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0 Comments | Dec 06, 2009

Excerpt from World Hunger

Excerpt from World Hunger

Thursday, June 20th – 10:45 p.m.

By the time Hemant Patel had discovered the cutter ant damage in his cornfield four weeks earlier, the colony had already been in residence for more than six months. In fact, the colony’s founder had been originally attracted to the field by the turning of soil in preparation for planting of the test crop. The loose rich earth was prime real estate for a new ant colony, particularly given its close proximity to the wealth of consumable foliage surrounding the outer boundaries of the field. Having two hectares of new, genetically enhanced corn arrive a few month later was an unexpected fringe benefit.

The queen had flown into the Vanguard field sometime the previous November, looking for a desirable spot to start a new family. Following fertilization at the old colony, she had arrived here after an exhausting flight of more than seven kilometers. Having selected a promising location near the south end of the open field, she had shed her now-useless wings, dug a two-inch deep hole in the loose black soil, and deposited a small number of eggs. By regurgitating a bit of fungus brought along for the occasion, she then started a small garden with which to feed her incipient offspring. Before long the queen was accompanied by a small host of newly hatched workers, who promptly made their way to the surface and set out in search of fresh new foliage to replenish the fungus garden – the colony’s sole future food source.

During its first five months of existence the young colony grew steadily to include over five hundred thousand residents. By this time, the network of caverns had expanded to more than eight feet below the surface, and the ants had excavated more than three hundred pounds of soil, all of it deposited on the surface. Then late spring had come and, with it, the planting of the new Vanguard corn crop. As the shoots rose and expanded, they provided an abundant, and much closer, food supply for the colony, which continued to grow rapidly. In the weeks that followed, the tender new corn shoots quickly became the major constituent of the colony’s food supply, and several generations of ants that lived on this diet began to evolve in some new and striking ways.

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