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Art and Nature Combined With Ant Nests

Art comes in amazing, weird forms. For many of us on the consumer side aluminum is most familiar in the form of soda and beer cans. It’s a soft, durable metal that can be shaped in lots of different forms. Most importantly, aluminum has a low melting point and cools at a medium rate, making it produce some very interesting forms of metal cooling when accidentally left to its own devices and gravity. The metal as a liquid can flow into lots of different shapes and forms, making it a very easy medium to work with in molds. No surprise, aluminum is one of the most common metals used in casting products, including food containers and transport, engine cases and aircraft parts. However, few ever expected to ever see aluminum and ant nests put together to create an amazing new style of artwork.

What in the World?

Artists have to naturally be a creative bunch, but some of the savviest of the art world are those folks who realize that nature is pretty good at amazing designs as well. That was the case when a fellow named David Gatlin realized that he could combine ant nests and aluminum to produce really intricate, amazing artwork that was probably impossible to replicate by hand.

People Really Don’t Like Fire Ants

As an invasive species, fire ants are extremely nasty and persistent at propagating. The species has run across the Southwest and easily stretches its invasion from Texas to California. The bites from these ants are painful and some folks have even been put into the hospital by the little critters. Part of the issue is how they swarm an enemy, even humans.

Fire Ants Are Not Local

Fire ants are indigenous to the Mato Gross area of Brazil and definitely not a native species in the U.S. They are dubbed an “invasive” insect and targeted for eradication by U.S. pest control and agricultural agencies at every level of government. Fire ants first showed up in force in the U.S. as far back as the 1940s, however, likely imported accidentally into Mobile, Alabama. Today, fire ants can be found in at least 13 specific states across the U.S., and the number is growing.

Nature’s Experts at Surviving

As insects, the red fire ant is notoriously aggressive as well as being a predator. Where many other ant types find ways to live with their ecosystem and even use other insects and bugs to generate food for the colony, fire ants kill everything in their path. They are also very ingenous at solving natural barriers. Fire ants have been seen using floating logs to cross rivers that would otherwise block them completely.

Infestations Move Fast

Fire ants seem to have the ability to travel quickly, much of it due to catching a ride on farm harvest material and soil moved from one destination to another. Once a fire ant colony gets established, as it did in Oklahoma in 1985, it can pop up in the surround regional area within months. From the panhandle state the fire ants moved systematically and aggressively, reaching all over Oklahoma state in total by 2007. Again, the primary modes of transport tended to be nursery products (potted plants) and grass turf for new homes.

Rural Areas are Hit Harder

The colonies of invasive fire ants seem to thrive better in rural areas versus suburban or urban areas. They can frequently grow undisturbed in country and open location, knocking out competing ants and bugs and even small wildlife. Fire ants are notoriously aggressive, swarm quickly, and their bites are horribly painful when in multiple form.

Amazing Workers by the Thousands

Fire ants are extremely industrious, constantly working night and day in producing a larger and larger complex. Every ant works moving dirt from inside to the surface, creating all the cavities used for tunnels and storage as well as safety from above. Fire ants tend to prefer dry soil as well as sandy locations, and clay tends to be used as well. A solid ant nest can reach a foot in depth as well as the same size across easily, and that’s a small nest.

Easy to Miss and Step in Them

Unlike other hands, fire ant colonies tend to work with their environment. They will frequently leave the vegetation that already exists alone and not damage it. That makes fire ant nests easy to miss and worse, easy to step on. And once a nest is stepped on, all hell breaks loose. Thousands of ants will come running out in an instant, giving off pheromones of defense and attacking anything living in range, including humans.

Extensive Nest Range

The nests built by the fire ants can be amazingly big too. While the core nest will be a ball of networks one to two feet in size all around, the foraging tunnels can be far bigger. Fire ants have been known to have foraging connections as long as 200 to 300 feet from their core network. These insect colonies will frequently be found in flat areas with lots of open range and sun. The one area fire ants aren’t fond of is heavy forested locations.

Getting Stuck is Bad Experience

One fire ant is bad enough as a sting. The bite hurts and is very noticeable as soon as it happens. Hundreds of fire ants or thousands can send a person into shock, potentially killing a grown human being unfortunate enough to be trapped in a colony’s path.

The Typical Medical Response

For those bit, the standard medical approach is usually the same as for any insect bite. The patient’s affected area needs to be cleaned and disinfected, a calming medication is applied to reduce the swelling, and the patient has to avoid scratching that could cause infection. Lots of homemade remedies exist from extensive experience.

The Government Has Fire Ants Targeted

Because they are considered an invasive species, multiple state and local government work regularly at trying to eradicate fire ant nests where they are found. There is no protection of fire ants and many times they are hunted to avoid greater damage to the local ecology.

They Just Aren’t Cooperative & Make a Lot of Enemies

As a species, fire ants seem to be unable to cooperate with anything biologically, even when motivated to do so. In fact, they seemed to get more riled up when their environment is dramatically changed, such as during local flooding.

A Rather Effective Ant Removal

Fire ants are also incredibly hard to get rid of. They don’t respond well to basic pesticides, and both homes and nature have been run amok with their colonies. David Gatlin decided one day that he was going to produce a rather permanent kill method by pouring molten aluminum down an ant nest. The molten metal would fill every crevice and tunnel as well as kill the ants instantly.

Molten Aluminum Attributes

Aluminum begins start warping to heat at lower temperatures but it really becomes liquid at around 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit. When left to normal temperature, the metal takes a while to cool down and solidify again. That made it ideal for what Gatlin wanted, an ant death-dealing liquid that would both kill the pest as well as block its tunnels deep down.

Ant Tunnels Galore

Fire ant colonies are extensive and their tunnels match the size and number of the insects. The maze can be intricate but most views are only side cuts of the nests, missing the extensive nature of the entire nest. Being made of dried dirt, many tunnel networks fall apart with digging. However, dropping liquid metal in the same network produced an amazing result.

An Upside Down Christmas Tree

After a few nest kills Gatlin got to thinking what the dried metal might actually look like underground. Even better, the metal didn’t fall apart on touch after being dug up. It was solid. So that suddenly gave Gatlin an idea. He had an intricate piece of art on his hands that just needed to be dug up. Once freed from the earth, the sculpture was amazing.

Try, Try Again

Gatlin wanted to see more. He was amazed by the result of the ant nest combined with the molten metal. So, he went looking for every ant nest available. The results were unique every time. It didn’t matter if the nest was fire ants or basic carpenter ants, they were all a different structure with an amazing network of detail and connections.

The Process

The first step is to melt aluminum hot enough that in reaches a completely molten state. With an ant nest identified, usually by its cone sticking out the ground surface, the aluminum is carefully poured into the main entrance. The metal flows down the channels immediately and is continued until every possibility is filled up.

The Side Effects

As the aluminum goes into the ant nest, the surround dirt and earth begins to get hot as well. It’s quite common as the heat is released for the top of the nest to start smoking and steaming. When the aluminum level reaches the top, the nest is filled and its time to back off pouring. The main entrance tends to collapse from the heat and pressure coming upward.

Removal

After the aluminum has been given time to cool and the heat is absorbed into the surround earth, the metal has hardened and it quite sold. The excavation phase begins. Starting with a basic garden hand shovel, the extent of the nest is identified. Many nests can easily go downward as much as 18 inches to two feet and outward in a radius as much as a foot.

Finishing and Washing

When the aluminum nest structure is completely exposed, it’s time to remove it from the ground. The weight of the entire aluminum could be as much as 20 to 25 lbs, not including the dirt clinging as well. The nest structure is then placed, transported, and brought to a hose. With spray water the dirt this time melts away and what’s left is the amazing detail of everywhere the aluminum flowed into the former ant nest.

The Final Product

Every piece of art needs a framework to display it. Gatlin takes the finished nest mold, brushes it off clean, and then mounts the network on a solid wood base with a finished stain and lacquer. The result is a piece of art that can be displayed on a table, as a coffee table decoration or put in a school lab and a museum as well. Given that aluminum mold is so light to begin with, it doesn’t fall over top-heavy with a good base attached, and people can’t stop looking at it once displayed.

Suddenly Popular

Gatlin’s ant nest artwork grew very quickly to becoming a really big hit. The combination of the shiny aluminum metal, the durability of the intricate connections and the entire chaotic design of an ant nest was visually appealing. Even more interesting, the method how the artwork was created caught people’s attention. Orders started creating demand, and Gatlin’s work became very, very popular.

The Establishment of AnthillArt

Realizing his success, Gatlin created his own business studio with AnthillArt and displayed both his finished works as well as the nature of how the pieces were created. The work became a social media explosion as the aluminum ant nets became a viral story on the Internet. Gatlin’s popularity exploded in the art world, and his works were wanted repeatedly.

Social Media Can Make a Kingdom

The footage showing how Gatlin created his works was an immediate Internet breaker. With over 15 million views watching just the YouTube video detailing the process, Gatlin can easily claim his name as one of the more popular choices on social media for entertainment. The popularity of the video also probably gave Gatlin an additional revenue stream as well via the Internet.

Finishing a Nest

After the molten aluminum has done its hot deed, the process involves a careful digging up of the entire nest, shaking off the dirt and clods, and using a brush to perform the final cleaning of the infrastructure. The hardened aluminum works like a negative print of the nest where the aluminum has filled in every void the liquid form could flow into before drying.

Customers From Different Walks of Life

Gatlin’s nests are extremely popular with lots of different groups. Schools order then to study the behavior and nest product of ants molded by the process. Art collectors love the detail and unique nature of every piece that can’t be replicated as a copy. Homeowners buy them because they want an accessory for the furniture or living room as an amazing talking piece.

Not Everyone is a Fan

While those who are amazed by visual intricacies love the AnthillArt products many in the biology and conservation side think the approach is outright belligerent and typical human abuse of nature. Critics argue that the approach is an outright attack on animals and should be stopped. Quick to rebuttal, Gatlin points how red ants are targeted for eradication anyways, and he focuses on empty nests otherwise.

Critics are Vocal

Some opponents to Gatlin’s work are extremely aggressive in their opposition. From statements that the method makes them sick to the stomach to calling Gatlin a murderer, there might very well be a growing number of critics to AnthillArt products as there are fans. In this respect, Gatlin can definitely claim to be in the company of many other artists who infuriated people and even authority types.

A Middle-Ground Opinion

Professional conservationists have weighed into on Gatlin’s art as well. Buglife, for example, reserved its opposition only if the insects were truly still present in the nest, such as in the case of fire ants. If the nest was empty, they saw no issue with Gatlin’s method of art production. In fact, they liked the idea of showcasing what ants could make with a nest design and making it permanent for everyone to see.

Aluminum as an Art Medium

Gatlin is not the first artist every to realize the beauty of aluminum. Many artists in the West, for example, have realized how amazing aluminum can be melted and cooled after wildfires, liquifying aluminum car wheels and similar and creating eye-popping flows and structures that fit in art galleries everywhere even if from tragedy.

Biology Science Studies Ant Nests Regularly

While not using aluminum per se, entomologists have been studying ant nests for years, noting they are an integrated system of construction produced by a collective effort of a colony versus individual talent or skill. Other mediums that have been used to map ant nests in part or whole have included dental plaster, wax and similar materials that liquify and then harden when cooled.

Upside Down Christmas Trees are Common

Many of the networks produced are frequently referred to as upside down Christmas trees. The entrance to the outside world tend to be one or two main tunnels but from there the network explodes tremendously and in multiple directions. Others have compared the network to an upside-down oak tree with lots of branches and leaves, looking very similar.

Nature and Art

Many artists have blended nature’s amazing ability to create beautiful designs with human ingenuity and creativeness in capturing this beauty. Some have tried to emulate nature, like a photograph capturing a moment in time. Others have drawn inspiration from nature, starting with its form as a blueprint and then working further from their with human spark and thought. Still others try to bridge nature back to humanity to form bridges and show the two can blend.

Judgment Reserved

From a purist perspective Gatlin’s work may wrong, killing life to create art. Others don’t find the lines so defining. The fact that there is debate and there continues to be attention at a process that creates an one-time, amazing form of display and creativity by some kind of life, whether human or insect, is fundamentally the root of why art is so influential. In medieval and renaissance times art was promoted and resisted. Today is not so different. We still debate its value, sometimes in arguments, sometimes in respectful debates. Art is as much about how we think as it is how we react and emulate the world around us.

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