The Art of Anting: Symbolic Lessons From Crows and Ants

What is anting: Symbolic lessons from crows and ants
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This article is about fascinating behavior from birds in the crow family (magpies, blue jays, etc). They have a unique ceremony called “anting” that is both fascinating and symbolic.
Read on for some curious but valuable lessons from crows and ants.


If someone dared you to sit on an ant nest, would you do it? I sure hope not, but crows would take that dare in a hot minute!

Many birds in the crow family (like blue jays, magpies, etc) have a clever trick for taking advantage of a potentially stinging situation. While we humans are running scared from the unpleasant sting of ants, birds in the crow family actually seek them out!

What is “Anting?

Symbolic lessons from ants and crows
What is anting? Exploring symbolic lessons from crows and ants

To explain, these clever birds sit on ant piles. Yup. This behavior is called “anting” in the birding world.

Not only do these birds sit on ant nests, but they also get all up in their business! They flap their wings and shake their tails on ant piles. Talk about invasion of the ants! After being rudely disrupted, the agitated ants righteously proceed to swarm all over these cocky crows and jays.

What’s up with that? Great question. It has to do with formic acid.

Ants spew this acid from their jaws when they attack. For humans, the injection feels like a stabbing sting. But for these birds, it’s the next best thing to pest control. See, formic acid is a natural repellent for pests. In fact, it’s used as a natural pesticide. It is also used as an antibacterial agent in commercial farms.

Who knew?!? Crows do, that’s who!

These shrewd birds have even been seen crushing ants against their feathers in order to speed up the formic acid distribution through their plumage.

This crushing and ‘anting’ (sitting on ant piles) is a perfect way for these birds to keep bloodsucking pests off their feathers, as well as reducing bacteria on their bodies.  This is particularly important for scavenging crows who can burrow in buckets of bacteria when their pecking at carcasses or other decaying what-not.

So why am I mentioning this?  Well, for one, it’s totally fascinating, right?  Secondly, there is big totem juju in this bird behavior.  Here are some ideas about messages and lessons we can take away from Nature about this odd, but very cool occurrence…

What is anting: Symbolic lessons from blue jays and ants
Anting and Symbolic lessons from crows, blue jays and ants

Take-Away Lessons From Crows and the Act of Anting

Got Ants In Your Pants? Make Lemonade:  Err…well…something like that. The overarching lesson here boils down to that age-old adage: “When life gives you lemons…” You know the other 1/2…make lemonade of course. We can learn from crows and jays when it comes to making the best out of ‘stinging’ situations.

Am I suggesting we all sit on ant piles and make an epic, raging ant-storm? Of course not, but I am proposing a life-lesson. When life hands us a raging pile of painful pinchers, perhaps there are things we can do to take these challenges and use them to our advantage. Just like crows take advantage of the formic acid from ants, we can take advantage of the acidic situations in our lives.

My Enemy, My Friend: If you haven’t read that book by Dan Cherry, it’s worth a read. The point I’m making here is to encourage viewing opposition as the enemy. The crow understands that in order to enhance life, it’s a good idea to cozy up to those who might not be ideal bedfellows. Vice versa, ants put up with their irritating feathered ‘frienemies’ in order to get the scraps these birds leave behind. Is it a perfect match? Nope. But each clan works together to get mutual benefits.

At the end of the day, we we have tons to learn from the Natural world. These life lessons from crows, blue jays, magpies, etc., and ants is just one among millions of examples of how we can turn disadvantage in to advantage. I hope this is an encouragement to look around in Nature and all her creatures for inspiration, guidance and unconventional solutions.

I hope you enjoyed this article on symbolic lessons from crows and ants. If you liked this article, check out my symbolic meaning of ants post, or get more on the meaning of crows. I also have symbolic info about the meaning of bluejays.

PS: Please don’t go anting by sitting on ant piles. It’s great for crows, but not cool for humans.

As always, thanks so much for reading.

Brightly,

Avia

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