Thursday, August 18, 2011

They're Baaaack!

It's time to engage the annual invaders. After mysteriously disappearing last spring, the ants are back. They always take me by surprise, appearing suddenly to swarm over one small kibble that has escaped the pet food bowl or struggling to take a crumb of bread up the wall and into some dark inaccessible recess of the roof where they no doubt confer with the squirrels who disrupt our sleep, joyously romping across the bedroom ceiling in the wee hours of the night. Once the ants gain access to a space that holds even the slightest possibility of scoring a hit on people or domestic animal food, they send back ever more scouts until they find a morsel that obsessive cleaning nonetheless has missed.

Experience and education has taught me that a chemical defense is unwise. Not only do the toxins stay on the surfaces awaiting absorption by a mere touch of our skin, but drift easily on the heavy tropical air until being pulled into our lungs. Even a heavy dousing of the house interior only delays their return: following their own chemical trail, the thousands that escape the human made sprays simply sacrifice a few hundred scouts until a new reconnaissance path around the insecticide can be blazed and the hordes return. Those that survive a brush with the aerosol bombs send on their genetic resistance to the next generation anyway. It is well documented that we are growing super pests and simply making the chemical companies rich in the bargain.

So, faced with an 11,000 species adversary who has had about a 100 million year evolutionary head start on us cocky Homo sapiens, I use the only weapon I have left: the power of thought processes that leads to complex problem-solving. Surely, I reason, my superior brain can come up with a solution and defeat the automatons marching through my kitchen. I use all sorts of techniques such as soapy water or citrus rinds to disrupt their trails, hoping it is enough to discourage them. I especially enjoy watching them suddenly break ranks and scramble around aimlessly when the pheromone trail is washed away (I know that it is only a temporary victory, but it's entertaining and interesting, at least from a Biology teacher point of view).

The pet dishes now sit in water-filled trays to stop their advance, and it works until the dog, in her voracious energy, pushes the bowl to the side of the tray, kindly offering easy access to the persistent arthropods; setting the kitchen table legs in coffee-filled margarine tubs also halts their advance (OK, so it won't be in a Martha Stewart spread--the containers don't even match). Despite all my tricks, however, nothing can stop them from running across the shower stall to the sink and back into a hole in the wall. Even sticking cloves into their holes only diverts them to another opening. I eventually concede, and let them have limited access to our space. They don't bite, they eat very little, and if I happen to put a small bit of cat food out of sight, they are content to bite off microscopic bits for 24 hours, so I can at least declare a temporary victory. It would work fabulously if only I'd remember to replace the nugget with another, but of course I never do, and exactly 24 hours and twenty minutes later, about six hundred finely honed ant scouts descend on the kitchen and fan out in all directions. Their greatest victory, I grudgingly admit I admire, is the penetration of the tightly capped honey jar that sat in a bowl surrounded by a moat of seemingly impassable water: scores of them gave their lives to build a bridge to the jar for others to eventually drown, blissfully I imagine, in the sweet nectar. By mistake, I had constructed a rather effective ant trap.

For the next few months we will battle it out, and they will let me think that I am winning once in a while. At some point, they will simply leave and stay away for months, just long enough for me to let my guard down. Wait till next year! I think. Yeah, right.

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