Ants and grasshoppers

by Bob Worcester

All summer long the ants worked industriously, gathering grain from the fields and storing it away in their underground store houses. While the ants worked, carefree grasshoppers danced, sang and took long naps in the summer sun.

One day a grasshopper asked, “Why do ants work so hard hour after hour, day after day, all summer long?” Another grasshopper replied, “They work for a dark queen who commands them to serve her every need. Everything they do is planned out in precise detail and they work for almost nothing.”  “Our life is much better,” said the 1st grasshopper, “Because we are so clever, we do what we want and have much more fun.”

“I have a plan,” said a 3rd grasshopper. “Let’s demand that the ants pay a toll for the path they take from the fields.”  They sent word to the Ant Queen that the grasshoppers would require 1 seed in payment for each 100 seeds that passed on the path from the field.  The Queen agreed but stipulated that they must replant 9 of 10 seeds collected before they kept one.

The grasshoppers were delighted and passed their new plan on to their friends. Other grasshopper agreed to plant seeds in return for a percentage of the planting.  Each new grasshopper received 9 seeds, planted 8, and kept 1. They found even more grasshoppers that would plant 7 seeds, keep 1 and so it went.  Soon hundreds of grasshoppers were engaged in the seed trade and the head grasshoppers were collecting bags full of seeds which they used to encourage even more grasshoppers to get involved in the planting process. The Ant Queen was happy that so many seeds were being planted for the next year’s harvest. The grasshoppers were happy that so many seeds would be growing into juicy green shoots. The head grasshoppers danced, sang and gambled with one another for the seeds that they expected to collect from the ants.

One day some of the grasshoppers discovered they had promised to plant more seeds than they had actually collected, so they began using notes that counted the seeds that would sprout in the next season since each seeded plant should produce 10 more seeds.  It was easier to write notes than to plant seeds.

Then it occurred to the grasshoppers that they could also sell other grasshoppers the rights to the juicy green plants that would grow from the seeds that they had promised to plant. Grasshoppers could claim all the new plants that would grow from each packet of seeds they promised to plant. The more they promised to plant the more they could gamble or sell.

Soon the grasshoppers spent more time gambling with their promissory notes than they spent actually planting seeds. The worried Ant Queen finally sent out a message that no more seeds would be given to grasshoppers that had not actually planted the seeds as promised.

Then the weather turned bad and it became difficult to plant any more seeds. All the grasshoppers that had come to gamble for seeds began to look around for food and could only find leaves from the last of the plants the ants were harvesting.  Soon the fields were stripped bare and the hungry grasshoppers demanded to see the Ant Queen.

“We are starving,” they said. “Let us have some of the seeds you have stored away for the winter!”

“My ants need those seeds to survive the winter so I cannot give you any from our storehouse. You wasted many of the seeds we gave you to plant or traded them for pieces of paper that you can’t eat,” she said. The head grasshopper reminded the Ant Queen that he had promises on paper from the grasshoppers to plant thousands of seeds. “Yes,” said the Ant Queen but those grasshoppers will not survive the winter and they have eaten all the plants that were producing seeds this year.”

“But what will we do?” asked the head grasshopper.

“Learn to eat paper,” said the Ant Queen.

“What will you do if no grasshoppers plant the seeds for next year? “ said the head grasshopper.

“Learn to eat grasshoppers,” said the Ant Queen.

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