In 2011 the Daily Mail published a story regarding a peculiar type of invasion: Argentine ants. Apparently, there was an invasion of this type of ants back in 2011; or so the Daily Mail said. I remember the story because I found it a bit funny to learn that there was an ants' species named after my country of birth. Besides that, I couldn't remember much more.
A few weeks back, this article came to my attention once again, when a friend reminded me of it. To be fair, I didn't even remember it had been published by the Daily Mail. I just remembered it had come out in 2011 (the year when me and my friend met). Talking about the piece he referred to it as “that immigration piece about Argie ants”. "What do you mean it was about immigration? It’s an article about ants," I said. "It's an article about immigration,” he insisted and I disagreed. He accused me of not being able to read the Daily Mail between the lines. I accused him of socialist paranoia. We agreed to read the article again to then settle this most important of matters over a pint.
So I went back to my PC, went to Google News, and tried to find the article. I searched for "Argentine ants", between 01/01/2011 and 31/12/2011. To my surprise only the Daily Mail piece came up. I mean, there was another piece published with Wired News, but it didn't refer to the ants as "Argentine ants"; this one discussed the "Argentine fire ant", in an article titled "What Ant Colonies Can Teach Humans" (a beautiful celebration of ants' dynamic networks and collective knowledge). That left the Daily Mail piece, "Marching towards your kitchen, an army of Argentine ants that made the most of the spring heatwave". I read it. And to my anger I had to agree with my socialist friend.
The piece, as frequent with the Daily Mail, is a tale of an alien invasion landing here to wipe out the British way (of being an ant). The Argentine ants are in-controllable. A ferocious, light brown, army of insects, taking over kitchens, gardens, patios. This type of ant, according to the article, is a much more aggressive insect than the native counterpart; although it is not explicitly said in the piece, there seem to be more fertile too. They are also quite happy living indoors; meaning that they can easily take over your kitchen, your living room, your bedroom. To make matters even worse, Argentine ants create "super-colonies" with up to 8 queens per colony; then – and this was nice to hear, being myself Argentine – they refuse to get involved in colonial wars among the different groups; it seems these insects are a closely knitted bunch.
As any reader familiar with the Daily Mail could have guessed by now, the readers' comments section in this piece makes for quite an interesting read. "Is this their revenge for the Falkland Islands, 1982?" asks a moderate commentator. "Send in the boys from 3 PARA, they will soon have on the run" argues one more familiar with war history. Some more jokes about the Falklands; and some comments about ants, yes, there are Daily Mail readers who actually have a concern about their gardens.
Was there really an ants' invasion in 2011? Or was this article an opportunistic and pretty basic attempt at allegorising immigration through nature, for propagandist purposes? As you can see I was now beginning to fall for my friend's socialist paranoia. Who would do that? Who would write a piece like this just to do that? Well, at least that was easy to answer: David Derbyshire; the science and gardening freelance writer known for his recent "The dreaded alien eating your garden and home... but don't dare try to kill the Japanese knotweed", published by the same tabloid in July 2013.
If I had any doubts about the true colours of the ants' piece, then, I only had to read the opening line of this botanical call for purity: "Britain is in the grip of an alien invasion, with the ground under our feet harbouring a race of female clones created in the fiery volcanic wastelands of Japan and unleashed upon an unsuspecting Britain." Funny enough, in defence of Mr Derbyshire, who I don't know, his tweet regarding the latter Mail piece says: "Attack of the clones! How Japanese knotweed evolved in volcanic wastelands to run rampage in Europe." There is no mention of "dreaded aliens", nor to unwanted migrants, nor to "the tax-payer". Mr Derbyshire then is more likely to have adapted his tone for his target publication/audience, or to have suffered from the Daily Mail's editorial anti-migrant bias, than he is likely to have come up with a natural "flooding at the gates" dystopian story.
Are the Daily Mail editors such a clever bunch as to help wage an ideological war against immigration (among other things) even from their gardening articles? I am inclined to think that the rhetorical use of "alien", "army", "usurpers", is far from a coincidence.
In a struggle to invest with meaning the complex phenomenon of immigration in the UK, words are the number one weapon.