Saturday, May 29, 2010

Thanks For Coming, We'll See You All Next Year!




The 2010 Ant Convention has been a roaring success, all members polled agreeing that the Brewster-Price kitchen is the perfect venue, with its variety of entertainments just steps away. Routine business was conducted as usual in the grains pantry, but things really got hoppin' in the sugar drawer, and satellite parties scouted out the jelly cabinet. Edith Pilaf and the Honey Dippers came back for an encore performance in the fruit basket, where the conga lines stretched over the counter. The screening of "Borax: Fatal Attraction" was not well attended, but all in all, satisfaction was rated at high and all involved agreed to meet again next year.

As one of the two managing proprietors, I am always a little amused to see my guests troop in every year, at least for the first five or six weeks--reaffirmation of the rhythms of life, and all that. Still, it gets me wondering. Why this time every year? Why spring? I'm just as likely to have counter schmutz all year long, but the ants show up only in spring. They're amazing. I can wipe down every surface and clean up the goo around the jar-tops and get the place sparkling, and see no ants for a day. None. And then suddenly they're all back. In spring, I can locate an avocado smudge the size of a nail clipping from across the room just by scouting the kitchen for ant eruptions. It's like how you can locate a teenager on Facebook by looking under the pile of exclamation points.

So I asked Dave: what is it about springtime that makes the ants show up? It's warm, there's plenty to eat outside, what's the deal? I don't expect him to have the answer; I'm just reaching out with random communications the way happily married people do. Of course, he will have an answer. It never occurs to him to say "I don't know." He's going to come up with something.

I've always wondered about things. I remember staring at ants a lot when I was a kid. We didn't have TV. We had a brick patio out back and the ants lived under it. I always assumed that ants lived in little sandy cones. They'd come out of the little hole in the center, each with a grain of sand, and drop them on the rim, until they were piled up with the perfection of the Pyramids. I was curious, but not a particularly logical thinker, or I would have also taken in the fact that I never saw an ant come from outside the hole and place a grain of sand on the cone. Obviously this was just the debris pile of their excavation process, but I thought the cones were their home, and they'd done a nice job of it.

At approximately the same age, I got in a heap of trouble for digging up the lawn in the back yard. I was looking for gravity, which I had visualized as a little layer of pebbles about a foot below the surface. I probably had conflated "gravity" and "gravel," and I explained the point of my exploration, but I got in trouble just the same. With that kind of support, it's amazing I ever pursued a science degree. On the other hand, my father had vocally despaired of my ever learning to write, so maybe it was the path of least discouragement.

Anyway, I'm still at it. I went ahead and asked Dave why ants just show up in the spring, and he waggled his eyebrows and made a lewd humpa-humpa gesture meant to serve as a complete explanation. When it comes right down to it, that's his explanation for a lot of things.

For whatever reason, with or without the placement of borax traps, the ants will pack up and leave soon enough. They have to. In June, we've got the place booked for the Fruit Fly Jamboree.

Note: If you didn't care for this year's ant post, you could try last year's ant post. Worth a shot.

34 comments:

  1. Those little buggers do seem to have a radar of sorts, don't they? Love that you host the fruit fly convention too. A wee bit of Muscadine will take care of those guests. Happy, drunk fruit flies... does it get any better than that?

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  2. You went digging for gravity!! That's just so down to earth of you - love it. We have the eastern coterie of ants who couldn't make it to your convention, and so decided to hold theirs here.

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  3. I have many ant stories. Mostly they live under my back porch, with occasional forays into the giant-populated ares. I usually sweep up that ants and their booty and toss -em out back. Like a bouncer of sorts. Also, that bottle of white powder you can use for an eye rinse? Boric acid. Get some at the pharmacy, mix with water and spray it around the inner perimeter. Safe for humans and pets, but ants won't cross that line in the sand, unlike Saddam Hussein in the 90s.

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  4. I also suspect that if we ever dismantled the back porch, it would be like that story, The Sand Kings.

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  5. Ok. Had to stop reading this one. Too much like toad eggs, if you know what I mean. Saints preserve us.

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  6. Back in my stoner days I'd put a paper towel down on the counter where they were walking and when they started to all neatly march across it in single file I'd turn it around so they were running into each other. Then laugh my ass off because -- hey, I was stoned. That's the extent of my torture of other living things.

    Your dad was so wrong about your writing.

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  7. Despite their aggravation factor, ants are fascinating little beings. I don't want them in my house, mind you, but I like to watch them at work outside. (At least yours will leave - at our old house we had them year-round. That can be trying.)

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  8. Wow. They must hold several conventions in several states each year, because they were here again this year as well.

    Fabulous post as always. Loved the shared thoughts of your young mind. I think the fact that you questioned things and searched for answers is a perfect indication of someone who would pursue a scientific course.

    ♥Spot

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  9. I somehow grew up not knowing that ants bite. I think this is because my family did nature in a 5th wheel trailer with a microwave and a television. Anyway, about 14 years ago in the spring, a good friend and I were hiking up a narrow canyon looking at beaver dams. I brushed up against a young aspen that was swarming with ants. I bit later, something was biting me under my shirt, and in my shorts, and on my back and everywhere I had skin. I looked down and all I saw was ants. I was terribly confused, and I blame what happened next on that fact. Suddenly, and without thinking, I completely stripped off every bit of clothing and started slapping myself silly. My friend turned around and began trying to help out, while very carefully averting his eyes as best he could.
    We're married now. And he takes care of any and all ant infestations around here.

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  10. We have two house geckos, or guard geckos if you will, who dispatch indoor ants with aplomb.

    It's the outside ants that get me. We have fire ants, and you can't see them in the grass (or glorified weeds to be truthful). Not only do their bites hurt, they swell up and itch worse than mosquito bites. Nasty little buggers.

    Thank you for a new faux Yiddish word: "schmutz."

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  11. They do make their new lebensraum moves in Spring. I've always assumed that they hatch out a huge new bunch of workers, and the excess are sent off somewhere, anywhere, to keep them out of trouble and on the off-chance they'll bring something really tasty back.

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  12. Silly... everyone knows that ants migrate. They likely have just arrived from their annual migration to South America. Duh!

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  13. I'm trying not to hate you for posting those pictures. Gah. My PTSD is back.

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  14. Oh, I so love you digging for gravity! (<---second childhood?)

    And for the record, there is nothing faux about the word "schmutz".

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  15. Slug Symposium going on here. Luckily way back when someone (we won't mention any names but it started with Grandpa) started putting Pabst Ribbon beer in a pie plate in the garden...

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  16. I dunno, I get antsy just thinking about it.

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  17. ANTS BITE? GAAAAH! Send me guard geckos, stat! And "schmutz" is genuine Yiddish, faux sure.

    Entre nous, here I am in Oregon on our 30th consecutive day of rain and I have nary a slug in my garden. Hostas the size of Volkswagens, uncrunched. Lots of things don't work but the slugs are not an issue. Which is a pity, because I'd like to observe mating slugs. The pictures are amazing.

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  18. Ack! Just had a flash-back to a hot summer day years ago when I reached into an open bag of dog food and pulled out an arm COVERED in teeny tiny grease ants. Ughghghghhh....

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  19. Murr, I found two mating snails today. It was not nearly as interesting as slugs. They just had their bodies glommed together. My purple clogs ended that party!

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  20. Murr: Our best weapon has been to totally over-spritz the counter tops with something like Windex to clean up after every meal. AND we also sploosh boric acid everywhere. I think that this method works because all the activity scares them away.

    Back here in the East, we haven't had much of an ant-invasion so far this year. However, our block is hosting a pretty active rat-breeding convention. You'd think that after Snowpocalypse, a lot of them would have been killed off. But nooooo. Our neighborhood list-serv has a self-appointed Rat Czarina who reports sitings almost every day. And the city has assigned nice "Mr. Curtis" to come by *on demand* to shoot some weird nasty poisony powder into rat burrows as soon as they are discovered.....shucks, I'm going to throw a Bait-Box Party soon -- that would be something like a Tupperware party, except that we'll pick out different sizes and shapes of bait boxes.....
    .....so the thought of catching slugs and snails in flagrate delicto sounds like a walk in the park, if you'll pardon the word choice....

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  21. If ant pictures bother you, don't read this.

    I have slugs, Murr, quite a variety of species, so you can come over and get some for your scientific observations of slug sex. Mine leave the hostas alone, in spite of what the books say--I suppose because they're waiting for the strawberries to ripen. Every day I check under big pavers and a couple of boards and take them inside for the box turtles. What a delicacy! It's hard for me to understand psychologically that they are so good, but then I think of mollusks we eat: clams, mussels, oysters, some of us even oysters raw.

    The worst part is the slime (necessary for slugs sliding over to those berries, but quite persistent on beaks and hands, whichever you have). However, I've developed a routine for slime removal. Rub hands (or beak) on paper towel. Wash hands. (Slime will magically reappear, demonstrating its hydrophobic character.) Rub hands on paper towel. Slather hands with Purell or other ethanol-based hand cleaner. Continue with a mostly slimeless day.

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  22. Ahh, for those of you who have never experienced the Fire Ant Dance, such a treat! In the early years of living on our farm in Texas,my husband and I would hang our jeans on the doorknobs of the french doors in the bedroom for the night, not thinking about the fact that fire ants are irresistably drawn to yummy,salty human sweat. My fondest memory is that of watching my husband leaping frantically around the room trying to get his pants off before any more damage was done to his privates (or corporals or whatever). Fire ants, you see, have a certain code of conduct...they wait until you have buttoned and snapped everything securely...and then, on cue, they attack en masse. It's not pretty -- but it is fun to watch!

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  23. Elizabeth BrewsterMay 30, 2010 at 7:38 AM

    I once saw an ant burial at sea...a platoon of ants was carrying a dead ant several feet to the end of a seawall, then they pitched him over the side. If you listened closely, I'm pretty sure the sound of taps was playing on a tiny ant bugle.

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  24. Scientific name for ants . .Formica. Main ingredient of countertops . . Formica. You do the math.
    Tony M

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  25. If you won't eat them yourself how about get a pet anteater?

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  26. That's it. I'm not writing any more--I'm just going to put a topic out there and let you all have at it.

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  27. The western escarpment of North America is a solid ant hill.

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  28. We have them this year, as we did last year and the year before. Just after the spiders and before the wasps. It's a regular beastie fest round these parts.

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  29. I am late to this ant fest, but I do have a story to add. I grew up in Africa (precisely what is now Zambia), and one year, we had ants march in and take over our WHOLE house. They were in the kitchen, in every cupboard, in the living room and in the dining room. We moved into one room that was not touched, until one day the ants marched out. Never forgot that...and so now when I see ants, I get a little vindictive.

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  30. I didn't read all the comments, but ants leave an acid trail, so that other ants can follow. If you see one ant, there are many more somewhere else...but I digress.

    Find the place where they come in, drop baking soda there, and leave it, dust religiously for a couple of days, and around the area. Wash and remove any sweetness that might attract them.

    Watch the area for another couple of days. If you see another ant, it means you need to do a little more serious work of getting the baking soda (which neutralizes the acid in their trail), and find a way to blow baking soda into the hole where they are coming in.

    The baking soda will neutralize the acid trail, and eventually, they will "forget" that there was a way to get in...after that, you can plug the hole with a generous amount of a mixture of baking soda and water.

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  31. I somehow grew up not knowing that ants bite. I think this is because my family did nature in a 5th wheel trailer with a microwave and a television. Anyway, about 14 years ago in the spring, a good friend and I were hiking up a narrow canyon looking at beaver dams. I brushed up against a young aspen that was swarming with ants. I bit later, something was biting me under my shirt, and in my shorts, and on my back and everywhere I had skin. I looked down and all I saw was ants. I was terribly confused, and I blame what happened next on that fact. Suddenly, and without thinking, I completely stripped off every bit of clothing and started slapping myself silly. My friend turned around and began trying to help out, while very carefully averting his eyes as best he could.
    We're married now. And he takes care of any and all ant infestations around here.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Back in my stoner days I'd put a paper towel down on the counter where they were walking and when they started to all neatly march across it in single file I'd turn it around so they were running into each other. Then laugh my ass off because -- hey, I was stoned. That's the extent of my torture of other living things.

    Your dad was so wrong about your writing.

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  33. Ok. Had to stop reading this one. Too much like toad eggs, if you know what I mean. Saints preserve us.

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  34. Those little buggers do seem to have a radar of sorts, don't they? Love that you host the fruit fly convention too. A wee bit of Muscadine will take care of those guests. Happy, drunk fruit flies... does it get any better than that?

    ReplyDelete