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September 20, 2018

Stop to look at anthills on your way to Lake Bogoria

BREATHTAKING NATURAL WONDERS: A tourist poses for a photo next to an anthill. Photo/Steve Kinuthia
BREATHTAKING NATURAL WONDERS: A tourist poses for a photo next to an anthill. Photo/Steve Kinuthia

When we talk about places we visit that are of great interest to tourists, local or international, we mention how to get there. We mention what is there to be seen, and when is the best time to visit. What we rarely mention is what else is there to be seen on your way there. Therefore we blind our visitors to some of the most interesting life forms that can be encountered on the way to some world-class tourist destinations.

When you drive to, say, Lake Bogoria, just before you reach the lake you will be greeted by some of the most beautiful and gigantic anthills popping out of the dry earth-like miniature skyscrapers. Which they are, as far as the builders are concerned. If that was not the case, then they would have crumbled under the weight of the inhabitants – the ants. Or they would have worn out with time, or be destroyed by the domestic animals who like to use them as a rubbing brush to remove ticks from their bodies. Or the anthills may have been washed off by the torrential rains that pound the semi arid areas during the heavy rains season.

But these anthills have remained steady over the years. Who knows whether they are being used by the original builders or they have changed residents over time? The anthills have remained intact because the builders of the skyscrapers thought well in advance, how to make them in such a way that they will stand the test of time.

Put simply, the foundation was firm. Some of the builders never lived to see the outcome of their hard work. While they were building, they were also breeding. The queen was busy laying eggs, the workers were busy feeding the queen. Others were bringing in food for the hatchlings and some were working on the building structure. There were also those repairing houses, which were not up to the standard.

Some of the ants met their death outside the house they were building and living in. While some were eaten by birds, others got lost in the melee of searching for building materials. Some were washed away by floods, and some died in great wars trying to defend the contraction site from enemies. Whatever happens, contraction had to go on, and new life had to be made to replace the gone. What strikes me most, is the thought of future that these little insects exhibit. They do not think of ‘me’ time or ‘now’ time. It is always about us, our dwelling place, our children and their future.

To make sure that the anthill will last beyond bad weather, the construction site must be well researched. They don’t wake up one morning and begin collecting materials and start building. If one was keen enough to notice, most of the largest and oldest anthills are built on very hard ground, most probably around a dead stem of a big tree. In some places, the anthills are actually built at the base of a living tree.

This will serve as the holding structure, or the foundation of the anthill. The tree will also serve as food for the ants. As they work on the building, the bark of the tree will be the food, and also parts of the building materials. With time, after the tree has lost the skin, which serves as the conduits of food from the ground to the branches and leaves, it will finally die.

The dead tree will still serve the ants as the central pillar on which the extensions will stand. The structural design is made such that the surface that faces the direction that poses the most danger of being damaged is reinforced heavily by gluing small pebbles or tiny sand particles together, to form a cement wall. So strong are the walls that even a car crash will cause minimal damage to the inside of a well built anthill.

Some of the anthills built very close to the road that leads to Lake Bogoria bear signs of having withstood collisions with vehicles. Some will show paint from vehicles that have brushed against the anthills, while others will show broken tunnel heads from car crashes, but never the whole structure. The bases always remain intact. We are talking about firm foundations.

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