The red harvester ant, or Pogonomyrmex badius, is indigenous to the southwestern United States. Its diet generally consists of seeds which it hoards. But a new art exhibit in Manhattan has the little red ants gorging on something besides kernels. The New York Times reports that Brooklyn-based artist Elizabeth Demaray has an exhibit of red harvester ants at a Manhattan art gallery. And the featured food for the ants? It is a seemingly endless supply of McDonalds.
The ants and their diet is the subject of Demaray’s new exhibit, “Corpor Esurit, or we all deserve a break today” at Exit Art on 10th Avenue and 36th Street. The ants are set up in what looks to be a giant ant farm with a tube connecting them to an endless supply of hamburgers, fries and McNuggets. The insects will be supplied with only McDonalds food for one month.
And just how are the ants doing? At press time, many of the ants were dead. The NY Times reports that others seemed disoriented, probably due to the lack of purpose as the colony doesn’t have a queen or a brood. Demaray hopes that the exhibit will provide a commentary on how creatures of the world depend on us for food.
But for science, the exhibit is more a commentary on picking the right ants to make your point. Dr. Colin S. Brent is a research entomologist with the federal Department of Agriculture. Brent points out that the red harvester ants like seeds, not special sauce. As he told the NY Times, “My first response as a scientist would be bafflement as to why Pogonomyrmex was chosen. They might enjoy the sesame seeds on the buns, but that would be about it.” Others point out that carnivores or omnivores like army ants might have been a better choice.
Perhaps the ants were chosen because their nests are generally characterized by a lack of foliage — which may have contradicted Demaray’s aesthetic. Ultimately, one might encourage the artist to end her exhibit with a peace offering of seeds. The ants also have painful stings and are known to bite ferociously.
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