"You're a strange one, Felix. What are you doing here anyway?"
Felix lifted his helmet and met her gaze as best he could through their two face screens. "Fighting ants," he replied evenly.
"And what else," Lohman wanted to know.
"Fearing ants," he added.
The Satere-Mawe people of Brazil use intentional bullet ant stings as part of their initiation rites to become a warrior. The ants are first rendered unconscious by submerging them in a natural sedative and then hundreds of them are woven into a glove made out of leaves (which resembles a large oven mitt), stinger facing inward. When the ants regain consciousness, a boy slips the glove onto his hand. The goal of this initiation rite is to keep the glove on for a full ten minutes. When finished, the boy's hand and part of his arm are temporarily paralyzed because of the ant venom, and he may shake uncontrollably for days. The only "protection" provided is a coating of charcoal on the hands, supposedly to confuse the ants and inhibit their stinging. To fully complete the initiation, however, the boys must go through the ordeal a total of 20 times over the course of several months or even years.
Lamentation and hope were mingled among the Trailhead inhabitants. The ants were a doomed people in a besieged city. Their unity of purpose was gone, their social machinery halted. No foraging, no cleaning and feeding of larvae, no queen for them to rally around. The order of the colony was dissolving. Out there, indomitable and waiting, were the hated, filthy, unformicid Streamsiders. Finally, all that the Trailheaders knew was terror, and the existence of a choice—they could fight or run from the horror. There was nothing else left in their collective mind.Trailhead, by E.O. Wilson (New Yorker).
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