Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Exploring the anthills of wisdom - Article on The Hindu Newspaper About K Manoj's work on Ants (february 28, 2014)

K. Manoj inhabits two worlds — that of ants and humans. A bus repairman by profession, the 27-year-old Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) employee is a self-taught amateur natural historian whose passion is to observe and record the lives of ants.

It is not unusual for his neighbours at Vembayam to find the recreational myrmecologist scrambling over ground on all fours to document the lives of ants with his digital camera.At his father’s tea shop, Manoj would frown if somebody stopped his favourite black ants from making a beeline for the sugar jar.
He has innumerable ‘ant stories’ to regale listeners. A favourite narrative of his is the one on weaver ants, the aggressive red ones which knit leaves to make large nests on mango trees.“The weavers grow small insects in their colonies to harvest the nutrient-rich nectar they produce. It is like us humans keeping cows for milk,” he tells his audience.

Big deal, how do you know? Listeners would often ask him. Unruffled, Manoj would open his laptop computer and patiently show the sceptics photographs of the ants tending to the ‘nectar producers’ and carrying the ‘livestock’ from one nest to another when their colonies are threatened.Like fighter pilots, queen ants have ‘wing patches’ which denote their rank and mark them out from the lesser of their species.

Yes, ants do sleep; some ants live up to 30 years; predatory ants are solitary insects; the most successful hunter ant is blind. Manoj’s ant lore seems endless.
Kalesh Sadasivan, a plastic surgeon and member of the Travancore Natural History Society, a small fellowship of citizen scientists, had kindled Manoj’s abiding interest in ants. He first learned about their highly complex and social life from the book ‘On a trail with ants.’

When narrating his stories, Manoj never forgets to stress that ants are more important to the ecology than most of us are willing to acknowledge.
The scurrying little insects, rarely accorded more than a glance and often wantonly crushed underfoot or thoughtlessly wiped out with pesticides, have kept pestilences at bay and rid the world of harmful wastes. Manoj winds up his captivating ant-tale sessions with the same refrain, “ants are our friends. Allow them to be.’

K. Manoj is a recreational myrmecologist who is on ‘all fours’ when it comes to watching ants.

Original Article -Exploring the anthills of wisdom - The Hindu February 28, 2014

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