I understand about survival of the fittest. I can comprehend that the weakest will be picked off by the strongest, the biggest goes after the smallest. I understand that hyenas will eat the old, vultures will eat the dead and cats will chase mice. I get it. What I don’t understand is why ants will attack perfectly innocent baby turtles hatching out of their eggs!
Friday night I went out to the pond to notice a baby turtle that had just made it to the surface of the beach and had been swarmed by dozens of ants. I pulled him free, washed the ants off but I was too late, he was already gone. That was when I realized there would be more babies being born. A clutch of eggs usually contains about 6-10 and if the ants found this little guy, it was only a matter of time before they found the others.
I began digging.
Carefully excavating the sand making my way to the eggs and unborn baby turtles, my hands and arms being covered by ants and ant bites but I kept digging. I found the babies. Some who had just poked a hole out of their egg in their attempt to get out; had (to them) large black and red monsters enter in and start biting them. They bit the baby’s eyes, arms and legs and even entered their mouths as they tried to breathe!
Most of the babies hadn’t even made it out of their eggs yet. Many I had to pull out just to make sure I got all of the ants off of them. One of which I had to pull aside and let himself hatch on his own (see video below). And then we began the watch.
Baby ICU was in full swing.
They were swollen, in pain and couldn’t see. They needed water but were too weak to swim. Some wanted to be in the cool water to help ease the swelling but they couldn’t float. They sank. Some fell asleep (or passed out) on the bottom of the indoor pond and would have drowned if I hadn’t been checking on them and pulled them back out onto the land. It has been four days and we have lost two babies. Two are doing just fine and three are still in ICU.
I can’t imagine how hard this has been for them. I’ve got ant bites on my hands that hurt, but I keep imagining, what if I was a baby? Much, much smaller. One ant bite swelling up my entire hand! No tolerance to pain, no immune system strong enough to break down the toxins. Can’t see, blind…
I’m sorry! It just feels wrong!
I know baby turtles get a rough start. I’ve done book reports on the sea turtles. No parents to greet them. Predators ranging from humans, foxes and seagulls. The rough sea waters, currents much stronger than we can stand. Sharks, crabs and jelly fish… but ants were not part of that.
I guess it just makes me sad when I walk up to check on their progress and find another one has gone back to heaven. It almost makes me wonder why they were born in such a horrific way, only to suffer for three days and then die. What was it they were supposed to learn? Or was it I who needed to learn something?
Life isn’t fair? Ants are evil? I’ve got to toughen up? What is it I am supposed to take away from this besides heart break and to keep up with the ant spray?
~ Exhausted in the ICU
PS my grandfather suggested a new story; “Hamilton Troll and the Evil Ants”. I considered it. I could see the story in my head. Hamilton Troll approaches a hole where baby turtles are emerging and sees a line of ants start to attack them. He tries to battle off the ants but there are too many of them. He calls for help and other friends come to the rescue. I can see them doing a fire line bringing in buckets of water to wash away the ants. They try to save the babies but many of them are swollen from ant bites… sounds more like a nightmare for children to read than an inspirational educational tale. I’ll keep it in mind, but for the most part I feel it goes to the slush pile with Duncan the Dung Beetle; I just couldn’t seem to make a story about a poo excavating beetle, mom-approved.