A type of garnet is mined by ants.

True: In The Pirate’s Ruby Kim’s grandfather tells the story of “anthill garnets.” He does such a good job, that I’m just going to quote from the Ruby book:

Folding her arms, Kim leaned against the counter and grinned at her grandfather. 

“Okay, out with it. What are anthill garnets?”

“They’re among the rarest gemstones,” he said. “Found only in the Navajo Nation in Arizona.”

Knowing she was falling into a trap, she played along. “Garnets aren’t rare.”

Grandpa flashed his “gotcha” smile. “Ah, but garnets mined by ants are exceedingly rare.”

She blinked. From the gemstone’s name, she’d expected his story would have something to do with anthills. But she was thinking more along the lines of “certain kinds of anthills indicate the presence of garnets” not “those nasty critters that ruin picnics don safety helmets and go mining.”

“You wanna elaborate on that?”

Grandpa leaned against the counter, unconsciously mimicking her body language.

“When they’re excavating their tunnels, the ants carry small garnets to the surface,” he said. “No one knows who, exactly, first discovered the garnets mixed into the ants’ hills, but I like to think it was a Navajo princess. Because of the blood-like color, legend claims the Navajos used the garnets as bullets.” He shrugged. “I don’t believe that; the Navajos were peaceful, so why would they spend time worrying about bullets?”

“Anyway,” he continued, “today’s Navajos collect the garnets from the anthills and sell them to gemologists. And that’s why we have anthill garnets.”

“Back up a second. Why do the ants bother carrying garnets to the surface?”

He chuckled. “This is why I never told you the story when you were a child. I knew you’d ask why.”


He shrugged. “I can’t answer the question. No one knows why. Some people think that because garnets are heavier than sand, the ants use the garnets to strengthen their hills. Other people say the garnets are in the way, so the ants are just moving them. There are even people who claim the ants don’t mine the garnets at all, that the garnets are appearing because of natural erosion.”

Kim snorted. “If the worker ants were female instead of male, people would claim the ants like to see the garnets glinting in the sun.”

Check out the YouTube video at the link below.

YouTube video showing anthill garnets.