Leiningen Versus the Ants

by Carl Stephenson
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What part of the victim's body do the ants always attack first in "Leiningen Versus the Ants"?  

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"Leiningen Versus the Ants," a classic short story by Carl Stephenson , posits an attack of large, venomous, thumb-sized ants upon the owner and workers on a plantation in the rainforest of Brazil. This huge, insatiable swarm of reddish-black, long-legged ants gnaws to the bone any living animal...

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"Leiningen Versus the Ants," a classic short story by Carl Stephenson, posits an attack of large, venomous, thumb-sized ants upon the owner and workers on a plantation in the rainforest of Brazil. This huge, insatiable swarm of reddish-black, long-legged ants gnaws to the bone any living animal it encounters in its path.

In fact, the first passage that describes the attacks in general says that "wherever they encountered bare flesh they bit deeply," implying that there may not be a particular place where ants always attack first. The first specific description of an attacked man says that the ants hang onto the length of his arm up to his shoulder and that the ants have to be removed and killed one by one by another man.

After these passages, though, Stephenson describes a stag fully covered with ants that dies on the far side of a ditch from Leiningen. The plantation owner observes that, "as usual," the ants had attacked its eyes first, and it had then run into the swarm.

At the climax of the tale, Leiningen must ride two miles through the ants to reach the dam and flood his plantation. He covers his body as best he can with protective clothing, including close-fitting mosquito goggles, "knowing too well the ants' dodge of first robbing their victims of sight." When the ants get under his clothing, though, they bite deeply into any portion of flesh they encounter, so that when he successfully makes it back to the ranch house, he is grievously wounded all over his body.

In conclusion, the ants' ultimate purpose is to blind their victims to render them helpless, but they will attack first any area of flesh that is exposed.

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The ants first attack—and then consume—the eyes of their victim so it will be blinded. They also bite wherever flesh is exposed because they can inject their poison into the victim.

During the war between Leiningen and the "act of God," one peon strikes at a clump of ants with his spade, but does not pull it back quickly enough, and the ants swarm up the wooden haft. Unfortunately, he does not drop it in time before the ants are upon him.

They lost no time; wherever they encountered bare flesh they bit deeply; a few, bigger than the rest, carried in their hindquarters a sting which injected a burning and paralyzing venom.

Later, Leiningen sees a pampas stag that is covered by ants. "As usual they had attacked its eye first." Witnessing this poor, tortured animal causes Leiningen to imagine what could easily be his fate, too. He wonders if he should have listened to the official, and if, in his inflated pride, he may have taken on more this time than he can manage.

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