The Extinction of Cook’s Bi-Articulated Hairy-Legged Carpenter Ant
Edward must have known he was the last of his kind. As Dr. Peterson, head of the Moore Labs, was fond of saying, “Dying is easy; lifting 32 times your own weight is difficult.” Nonetheless, no ant has ever been as pampered as this remnant of an obscure subspecies, his handling due entirely to the unusual circumstances of his life and death.
We learned from Peterson that normally males die immediately after fertilizing a queen, and many do not make it to sexual maturity in an endangered colony, as the female workers tend to destroy superfluous males. Previous to the discovery of Edward and his brothers, the last of the species was believed to be a lone queen, dubbed Medea by Peterson’s team for her propensity to consume her offspring.
However, the discovery of Edward and his siblings in a clutch in the wainscoting of a colleague’s home in nearby Lyme Regis reinvigorated the team, leading them to pursue extraordinary efforts to hatch the seven eggs. “We had hoped to find at least one bride among the seven brothers,” Peterson lamented without a trace of irony, but the eggs were unfertilized and produced only males. While all of the eggs hatched into larvae, only three made it to the pupa stage, with only Edward and David surviving to adulthood.
Tragically, David drowned in the reservoir of the brothers’ artificial environment only a year after emerging form the pupa stage. Dr. Peterson, a slim woman with a serious demeanour and blue eyes obscured by heavy lenses, sighed upon recalling that day. “It was, I suppose, part of the Creator’s whim after all.”1
In his seven and a half years of life, Edward received the royal treatment usually reserved for queens, along with the careful scrutiny of the team members. “His feelers reduced over the last six months by a length of .00134 mm,” Peterson affirmed. “We hope our careful measurements and analysis will lead to breakthrough discoveries on the aging process for humans, as well.”
Some of her team took a lighter approach to their duties. Dr. Sarah James, a newly minted Ph.D. from Cardiff, undertook an unauthorized examination of Edward’s television viewing habits. “He was very fond of Coronation Street, and he really perked up for any kind of crime drama, unless it were written by Lynda LaPlante. Not sure why, but he took a dislike to her work. Oh, and strongest man competitions. He loved those.”
Her post-graduate research assistant, Niamh Golden, spoke warmly of Edward’s predilection for raw sugar over granulated, and how he would not touch any food served on blue plates. His tastes were capricious but trenchant. “He refused to look at tabloids, and he showed absolutely no interest in Sudoku, either,” she added with some considerable disappointment.
While Peterson did not condone such frivolous studies, focusing instead on the hard science of thoracic cavities diameters and mandible elasticity, her fondness for the last ant was undeniable. “My daughter wanted to make him a little smoking jacket to keep him warm,” she admitted, “but his dimensions were just too tiny for that to be feasible.”
In the final months of his life, the indulging of the camponotus krefftii survivor increased. His three remaining legs were insufficient to balance his abdomen easily, and an infection of the tibial spur in the third leg rendered its bifurcated joint immobile. “We had to carry him everywhere,” Dr. James affirmed. “He missed the mobility, but I think he enjoyed the attention.”
In the end, his death was quiet as befitted the extinguishing of his kind. “It was a Monday,” Dr. Peterson recalled, “He had been listless for some days, not even responding to Schubert anymore. There was a final tentative movement of his antennae, and then all was still.
We shall not see his like again.”
Interested visitors can glimpse the preserved body of Edward on alternate Tuesdays at The Moore Lab between noon and 2 p.m. “We ask for a small donation. Ant studies continue in Edward’s memory,” Peterson said, “People coming down for the regatta or the conger cuddling would do well to stop in to see Edward’s tomb.”
“It’s a short tour,” Dr. James added.
1 Peterson obviously refers here to John Donne’s poem, well-known to many school children,
Note but the ant and see in him
How the Creator gives himself to whim.
His hairy leg
So short and fat
Beckons on the senescent rat.
That ants were an obsession for Donne has been well-demonstrated; however, there seems to be no truth to the suggestion made by disgraced scholar Arkadin Prospero that the original lines of the Holy Sonnet X once read in an earlier draft:
Ant be not proud though some have called you so;
How your hairy leg crooks when Thamesward you go.
Arkadin himself proved an interesting figure: the manuscript provided as evidence proved to be of seventeenth century origin when surrendered to chemical analysis, but of Egyptian provenance—so a fake, but an exquisite and complex one. Prospero, peculiarly enough, was last spotted in 1953 leaving Milan aboard a small-rigged ship heading east.