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Chicken Soup for the Cannibal Ant Soul

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These Cannibal Ants Thrived In Isolation. Why Can’t You?

Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images. Banner Society Illustration.

In These Uncertain Times™, you may find yourself straining to reach the smallest shreds of inspiration. There’s only so many days you can stare at the peeling LIVE LAUGH LOVE cricut graphic above your powder-room mirror before the letters start to rearrange themselves to say things like HELLUVA VOLE or GHOUL EULOGIAE. We’re here to help, with a (hiding-in-the) bathroom (for-hours-on-end-to-escape-the-ceaseless-sameness-of-each-passing-hour) reader from the team that brought you “Ants in Florida Collect the Skulls of Other Ants to Decorate Their Nests.”

Based on the thorax-warming Newsweek story of perseverance in the face of impossible odds, “One Million Cannibal Ants Trapped in Soviet Nuclear Bunker Have Escaped,” we proudly present Chicken Soup For The Cannibal Ant Soul, a collection of lessons derived from the plight of this teeming hellscape – a place that might not look too different from what’s happening inside your very own home.


Let’s begin with how they got there: “Wood ants living in an ammunition bunker where nuclear weapons were once kept. The ants had no access to the outside world and appeared to have come from a nest above that was positioned over a ventilation pipe. When the ants fell down the pipe, they were entombed in the bunker.” They, too, found themselves in a situation not of their making.

Perhaps you have found yourself focusing on the parts of your home you dislike – the wallpaper you kept saying you wanted to take down, the kitchen you want to redo completely, the broken closet door your useless landlord never fixed. When you look at those spaces now, remember that, for all their flaws, they are not an abandoned nuclear bunker. Doesn’t that kitchen feel just a teensy bit brighter now? Those ants would kill for such cushy accommodations! (And then they would eat you.)


Do you think YOUR living room is a roiling ball of terror and anarchy in equal measure? Did it hurt when you stepped on that Lego on your way to make coffee in the predawn light? What if there was no coffee? What if that Lego was the hollowed-out remains of some cousin of yours? What if your children could also eat each other? (Dads: Don’t answer that. Moms: REALLY, don’t answer that.)

Two years after the scientific team first discovered Bunker Anthill, they returned and found that “the colony was not only still there, but that it had grown in numbers. Population estimates of the colony ranged as high as a million ants. (These calculations may or may not be cheering to you, depending on the size and scope of your own quarantine bubble.) This was despite there being no obvious food source, no heat and no light.”

No obvious food source. Necessity is the mother of invention, and Mama said it’s time to eat your kinfolk. Left with no other options, these ants chowed down on the corpses of their dead nestmates, but you wanna cry about it when Albertson’s is out of your favorite toaster strudel.

If there are children in your house, try this the next time they say they’re starving but complain about the dinner they’ve been served. Extend your arm, salt it lightly, and offer them a bite. If you’re not hungry enough to consume your flesh right off the bone, they’re really not that hungry at all!


You might think this is the creepiest part: “A year later, they returned to the site to find the colony had almost completely vanished. The team inspected the corpses that had been left behind and found bite marks and holes, mostly in the abdomen. This, they said, was evidence that the ants were eating their deceased nestmates in order to survive.”

Or maybe it’s the bit where “The corpses served as an inexhaustible source of food.“

You’re wrong! It’s this: “After being provided an escape route, the ants appear to have made their way back to the original nest.” Not only surviving, but THRIVING.

Isn’t that inspiring? These ants tumbled down a vent, were trapped for years in an abandoned bunker, had no choice but to resort to eating their own dead, and they still set a goal and stuck to it! If the ants won’t settle for excuses, why should you? Learn Portuguese! Conquer that half-finished craft project! Soon, you’ll find yourself conquering any obstacle, just like a determined ant piling up ant corpses to reach a vent.

Just remember to stay humble. The notion of “escape” makes sensational headlines, but in truth, this colony was set free based entirely on the parameters of an experiment conducted by a superior species; even their own salvation was not within their control. Were it not for these scientists, nobody would have learned about this escape, because the ants didn’t do it to get famous or be admired. Those ants found a way out of that haunted chamber of formicary death for the right reason: self-satisfaction!

While there’s much to be learned here, the story stops just short of what we all want to know: Where did the ants go? We are thrilled to potentially make their acquaintance in the future, and not just because it sounds like they’d make a great addition to the blossoming digital media industry:

“The masses of Formica polyctena workers trapped in the bunker had no choice [...] They were merely surviving and continuing their social tasks on the conditions set by the extreme environment.”

We’ll raise a glass of Trampy Time Margarita Mix to that, our hexapodian sisters and brothers. Drink it fast and you almost can’t taste the gin.