Lately, I’ve had ants on the brain. And in my house. Not the trails that many Californians complain of. Not yet. So far, all we’ve had are lone scout ants, those extraordinary individuals who have the courage, the compulsion, the drive to seek out new horizons for their beloved colony. I find these tiny lone scout ants poking around on my windowsills, or squeezing up under the floorboards of our old Spanish bungalow, built in 1928 on land that is slowly and constantly making it way toward the ocean. This continental shift makes itself known by way of cracking plaster walls and windows that one day simply refuse to close all the way. One time we even had a window spontaneous explode. My wife and I were startled awake by what we thought was a rock thrown through our window. On further inspection, hearts crashing in our terrified chests—who would do this hateful thing? In the middle of the night, no less?—we discovered that the window that had shattered was the inside window of a small doubled-paned one. The torque of the wall had created such pressure on the poor little window that it just gave up the ghost. Smash! My point being, our house has all kinds of entry points for ants.
So far, we’ve been lucky. We haven’t experienced what our friends and neighbors have: a daily procession of ants parading across the kitchen counters, filling the sugar bowls, and setting up shop in the sticky empty soda bottles in the recycle bins. Perhaps because I’m hyper-vigilant, shoving ant stakes into any and all of the outcroppings I discover while gardening. Though, honestly, I think I’m giving myself too much credit here. Once a scout ant finds its way to the lip of your honey jar, the battle is lost. They will not stop. You can lay down all the cayenne pepper you want, the borax, the cinnamon, spray all the poison you want, they will find a way back to the honey.
Recently, I was feeding a friend’s cat while she was away. To keep out the ants she kept her cat’s bowl in another bigger bowl filled with water. Well, the ants just looked at that moat of water and laughed their high-pitched little laughs. Then, for the good of the colony, they sacrificed some of their own by making a living bridge across the fragile surface of the water, leaving the other ants free passage to and from the prized kitty kibble. All for one and one for all! you could hear them chant if you listened closely.
The colony they serve is the Argentinian colony, a single super-colony, which boils day and night beneath much of California, and comes from, as you might have guessed, Argentina. It’s huge, and invasive, and they drive out the native species of ants. They also nurture aphids and mealybugs, both of which wreak havoc on our crops and ornamentals. During dry years these tiny ants come for our sinks, toilets, and bathtubs. Wet years they seek shelter in our cozy dry homes.
The theater where I teach gets infested each winter. One time, when I was running lights for a student show, I put the plate of intermission cookies on the counter below the light board. By the time intermission came around, the cookies were swarming with ants! I hastily re-plated them, getting rid of as many of the ants as possible, then stuck a free sign on them. There wasn’t a single one left by the start of act two, which tells you something, though I’m not sure what.
As a child, I journeyed with my family to Jamaica to visit my grandparents. One lemony afternoon, we were visiting one of their friends, a proper, slightly eccentric, English lady. We’d been invited for tea. Her house, a large Victorian guarded by several fierce Rottweilers, was nestled into a lush rain forest. I remember being horrified by the six-lane highway of ants crawling up the wall next to the tapestried stool I was sitting on. “Ah, the ants!” the old dame said, noting what must have been quite a look on my ten-year-old face. “When people first come to the island they are quite alarmed by all the ants. They see the ants in the sugar, they refuse sugar in their tea. Then, after living here a while, they pick the ants from the sugar before stirring it into their tea. But when they’ve been here long enough?” She plunged her spoon into a sugar bowl I now realized was measled with ants. “They just stir the ants right in!”
I have the feeling that if any species survives climate change, it will be these ants. And power to them, I say. This planet is theirs as much as it is ours. In the meantime, however, I’m going to encourage them to find shelter elsewhere.
So that’s it’s for today. Remember: live the love; it’s all we’ve got! And if you’ve got any ant stories, I want to hear them!
Ahh, it is that time of the year – the time for repenting. The other day as I had just cleaned the tiny nook of our make-shif kitchen (as as it turned out, not very thoroughly), I went out to do the shopping. On return, the counter closest to the cat bowl (they apparently love cat food) was alive and undulating with the tiny beasts. I hastily grabbed the hand-vac and slurped them up – but not before the filter in the vac became clogged once or twice. I was forced to open the front and pour the flailing souls in the toilet and watch them swirl down into oblivion. I then thought of the Jain Dharma, an ancient Indian religion. Harming animals of any sort is strictly against their non-violent vows. They go so far as to wear veils across their face so as not to accidentally inhale any rouge critter floating in the wind. I am going to the Jain version of Hell for sure.
Jain Hell! AHHHHHHHH! See you there. xo
No stories – Just admiration for any living creatures who team together to find solutions; who sacrifice themselves for the common good; who think of themselves as a part of the whole instead of themselves only. I admire their tenacity, they marvelous ways that they communicate with others; who have the fortitude of a quality called “sharing”. I also must listen to the lesson that even though they are very small – the whole of the colony can have a might effect. (Something maybe we could benefit from.) I might not like ants … But I love whats inside them. Hugs and best wishes, Brother James
You sound very Buddhist! And I totally get it. Their ability to work together will likely mean they outlive us, am much more self species. Love you!
I used to get an ant invasion every spring, until I got my chickens. You don’t need a flock. I have only two old ladies left, but they wander my yard, eating ants, ticks and who knows what else. Of course, then you have to take care of chickens. But for a few years, or least, they’ll give you eggs. So it all works out.
Chickens! Who knew? I wonder if they like the tiny Argentinian ones. Hmmm…. Fresh eggs…
LOVED the story of the tea lady.
I once read that there’s a certain number of scout ants and, depending on how many return on any given day, the rest of the ants will head out or not. It’s a sophisticated statistically grounded (no pun intended) system. Too many scouts picked off = bad day to be out.
Some random ant associations:
*Like James, I’m a great admirer of their teamwork.
*I wonder what ant time and distances are like, how they’re experienced.
*After seeing the movie, “The Straight Story,” my parents’ response to a river of ants was always, “Where do they all *come* from?!”
*My brother found his young son in bed, rolling a piece of paper up and down on a toothpick. Asked what he was doing, my nephew replied, “I’m showing a movie to the ants.” My brother observed, “That’s a very short movie,” to which his son replied, “Ants have little time.”
*I used to think I’d like to be an otter for a day: fun, playful, good on land and in water, social. More recently I’ve thought I’d like to be an ant: small, communal, communicative (with each other), and making their way through a huge world.
*Ants actually herd and care for aphids. That makes them aphid ranchers, or dairy farmers really: they milk the aphids. Some ants cultivate fungi, so again: they’re farmers.
Love the ant movie. Yeah, I actually really like ants, just not in my food Remember those glassed-in ant farms? Do they still make those?
When I lived in Felton I swear I lived on an ant hill.
They would parade from the front door to my cats bowl in the bathroom!
My cat was a kitten and learned this behavior of scratching at the ants around her bowl of food.
Now she has the habitual pattern of doing her scratch the ants away dance where there are no ants.
Kind of like our habitual patterns learned early on…difficult to break 😇
In my new little …beach cottage a tiny ant here and there.
I am relieved that they don’t like it around here.
Love the Jamaca story!
Thanks for checking in! I think that’s so cute about your kitty’s ant dance!