- Ants are said to have these characteristics: they walk in order like soldiers; they carry grains in their mouths, and an ant with no grain will not try to take the grain from one which has it; they break each grain in half to keep it from germinating when it rains, because if it does the ants will starve in the winter; when it is time to harvest the grain, they go into the fields and climb up to the grain, where they distinguish wheat from barley by its smell and reject the barley because it is food for cattle.
Christian Symbolism of the Ant in a Medieval Bestiary
A Bestiary was a medieval book with allegorical descriptions of real and fabled animals, such as the Ant which were often full of symbolism and contained a moral or religious lesson or allegory. A Bestiary reflected the belief that the world itself was the Word of God, and that every living creature had its own special meaning. Some of the information on this page, about the Ant, is taken from the Aberdeen Bestiary which was written in the 12th Century.
The Definition and Meaning of the Ant as a Religious Christian Symbol - Allegory and Moral
The Meaning of the Ant as a Religious Christian Symbol together with the Allegory / Moral detailed in the Bestiary is as follows:
The ants working together for the common good is to be taken as a lesson to men, who should work in unity.
The splitting of the grain represents the separation that must be made in the interpretation of the Bible, distinguishing the literal from the spiritual meaning, "lest the law interpreted literally should kill you". Some sources compare the ants to the Jews, who have taken the law literally and have "died of hunger".
The barley the ants reject signifies the heresy that Christians are to cast away.
Reference to the Ant in the Bible
The Easton Bible Dictionary provides the following definition, meaning and emblem for the Ant in the Bible.
(Heb. nemalah, from a word meaning to creep, cut off, destroy), referred to in Prov. 6:6; 30:25, as distinguished for its prudent habits. Many ants in Palestine feed on animal substances, but others draw their nourishment partly or exclusively from vegetables. To the latter class belongs the ant to which Solomon refers. This ant gathers the seeds in the season of ripening, and stores them for future use; a habit that has been observed in ants in Texas, India, and Italy.