To quote a great comedian, “I’m not superstitious, but I’m a little ‘stitious.” But more importantly, I’m well aware and often fascinated by the effect that superstition has on other people. On top of that, I love to work a crowd. I like to get people in touch with their emotions and instincts. And sometimes I like to freak people out. Which brings me to night walks.
Like any good naturalist, night walks are my bread and butter. My after dark tours are designed to be a good mix of excitement, curiosity, wonder, fear, perverse fascination, and horror. Depending on the crowd. But my most recent one ended up focusing more on those latter three. Partially because I was deliberately trying to scare the hell out of a group of rowdy volunteers. But also because I didn’t need to be deliberate: we were walking past an old decayed house in the middle of the forest that local legend says was the scene of a mass murder. Yes, an honest-to-god jungle haunted house.
So I kept my mouth shut and let imaginations run wild as I led them around vine-covered walls and mossy collapsed roof. Murder or no, the atmosphere was pretty sinister, as if the house was being swallowed by the jungle. I pointed out a couple of large wandering spiders and toxic frogs, but then spotted something that made my blood freeze and my stomach churn.
It was my old nemesis: army ants.
And not just army ants, but an army ant bivouac.
I don’t scare easily. And I have a pretty high tolerance for horror. But these things are literally from my nightmares. I still haven’t quite gotten over that time they invaded my cabin back in 2015. Or that time they raided my bed at night. It’s just—
Oh god, all those legs! And it didn’t help that most of them were young, a new generation freshly ecclosed, still yellow-headed and pink-bodied. Almost fleshy-looking.
The swarm had set up between some fallen pieces of corrugated metal, and was roughly the size and shape of a half-deflated beach ball. They scattered when I shone my light on them, revealing a bounty of eggs, grubs, and still-cocooned young pupae. The soldiers flexed their fishhook mandibles and blindly tasted the air for us, the interlopers, and I tried to explain what was going on while also trying to get people away while also trying not to dry heave. In the confusion I was pushed into a sinkhole and ended up getting several dozen crawl up my pants before I got my leg out.
We were all pretty rattled after that. Me most of all. Not because of the spirits of jungle murder victims, but because of tiny insects. Tiny insects with overwhelming numbers, fanatical aggression, and wriggling, biting…
Night hike? Total success. But still, fuck ants.