Ant assembly in Oaxaca

On a typical street in central Oaxaca, on a pleasant night following a refreshing rainfall, a long congregation of ants proceeded to transport food supplies along the lower ledge of a series of buildings that include my mostly empty, yet visually inspiring hostel. The hostel facilitates, and surpasses even, all of my expectations of such an enterprise, and yet fails to attract more than a handful of inhabitants for what has been the bulk of my stay, suggesting either an inopportune travel season, or a money laundering vehicle. Semana Santa recently commenced, causing me certain difficulty in settling on the former hypothesis, but whatever the set of reasons, the staff seems to lack serious concern over the overwhelming vacancy.

The party demonstrating even less concern over the matter was the ant assembly, focusing on delivering what resembled broken pieces of cashew nuts, or stale bread perhaps, or a myriad of difficult to identify nutritional alternatives among the rich Oaxacan tradition.

If you find the endless offering of food items starting with the letter ‘t’ (tacos, tortillas, tostadas, tortas, tlayudas) unsettling to the stomach, my dear culinary tourist, you might face certain challenges satisfying your sensitive dietary constraints in this region. If you never experienced or witnessed a tlayuda, a serving measures about two to two and a half diameters of a typically prepared tostada, equivalent to a large size pizza and equally fatal to your digestion if you aspire to anything less than a simulation of carrying a moderately developed offspring in the stomach. Yet that’s another hypothesis I couldn’t resist as I have a tendency in periods of indulgence.

I find difficulty in imagining how someone would succeed in consuming such a contraption on the street without the structure succumbing to it’s own weight and crumbling on the stones carefully arranged on the sidewalk centuries ago by the Spaniards, and well maintained at that. Perhaps such an unfortunate incident presented the unexpected fortune for my Formicidae friends.

As I meditated on the merits of chaos theory with respect to the present circumstances, the ant congregation appeared to expand along an entire street block, featuring not only the somewhat moderately sized ants actively consumed by the transportation assembly (I couldn’t identify the denomination in the obscurity), but also the less frequently encountered and seemingly uninvolved hard-cased insects - beetles, or other Coleoptera perhaps. I pondered on the relation between the two groups, but found myself helpless in carrying out a more in-depth assessment.

How were these creatures so effectively deployed and coordinated? Each unit appeared equidistant from each other and proceeding at equal velocity, reminiscent of a series of experimental autonomous trucks I recalled from a documentary on upcoming trends. Nothing of congestion or wind drag. Perfectly coordinated effort. Singularity.

Who or what determined the payload distribution, or the frequency? Some units carried payload of varying size, while others simply maintained rhythm in the assembly. Perhaps the algorithm dictating the behavior was entirely distributed in nature, not requiring any top-down coordination and eliminating any single point of failure? Or was the queen responsible for wirelessly transmitting certain high-level directives?

As this introspection approaches a finale, I wonder what became of those ants? Had they carried out a successful campaign, and did they even derive a conscious meaning from such a notion? Whatever the purpose and whatever the means, I held their uncompromising dedication in high esteem.