Ants at a picnic always serve for picnic humor not because they have interrupted picnics but because it is cute to presume that they do. But who is really bothered by ants? John O’Brien achieves stasis in “Ants at a Picnic”: his picnickers and ants below them are mutually oblivious to each other’s presence and achieve status quo. But it takes an entomologist; to advise us that ants are more interested in other things. So in Ants at Work (1999), Gordon plays down the picnic: “Indeed the observation that where there is a picnic, there will be ants,” she says, “rests on the notion that there is an ant lurking everywhere, all the time, ready to mobilize its nestmates when a picnic appears.” Nevertheless.

Featured Image:  John O’Brien. Detail of ”Ants at a Picnic,” a cover for The New Yorker (June 15, 1992)

See: Deborah M. Gordon. Ants at Work. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.