writes in The Times. “Someone needs to explain the difference between a shovel and a spade.”

play online.

View Source

Let Us Now Praise Tiny Ants

All these differences help us see ants as they really are: rich in diversity, earned over millions of years of evolution as they adapted to a world’s worth of habitats, ecosystems and survival strategies. Dr. Rice calls ants “the Bauhaus creations of the natural world.” Like the architectural principle that form follows function, each strange-looking adaptation represents a major commitment in creatures with “little space for extravagance” and so illustrates yet another of the multitudinous ways that there are to be an ant. “To answer the question posed by an ant’s form,” Dr. Rice writes, “is to begin to untangle the intricate relationships that scaffold our world.”

The naturalist and author Edward O. Wilson discovered this early in his scientific career, when a mentor sent him a note about a group of ants with strange, long mandibles that could spring shut like traps. (“Wilson, find out what dacetines eat,” he wrote. “What do they hunt and catch creeping around with those weird mandibles?”) A question about morphology became a clue about a food web. The ants, it turned out, were eating springtails, a kind of hexapod that can fling itself rapidly through the air to avoid predators, but not quickly enough to outrun the incredible speed of the ants’ jaws. It was a race, Dr. Wilson wrote in “Tales From the Ant World”: “each using its own explosive devices, one to capture, the other to avoid capture.” Mr. Niga’s photographs show trap-jaw ants with mandibles like scimitars or lobster claws; some can close their jaws in barely one-tenth of a millisecond, slamming shut at speeds reaching 145 miles per hour.

We also meet Cataglyphis bicolor, with its long, spidery legs — an invaluable adaptation if you live, as this ant does, in the Sahara and need speed and height to keep you cool above the blazing sand. (For Oecophylla smaragdina, or weaver ants, long legs serve a different purpose: spanning gaps in the tree canopy as they construct nests of leaves and silk.) Leaf-cutter ants look fierce, their bodies covered in spines and spikes, but all that armor is meant not for fighting but, in effect, as a gardening tool. The ants are agriculturalists, ferrying food to the fungus that they cultivate in elaborate underground chambers, and the spikes allow them to better balance their leafy loads. In the tropics, they work in such diligent numbers that you can see the ant highways that their tiny ant feet wear into forest floors.

Learning the ways of ants teaches us that their lives are very different from our own. The ants we encounter in our own lives are almost exclusively female; the males are, in Dr. Wilson’s words, “little more than flying sperm missiles” that don’t live long and are often unrecognizable as ants at all. Queens are made, not born; fertilized eggs have the potential to be queens or workers, and will develop differently based on what the youngster is fed as she grows, a diet and a future that will be dictated by the needs of the colony. Ants also have an unusually high number of odor receptors, which allow them to decode chemical trails and messages. Some species also have three simple light-detecting eyes, called ocelli, to help them fly and navigate, in addition to the standard two compound eyes.

There are many reasons to understand ants better. Whole ecosystems are built around them, and large numbers of species, from plants to beetles to birds, are “ant obligates,” meaning that they depend entirely on their relationships with ant colonies to survive. Winnow ants disperse so many herbaceous seeds in North America, Dr. Rice notes, that “removing them causes wildflower abundance to drop by 50 percent.”

View Source

Lessons From a Year of Pandemic Spending

“He was suffering,” she said. “But he wasn’t ready to die.”

Ms. Smith visited him every other day, sometimes bringing steak sandwiches, pizza and other favorite foods. And she often ate dinners and snacks provided by the nursing home — which didn’t cost her anything. She now prepares all her meals at home, spending roughly $60 per week on groceries, including the fish cakes she practically lives on. That’s about twice what she had been spending when she shared meals with Bruce.

She said she didn’t realize how much of her life revolved around those visits and the friends she made inside the nursing home, something she continues to work through with the help of several bereavement groups. “All of a sudden, I didn’t have it,” she said.

During the summer, she kept busy with gardening, growing her own vegetables in raised beds, including peppers, squash, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes. That helped improve her bottom line: “I saved so much money on produce,” she said. “I hardly went to the grocery store.”

In a normal year, Ms. Smith would have spent about $2,000 traveling to Denver to attend mineral shows and to buy supplies for her jewelry business, while also taking a few vacation days to unwind. But the pandemic has forced Ms. Smith, who planned to work and save until she was at least 70, into semiretirement.

She stayed afloat for some time on enhanced unemployment benefits, but the extra federal benefit expired in the summer and her state benefits ran out in mid-December. The checks only started arriving again in early February, when the year-end stimulus bill kicked in for her. Ms. Smith began collecting Social Security a few months before she would have had full benefits, which reduced her payments by $16 per month, and started dippinginto her retirement savings.

“This is not what I planned,” she said. “I want to work.”

Ms. Smith’s home is paid off, but her annual property taxes of $5,000 — due in part at the end of May and August — are a looming expense. Her car, an 11-year-old Chevy Aveo, is still going strong, even if she just paid $1,500 to replace the clutch. Frugal by nature, she isn’t a big shopper. But she does get a thrill when she finds nearly-new items — be it a beautiful sweater or unworn leggings — at the flea market. One of the few services she treats herself to is hiring a landscaper to cut her grass in warm weather.

But she yearns for her life as it was. When the pandemic is over, Ms. Smith said, she will return to the dance classes she took at nearby Lehigh University, and she would like to go back to teaching yoga and selling jewelry. She is itching to travel again — like she did before her husband’s health declined — and hopes to visit Alaska.

View Source