Tag Archives: Ants

Feeling antsy

ant image
I’ve been overcome this week by creatures smaller than this type font. This happens every summer as the monsoon season edges in. I’m always surprised and horrified as my beloved nature invades the house and requires drastic measures…. poison even.

Every year their strategy is a little different. This year it started on Monday morning with a scattering of miniscule ants on the kitchen floor. Hustling around on my way to work, I scooped them up with a rag soaked in vinegar. Later in the day I scattered diatomaceous earth around the doorways.

A few hours later I find ants massing on the kitchen floor (while the cats sit nearby, apparently transfixed). Worse, a line of larger and even faster ants march in formation up the wall, under the cabinet light fixture and into the spice cupboard. Opening the door, I find an enthusiastic frenzy of ants mobbing the sticky honey container.

Somehow, from all the way outside in the hot desert, these (dumb?) insects “discovered” my gooey honey container! I must say I experienced extreme frustration and a semi-minor meltdown at that point.

Sent hubby to the store for pet-friendly ant spray. (Poison)

We sprayed at all the entrances to the house and behind the fixtures beneath the cupboard. Then I freaked out about spraying poison inside and mopped it all up. Living ants scurried ahead of me carrying dead (or dying?) ants on their backs.

Esteemed biologist E.O. Wilson says he never outgrew the “bug stage” that boys (and many girls) go through. He claims his groundbreaking study of ants came about because ants are easy to find, social creatures. Wilson discovered that each species of ants has its own unique culture. He found that ant societies are held together by chemical communication. Lacking sight and smell, ants thrive following the information-laden pheromone trails they leave for each other.

Those trails in our house apparently allowed the tiny scouts that entered our kitchen to communicate to the larger gatherers the location of not only the honey container, but the next day, the kaluha bottle in the booze cupboard. After we had cleaned up those two sticky areas, the persistent ants found still another pot of gold – the sugar bowl, tucked away and forgotten on a high shelf. (eeek)

As annoying as the ant experience has been, I have to admire these fascinating little critters that willingly sacrifice themselves to find a food source to perpetuate their community.

E.O. Wilson is 86 now, and spends his time urging humans to recognize the importance of all life. “Biodiversity is the totality of all inherited variation in the life forms of Earth, of which we are one species. We study and save it to our great benefit. We ignore and degrade it to our great peril.”

Check out E.O. Wilson’s tremendous website on biodiversity.


A Secret Society of Ants

A well behaved outdoor ant

A well behaved outdoor ant

I ran into my pet sitter at the vet’s office this morning and after we’d chatted a bit she asked about the ants. Back in July we went on vacation and left our pets and home in the able hands of Amanda. She called a few days into the trip and assured me that all the pets were fine, but she was concerned about a line of ants coming up out of the carpet and fanning across a wall in the family room.
Oh, the ants! I admitted we’d been having some trouble in that area, and said she’d find environmentally friendly, pet friendly ant spray in the garage. After unsuccessful efforts with cinnamon, vinegar and diatomaceous earth, I’d broken down and purchased spray to kill the pesky invaders. Amanda used the spray and we continued on our vacation.
A week or so after we got home I again saw ants marching up the wall. This issue was not going away. I pulled back the carpet to investigate. A mass of ants swarmed on the cement underneath. Here was an entire society, busily coming and going through a crack that ran along the floor near the exterior wall. There were big ants, little ants, even ants with wings. Next to the wooden slats that the carpet is tacked to, were spread beds that looked like carefully tilled gardens. Apparently, over time the ants had carried in soil to make their new home more like the outside. I’m not sure if they were laying eggs in these gardens, or what.
I sprayed and caulked and vacuumed and then I suffered the heebie jeebies for days. I swore I was getting rid of that carpet and putting down some sort of impervious flooring. I brought home various floor samples; squares of tile and bamboo, even linoleum, it’s the new greenest option. Weeks have passed. Today when Amanda asked about the ants I stared at her blankly for a minute and said, Oh yeah! Those ants were terrible, weren’t they?
There seems some deep symbolism at work here – of things better not mentioned, things best swept under the carpet while putting on a happy face. Seeing Amanda was a great reminder to get busy and find someone to put down a new floor. At the very least I should pull up the edge of that carpet just to make sure there’s nothing going on under there. Maybe I’ll get to that tomorrow.

Ants in My Pants

Ant takes honeydew from aphid
Photo by Wikipedia

I try to appreciate all the critters, I do. But the ants are wearing on me. I remind myself that famed biologist E.O. Wilson illuminated the intricate societies of ants and called them, “the little creatures that run the world”. But I also remember the invasion of the flesh eating driver ants that chased the village residents to the river for safety in Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible.
Ants are widespread in our yard, scrambling along in lines, sometimes dragging larger insects to the openings of their holes and stuffing them in. I’m okay with that, but a number of the yard ants also must plot constantly to find entrance to the house. Once inside, the tentacles of the colony spread quickly, inevitably finding a source of food. Once a source is located reinforcements pour in and a supply line forms instantly to ferry the crumbs back to the nest.
The creepiest invasion came from behind the light switch plate in the family room. By the time I noticed, there was already a living roadmap of industrious ants spreading on the walls. The vacuum cleaner was my weapon of choice. I plugged it in and switched it on. No sooner had I sucked up one line of ants than the reservists began boiling from behind the switch plate, piling over one another in their desperation. I ran to the garage for duct tape and sealed the cracks before taking up the vacuum hose again.
The ants’ favorite point of entry into our home is through holes in the grout around the floor tiles, especially near the baseboards of outside walls. I’m pretty sure they have a campaign going to dig through from below, and imagine ants charging one by one to take a swing at weak points in our grout.
If the ants are coming in fast, or I have no time to stir up grout, I use Patch and Paint lightweight spackle. I keep a jar of this stuff handy, and gleaming white patches of spackle shine from areas of color coordinated grout. But often the initial invasions are covert. Rather than marching boldly in lines, the ants scatter across the floor, tracking along agreed upon routes in smaller numbers, and each ant that passes another pauses for a quick conference before scurrying off again. E.O. Wilson explains this is an informative exchange using chemicals called pheromones. Ants are one of the most successful species on Earth and their societies demonstrate division of labor, communication between individuals and the ability to solve complex problems.
This morning a black spider lurked on the floor in the laundry room, and since I’ve an ongoing ant situation in there I figured he might work on my behalf. Not twenty minutes later I looked again, and several ants were dragging the spider off by one leg, while he struggled feebly. The laundry room invasion came in along side the washing machine, yet another line of grout compromised. I patched it with spackle several times over a couple of days and the ants just kept pushing through, mightily motivated by meager leftovers in Boo’s cat food dish.
Finally I shot a thin stream of Raid at the tiny hole along the baseboard. Hated to do it, but I’ve run out of patience. Over the past two weeks I’ve tried removing the food source (they waited us out), spraying vinegar (effective short term) and sprinkling Borax (completely non-effective – I think boric acid might be what I was supposed to use).
A couple summers back when the ants came in below the bathroom sink I used Terro poison. You cut a square inch of cardboard around a dotted line on the packaging and squeeze a small dot of poison goo on it and put that where the ants are coming in. Later that evening ants swarmed crazily on the counter. But in the morning? Every trace of the ants and the poison goo was gone, only the square of cardboard remained.
I just can’t see signing up to have poison sprayed inside and out on a monthly basis. I know many people save themselves the annoyance of ants in the pants and just pay for the service. But to me, its overkill.