Showing posts with label odorous house ants. Show all posts
Showing posts with label odorous house ants. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Big Brains Vexed by the Tinies: Odorous House Ants

Tiny ants are a reminder of the power of the minuscule to vex us big-bodied, big-brained humans. Squash one on the kitchen counter, and others quickly appear, running in helter skelter patterns. A sense of futility quickly sets in, despite our vastly superior strength. As I write this, an ant crawls along the edge of my computer screen. The same dynamic plays out in the world beyond the kitchen window, as a powerful economy is laid low by a lowly coronavirus. A previous post compared tiny ants to "dust with legs." The closer nature gets to inanimate matter--a virus can barely be considered alive--the more it taps into the undeterrable laws of physics and chemistry. As a kid, I was impressed by big things, but relentlessness increases as size decreases, the most telling example being the carbon dioxide building up in the atmosphere. Unlike our big-brained selves, CO2 doesn't sleep, or get discouraged, or conjure false realities to make itself feel better. It just does what it does, day after day.

On a far less tragic scale, our latest domestic iteration of David and Goliath began, I hear, with a harmless looking orchid plant that had sat forgotten in a corner of the living room for an unknown period of time. Taken to the kitchen sink, it was watered generously and left to drain while the family went for a walk.

Upon return, the kitchen counter was coated with tiny ants, most likely the odorous house ants that would normally not show up until later in the season.

I've tried various approaches to controlling ants over the years, including meticulous cleaning and borax-based solutions. Only ant poison worked. It's called a poison, but medicines are also toxic if taken in excess. The aim, whether treating inner or outer nature, is to be minimalist and targeted.

Though the ants seemed mostly gone by the next day, someone in the house discovered ant nests in the kitchen--one in the knife holder, the other in electric kettle.

Eggs had been laid in the tiny crevices of the electric wire's insulation in the kettle's base, requiring some dismantling to thoroughly clean.

While the parts dried (no water was put on the exposed wiring), we speculated that the ants had been dormant in the orchid pot, then launched a great escape upon being inundated in the kitchen sink. A similar dynamic can prompt ants to come inside during the summer after heavy rains. It's not clear if the nests in the electric kettle and knife holder were created by escapees of the orchid pot, or if they were already there. The queens can only lay one egg a day, apparently, which suggests it would take more than a day or two to make a nest.

Previous posts on how odorous house ants can quietly create a parallel world in your house--a covert medieval-like landscape dotted with kingdoms--are below.

Winter Ant Sleuthing

Ants in the Pantry, or Dust With Legs

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Winter Ant Sleuthing

The mystery of the winter ant infestation, which inspired last month's mini-essay "Did U Put the Ant in Cantaloupe?", has been solved. Their source discovered, a solution, adhering to the necessities of plot, was found, then lost, then found again.

It finally occurred to me, after days of coping with the wide ranging perambulations of odorous house ants in our kitchen, to track them back to their source. Surprisingly, or not, once one thinks about it, their two lane baseboard thoroughfare wound around the corner and over to a potted plant, specifically one that is put out on the patio during the summer. The ants had hitchhiked in with the plant, remained dormant through the winter, then responded to unknown cues to venture forth in February.

In a moment of brilliant insight, albeit delayed by at least a week from the first discovery of the ants in the kitchen, I determined that by filling the drain pan underneath the pot, I could create a moat that would render the ants pot-bound, as if in a medieval castle under siege, until their late spring return to the patio. Not completely trusting the pan to be waterproof, I substituted another, and in the process found a dense cluster of ants underneath the pot.

A closer look showed there to be several larger ants mixed in, supposed the queens.

Watering the plant stirred up hundreds of soil dwellers--a population that had burgeoned on the rich harvest of breadcrumbs, cantaloupe juice, and whatever else lingered for a few hours up in the distant highlands of the kitchen counter.

But the moat in the drain pan did it's job, and over the course of a few days the ants in the kitchen dwindled to a few homeless stragglers, then disappeared altogether.

With the counter free and clear, I had about a week to congratulate myself on my non-toxic solution before the ants showed up once again in the kitchen. I checked the moat. Water was still in place. What was going on? The 2-lane baseboard freeway was again busy with ants. This time, it led not back to the drain pan, but up the wall,

up the window frame,

then over along some trim to ... a leaf that was touching the wall! Someone, perhaps when company was expected, had pushed the plant back against the wall, and the ever curious, free-ranging ants had found a bridge from their medieval castle to a 21st century rich in unwiped kitchen counters.

For awhile after the plant was pulled away from the wall, the ants clustered at either end of the new divide, processing in some collective fashion the change from "Yes we can" to "No we can't". Within a day, however, the ants--far faster studies than we humans--had figured out that someone or some thing was determined to maintain division and confine them to medieval ways. For now, they'll have to live with whatever memories they might hold of last summer's patio.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Did U Put the Ant in Cantaloupe?

It just doesn't seem right. Ants in February, feasting on tiny bits of cantaloupe on the kitchen counter when it's below freezing outside. And what sort of February is this, with cantaloupe for sale and a stretch of 60 degree days starting tomorrow? Has nature finally surrendered to the economy and abolished seasons altogether? Even the spelling of the word "cantaloupe" comes as a surprise, after a lifetime of not really noticing. Maybe one of our political parties will once again decide it dislikes all things french, and defiantly serve "cantalope" with American fries in the cafeteria of the U.S. Congress. Their presidential candidate will boldly declare that "This campaign is all about U", and promise that, to strengthen the nation's moral character, his first action as president will be to proclaim that the english language can't elope with French words. The other political party, tired of relentless negativity, will base its campaign on the slogan "Yes we canaloupe". By this time, a previous president will have indefinitely suspended all future elections, consigning the nation to a campaign season without substance and without end. Meanwhile, the meekest and tiniest among the ants, thriving in a climate made weird by too many tiny molecules in the atmosphere, and seeing the big-brained species devolving into nonsense, will seize the day and inherit the earth.