Friday, March 24, 2017

Hantik! (Green Tree Ant)


By Dr Abe V Rotor


Nest of Green Tree Ants


Go to the ant sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” (Proverbs, Chapter 6, 6-8)

“Hantik!” my friend cried in panic and pain as he hurriedly abandoned the fruit laden mango tree fighting off dozens of golden brown ants clinging on his skin and clothes. He had trespassed into a nest of green tree ants, Oecophylla smaragdina, and now the colony had broken into a swarm. I had my share of the bites and stings as I helped my friend repel the insects. Well, boys are boys, but this gave us a lasting lesson, and for me it opened a door to my career as an entomologist.

Years after when I put up residence in a middle-class subdivision in Quezon City I came across the world of this enigmatic organism once more. This time it came to live with my family. It built nests on two towering trees, ilang-ilang (Cananga odorata) and talisay (Terminalia catappa) which stand on the front yard and across the fence on the sidewalk, their long and thick branches virtually forming one huge crown. There is no escape from the ants; not the garden, the pond, clotheslines and pathways.

No one likes to live with a pest anyway. So I hired a woodcutter who claimed to have been responsible for cutting down some of the oldest balete trees (Ficus benjamina) on ghostly Balete Drive. (Remember the white lady stories?) Armed with bolo and salt allegedly to drive evil spirits, he climbed the talisay tree. Hardly had he began cutting a main branch when the colony of ants broke loose. It was exactly a repeat performance of that incident which happened forty years ago. My plan was abandoned, and I realized my intention was carrying a residue of revenge.

In the study of insects (entomology), insects are classified into beneficial and destructive species. Honeybees and silkworm are classical examples of the good insects, while the plant-eating and parasitic ones are considered as bad ones. But to ecologists without insects there can be no true balance in the biosphere. What that suggests is the universal idea that every living thing has a place and purpose in this planet. But where does the hantik belong?

It is difficult to pass judgment unless the facts about this insect are presented. Ants are among the most successful evolutionary creatures. They did not only survive millions of years as groups but have, in fact, together with bees, reached the highest evolutionary level - Order Hymenoptera of the largest phylum of animals (Arthropoda). The secret of this success is closely linked with their social life which has fascinated man. Insects inspired autocratic societies, such as those founded on feudalism and dictatorship. Definitely, the caste system where members are categorized according to function, was structured following that of ants, bees and termites.

Social scientists and biologists believe that social behavior among living things have a biological basis. The genes which carry the double helix deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA) control social behavior. That is why social life models somehow follow that of other species. To sociobiologists, led by EO Wilson of Harvard, this is also true with humans. A proof of this is that our history is rich with autocratic cultures and civilizations, among which are the great Egyptian civilization, Roman Empire, Chinese Civilization and other civilizations of the Aztecs, Mayans, and American Indians.

In our age of biotechnology, scientists are looking at the possibility of isolating the gene that controls social behavior in insects which can be spliced into the genes of other organisms in order to make them socially cohesive or adaptable to specific cultural conditions. The same gene may be responsible for dictating the sex of individual organisms and even populations. The basis of this thesis is that worker ants and bees are infertile females, predetermined in their immature stage. With this knowledge, genetic engineering may be able to develop techniques of mass extermination of destructive insects by modifying their sex. Already, in the case of tilapia (plapla), sex reversal (hormonal change) has been the key for preventing overpopulation and competition, and in improving weight gain.

On the practical side, ants are natural predators. They kill other insects, even those much bigger than themselves, as food. Their presence in our yard has caused the disappearance of most garden pest: caterpillars, termites and even other kinds of ants like the red fire ants (Solenopsis geminata rufa) which herd and milk aphids and mealybugs. No, the hantik is not a symbiont of destructive insects of any kind. They are nature’s sweepers and janitors. They carry off morsels and leftovers which would otherwise attract flies and other vermin.

What triggers swarming other than perceived assault? I have seen members coming to the rescue of wounded members, or to carry their dead while the rest is alerted for defense or assault. I have observed advance parties exploring new territories, ants that tap the nest to warn the colony of danger, and those which weave nests by clamping the edges of leaves together, and fastened with a sticky secretion of larvae.

When the prey is big, an army is set in place to tear it down in due time. In peaceful times members form a column toward a food source, each carrying a bit to their granary. But always, there is the courteous “kissing”, their antennae tapping and touching, mandible-to-mandible, or head-to-hind, and all in some kind of frenzy and spontaneity. Pheromone, the chemical that binds members and the royalty (queen) together, is transferred and shared this way.

According to Klaus Dumpart of JW Goethe University, several substances work together in raising alarm. One alarm triggering secretion comes from the mandible gland which includes hexanol. Just the scent of this complex substance can be picked up and interpreted by the members. Apart from this secretion, formic acid is secreted by the Dufour gland found at the posterior part of the abdomen. It serves both as pheromone and poison. The ant injects this poison into the victim when it stings. To paralyze a prey or fight an enemy, an ant bites tenaciously with a pair of huge mandibles, while at the same time, injecting poison with a retractable needle at its posterior end.

Extracts from the glands of ants and bees are useful in medicine for the cure of arthritis and rheumatism. Although induced stinging on affected area of the skin and joints of people suffering of acute arthritis is not new, the growing popularity of alternative medicine has even made the practice available in a number of US hospitals and clinics.

It is interesting to know that the eggs and larvae of hantik are gathered for food (it is cooked adobo style), and it is claimed to be an aphrodisiac, according to barrio folks in Abra. This is also a common practice in tropical rainforests in Asia and in the savannahs of Africa where these ants abound.

I look back at the nest of the hantik ants without culinary desire nor a residue of a past painful experience, and I think of them now as good neighbors. If, for any reason I receive a sting or two, I complain not, for I believe that sting is good for the heart. Hantik ants prove to be very friendly and cooperative. Pavlov is right after all. ~


Hairy caterpillar (higad) writhes as soldier hantik ants drive their razor-sharp mandibles spiked with immobilizing poison. Soon this fleshy Goliath will be reduced into shreds and tidbits which will be carried off to be served as food to the colony's nursery.


Here is a case of poison against poison. The wasp tucks in a dagger that injects bee venom, while the ants have formic acid. Here too, a giant is pitted against Lilliputians, but what spells victory is number - the strategy of ants. An ant colony is made up of thousands of active members working in precise coordination.

Morning in the Forest


At the edge of the forest, there’s a new beginning.
Dr Abe V Rotor 
Morning in the Forest in acrylic, AVR 2010

Weaned from his cradle and forebears’ bastion,
He ventured onto the plains yearning to be free;
And built the road to civilization -
Now he, Homo sapiens, ruled the plain and sea.

This self anointed king and conqueror,
Built temples and worshiped the Golden Calf;
Raped the land, sowed poison and terror,
Then sought divine grace on his behalf.

At the edge of the forest, there’s a new dawn,
The remnant of his abode long forlorn;
And he, survivor of the Armageddon
Comes home - the Prodigal Son reborn. ~

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Prism in a Forest

If colors were sounds
then I hear music,
harmonious and pure
of the Eden I seek.
 
If prism makes a gown
regal and queenly,
it's woven by an unseen
no other but Thee.~

Acknowledgement: photo from Internet

Stained Glass Windows - Revival of an Old Art


Dr Abe V Rotor


Nativity, Mt Carmel Church, Gilmore Ave, QC


Boy Jesus with scribes, Mt Carmel Church, Gilmore Ave, QC

Christ in his mission


Our Lady of Mt Carmel


Composite stained glass, Mt Carmel Church, Gilmore Ave, QC

Girl Therese: stirrings of a religious vocation.


Therese takes vow of religious life.


Commitment to a religious vocation.


Last days of a short but fulfilled life.


St Therese of the Child Jesus
Mother and Child, James Reuter SJ Theater, St Paul University QC






Death of St Paul, St Paul of Chartres Vigil House chapel, Antipolo, Rizal 


Jerusalem, St Paul of Chartres Vigil House chapel, Antipolo, Rizal


Acknowledgment: Selected stained glass windows of Mt Carmel Church QC, St Therese Church, The Fort, St Paul University QC, and Vigil House SPC, Antipolo.

Captured Moments of joy in Photographs


Dr Abe V Rotor

Moments of joy, moments of sadness;
they come like a moving wheel
every day, all the time in our lives,
on the road of trial and will.

Moments of joy, moments of loneliness,
they come like a rolling cloud
in light and shadow, bright and gray,
fall as rain and clear the shroud.

Moments of joy, moments of suffering,
they come together in ease and strain;
nostalgia the happiest state of mind,
sweet is sweeter after pain. ~
Posing with a baby elephant, Thailand
Wild pigeon (bato-bato), pangaw (Ilk)

Philippine Hawk, Avilon Zoo San Mateo


Taking pride of ones craft.


Apple mangoes, Don Antopnio Subd, Diliman QC

Floating lotus flowers, Thailand


Baby rabbits

Bronze sea lion, Thailand


Prize catch to market - siriw

Fruit cart, Darwin, Australia


Vegetable market, MM
Fish sauce (patis) for sale in a wet market, MM

First to see dragon fruit. Origin: Vietnam


Friendly owl. Avilon Zoo, San Mateo, Rizal


Bunny at home, QC

Garland of Dioscorea, relative of the ubi, at home QC


Listening to the sea with tambuli shell, MM

Friday, March 17, 2017

Red Hot Summer in Paintings

 Red Hot Summer in Paintings
Dr Abe V Rotor 
Fire tree in acrylic, on-the-spot painting AVR, 
Jamboree Site, UPLB Laguna

Burn in the summer sun,
your cinders on the ground,
and i shall walk on carpet,
a prince to kingdom bound.  
Erythrina by a stream, painting in acrylic AVR, 2009
UST Publishing House     

Flow gently sweet stream
among fiery petals strewn, 
 down the river flowing 
and never to return.
Mutant Red, painting in acrylic, by AVR 

Whatever happened to the tree Erythrina, 
lost in the madness of science and fancy,  
transplanted gene in her bosom dear,
forever coveted her beauty.  

An Arch of Fire Trees, painting in acrylic AVR 2009

An arch over a mountain stream, 
strewing confetti from its bow,
drifting down stream to where I dream,   
an honor to be simple and low.


A Field of Flowering Weeds, mural by AVR 2010

Dare to step on these lowly flowering weeds,
denied of decent place and defiled;
Save the deities by their magic wands succeed  
in bringing out Nature's hidden pride, 


Survival in extreme hot and dry environment


Dr Abe V Rotor
Flowering bamboo - threatened by severe drought.
"Take heed of the flowering bamboo," old folks warn.  It foretells El NiƱo, a cyclical climatic phenomenon every seven to ten years characterized by extreme hot and dry climate. The biblical story of Joseph interpreting the pharaoh's dream of "seven years of plenty followed by seven years of want," is most likely based on this phenomenon. (Note: The inflorescence of bamboo does not develop in open, thus certain species are threatened, so with the animals depending on them such as the Panda in China.)   

Porcupine ensconced in a log to beat summer heat 

Organisms become dormant (aestivate to many animals), their metabolism slows down, they stop reproducing temporarily, and they become less visible.  These are part of survival mechanism until normal environmental conditions are restored. Organisms are attuned to the march of seasons as well as the vagaries of weather and harsh effect of force majeure. These are tests of evolution and the basis of Darwin's "survival of the fittest."  


Dwarf frangipani (kalachuchi) stores water in its bulbous stem. 
Many plants, especially cacti, store water for the dry season. Water and nutrients are stored in special cells  that swell when filled up and shrink as the supply gets low. The principle involved is even more complex in the camel, whose humps are the storage organ.     Before embarking for journey, travelers make certain that the humps of this "ship in the desert" is solid and firm.