An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of November 18, 2001
issued from the woods just south of Natchez, Mississippi, USA

ZOMBIE ANTS & SMART DOGS

On my daily-updated webpage at http://www.backyardnature.net/i-rss.htm where several organizations provide news feeds related to Nature, in the feed from Science Daily Magazine this week I read about zombie ants and smart dogs.

Actually the ants are carpenter ants, but they're called zombies because something takes possession of them and forces them to do certain things. What takes possession is a fungus that "... compels the ant to climb from its nest high in the forest canopy down into small plants and saplings in the understory vegetation. The ant then climbs out onto the underside of a low-hanging leaf where it clamps down with its mandibles just before it dies. There it remains, stuck fast for weeks." The fungus then continues its own life cycle inside the dead ant, which it couldn't do if the ant hadn't left its nest and clamped down on the underside of a low-hanging leaf. The article is at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090811161345.htm.

The dog story arises from several behavioral studies indicating that a typical dog's mental abilities are close to a human child's aged 2 to 2.5 years. Average dogs can learn abut 165 words and count up to four or five. Also they can deliberately deceive other dogs and people in order to get rewards, and they are nearly as successful in deceiving humans as humans are in deceiving dogs. This story can be accessed at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090810025241.htm.

These studies support a couple of my own assumptions about Nature and life in general. The dog piece reminds us that other animals have respectable minds. If the tests had dealt with making decisions based on odors and sophisticated behavior associated with pack cohesion and territoriality, I'll bet that humans would have been judged the "mentally impaired" party.

And, just think that a fungus can take control of an animal's behavior so effectively! I suspect that someday researchers similarly will be able to cause humans to do and think just about anything through the media of chemicals and the pinpoint stimulation of certain regions of the brain. This train of thought raises the question of whether really there is anything we humans do that is not genetically programmed.

For my part, I do believe that a thinking being can rise above his or her genetic programming. That's because I recognize the Sixth Miracle of Nature. The Sixth Miracle is miraculous and inexplicable precisely because it empowers us to imagine and have insights and feelings far beyond the thinking permitted by our genetic programming -- thinking dealing mostly with matters of sex, territoriality and status.

In fact, we need this Miracle if now we are to overcome our programming, which was appropriate for our ancient ancestors on the African veld, but maladaptive in today's human-overpopulated world.

We need the Sixth Miracle if we are to save Life on Earth. Facebook Icon.