
Once a direction is established, the ants will continue marching in an indefinite circle until they collapse and die in exhaustion.
The whole ordeal is rather reminiscent of the human condition. As the ultimate “ant mill”, we – cut off from God’s intended trail by our sinful choices – are caught up in a spiral of death, in need of a miraculous intervention. Like the ants, we are not even aware of it – we are simply the “blind lead[ing] the blind.” (Matthew 15:14).
Thankfully, by God’s divine grace and the good news of the gospel – we have been given the means to be plucked out of our deadly circle through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
“For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57 NLT)
Even as a Christian, however, the army ants make me wonder. Am I holding myself back from pursuing all God calls me to be because I find comfort in following the crowd? If so, it’s time for me to cut loose from the circle, placing my trust in God over security in numbers.
In the words of Andy Andrews: “Everybody wants to make a difference, but nobody wants to be different. And you simply cannot have one without the other.”
– Nicolas C. Day
P.S. check out a video of an ant mill in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Rup3EdA0kw
 Couzin ID & NR Franks (2003). “Self-organized lane formation and optimized traffic flow in army ants”. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 270 (1511): 139–146.
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