Monday, 30 May 2011

Cockroaches may not rule the post-apocalyptic world, but ants might


What do you get when you put a small group of humans, some plants and some other animals into a sealed glasshouse? Cockroaches, and then Ants.

This is the story of Biosphere 2, from the early 1990s. It's a story often told, but worth repeating. I'm paraphrasing this from an article by Adam Curtis in the The Observer today. Curtis is a film maker, most recently of a documentary 'All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace’, showing on BBC TV (apparently - I don't have a television at the moment). 

At the end of 1991 Biosphere 2 was built in the Arizona desert. It was a sealed world with eight humans locked in with plants and other animals. Over time, a ‘balanced ecosystem’ was supposed to emerge.

Carbon dioxide levels rose dramatically right from the start so the humans planted more green plants. But the carbon dioxide continued to rise, so much so that it changed the chemistry of their ‘ocean’ and killed the coral reef. (Does this sound like anywhere you know?) 

Then millions of mites attacked the vegetables and the humans started to run out of food. The humans lost 18% of their body weight.

Then millions of cockroaches took over, covering nearly every surface when the lights were turned out.

Then the oxygen started to decrease, but no one knew why or to where.

Then the humans began to argue and struggle with one another.

Then millions of ants appeared (from nowhere) and killed the cockroaches, while the humans struggled for power.

In 1993 the experiment collapsed in chaos and hatred amongst the humans, but not before the ants ate through the silicone seals in the wall and, according to Curtis, marched off into the desert...

It's a nice story isn't it.

Image: Welcome to your Ruler. This is a Queen Ant from the World Museum site run by National Museums Liverpool. I'm sure they won't mind me borrowing the image to promote ants. 

3 comments:

Merricks said...

Good story, Tim. But next time you need an insect photo could I point you to the photostream of
Jean Hort. Here is a url to one of her many ant photos...
Coloured Ant
(I'd have posted the picture but apparently images are not permitted in comments.)

While this is not a queen ant, it is so much more interesting (to me anyway) than the irritatingly anthropomorphised image from the Museum. And

Merricks said...

(to continue)
And I am sure she would be happy to let you use any of her images.

Tim Entwisle said...

Wonderful photos and I take your point. That pretty tacky picture amused me slightly when thinking how the world would be if we were 'ruled' by ants. Perhaps I've been too long in the UK and everything to me is now about royalty. But thanks for the link, very nice.