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December 29, 2000

ants.jpg (23636 bytes)There is a line in a song in My Fair Lady which says “ a line that never ends, comes an army of her friends, come to jabber and to chatter and to tell her what the matter is with you...” Well, I don’t know if they are chattering, but there is definitely a line that never ends in this house. The ants are back.

We’ve had a long and infamous, if not quite illustrious, history with ants. Things aren’t quite as bad now as they were many years ago when they were everywhere and we simply could not get rid of them. We’ve never figured out the appeal. They don’t seem to be meat eating or sweet eating. Sometimes they come in from the rain and form a circle around the drain in the sink, like animals at a watering hole. It seems like such a lot of effort to climb walls, squeeze under window frames, and walk all the way into the kitchen just to get at the water that they have in abundance outside. But then I never understood ant logic.

They are quite single minded in their determination to occupy certain parts of this house. They have been known, when Walt was somehow successful in blocking entry to the downstairs, to crawl all the way up to the second story, through the bathroom window, down through the air duct, down the wall, and back into that same circle around the drain hole in the sink. We must have some pretty appealing water! Either that or ants don’t have a lot to do during the day and so getting into our sink gives them some purpose to life. Kind of the ant equivalent of lounging around watching TV, I guess.

When our ant infestation was at its peak, I actually worked hard at keeping the kitchen very clean. I could go to bed at night, leaving an absolutely spotless counter with not a single thing on it, and in the morning it would be covered with ants. Not an army of ants, but several large scouting parties, just kind of milling around, looking for be exciting enough to call in the troops.

We had a physician from Chile living with us at that time and he pointed out once that he could, if he chose, make an ant sandwich by putting mayonnaise on a piece of bread and dropping it, mayo side down, onto the counter.

In those years I reached kind of an uneasy truce with the ants. When I realized I couldn’t wipe them out entirely, I let them have certain parts of the kitchen, as long as they left other parts alone. Guests didn’t understand, of course, but it worked for the ants and me. We each had our private areas and we left the other areas alone. In truth, I’m not sure if the ants realized we had this truce going, but it worked for me. “Cross this line and die, ant,” I’d say. And if they did, I was ruthless. But if they stayed in their own area, I let them live.

I actually became quite fascinated with ants during those days. They are remarkable creatures. You have to admire beings that work that hard. I’d watch a tiny ant hauling a crumb of bread as big as he was, marveling at the strength and determination to carry this prize back home to be admired by the others. I wonder if the others gathered around, patted him on the back and said things like “great catch, George!” I can picture his little antennae wiggling in pride.

I remember one ant trying to carry a heavy crumb one time. He was walking along the very edge of the counter dragging this huge piece when it slipped over the side. I could see him struggling to pull is back. He stuck with it for a long time. I decided that if he managed to get it back up to where he could carry it again, I’d let him live. I watched the struggle for quite a long time, but eventually the weight of the piece proved to be too much, and it and the ant fell to the ground. I stepped on him. “Die, loser!”

I also wondered what they said to each other as they passed. The counter would look like rush hour in downtown Manhattan, with a determined line of ants marching in one direction and an equally determined line moving in the other. As they pass, they stop to chat a bit and then move on. “Hey, Charlie! How are things back at the nest? The Queen still in a bad mood?” How do they alert the rest of the group when there are goodies to be had. Drop a piece of hamburger on the stove and if there’s a single ant nearby, soon the piece will be covered with ants. Do they tap their little feet and send a message back home, like jungle drums? Do they find a buddy to send back with a message (”I’ll stay here and guard it; you go get the rest of the guys...”) or do they send out some high pitched whistle, audible only to ants, which mobilizes the troops for an all-out assault?

There’s a lot of socialization among ants. Squash an ant on a counter and see what happens. Someone stumbles across the dead ant. Forward motion stops while the dead body is explored. Then there appears to be a call to the others, and more come to check out the fallen comrade. I envision a herd of elephants in miniature, all mourning the loss of one of its own. Next thing you know, the dead body is scooped up and carried off. I have visions of little ant funerals down at the nest. Someone pointed out it was probably more like ant feasting down at the nest, but let me have my illusions.

In fact, I found the very best way to get rid of ants. It’s not a fancy new poison or some expensive exterminator. Anybody can do it. You find a big crowd of ants and you squash a bunch of them, in different parts of the crowd. Then go to bed. In the morning, the squashed ants will all have been carried off and the other ants will be gone as well. They’ll either be mourning or feasting, but whatever, it works for keeping them gone for a couple of days. Party time in the nest!

We found an ant stronghold one time. Walt was watering down the patio and saw a bunch of ants pouring out of a crack in the concrete. We discovered that they had made a home right under the patio (which perhaps explained why we were having such a problem at that time). They all came racing out, each carrying eggs with them. I almost felt sorry for them. We had destroyed the next generation.

There are people who come into our house and freak out of they see a line of ants. “A” line of ants no longer bothers me, unless it covers something I need to use. We’ve gotten used to having them around. Some folks have pet cats, we have pet ants. Oh we also have ant stakes posted at major entrance points and normally we don’t have much of a problem. But when the weather turns cold they seem to come in for warmth. Who am I to deny them a little comfort before I toss some poison in their general direction?

I have ambivalent feelings about ants. I guess you could say the whole subject makes me feel a bit...antsy.

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created 12/26/00 by Bev Sykes