Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Great Ant Smackdown

Just hopped back in town for a few. Truth to tell, I’m a better traveler than a sojourner. I enjoy the train rides, the bus rides the getting places part of traveling but somehow I’m less than moved by the compulsion to explore every nook and cranny of my destination. Could have something to do with the fact that temps are hovering in the 35 to 40 degree C range. I think that would deter any vagabond with pretensions from wandering about. I know it certainly curtailed my awe and desire to wander.

So I’m taking a traveling break. A wise break, as it turns out. My plans were to be gone until literally the day school starts. The curve ball is that I have no idea what day school starts and if I wait that long, I might not get a ticket back to Wuhan because every other student is going to need to get here at that time too.

As much fun as it is to ride the rails it is kind of nice to be home and surrounded by familiar things.

I’m really a great vagabond, aren’t I?

The one thing I didn’t enjoy coming home to was the ants.

I know it is hot outside and I’m sure the poor dears are just trying to find a cool place to hang out before they get sun crisped. If I was an ant or some other type of bug, I’d probably do the same thing.

I’ve had ant problems since this spring. At first they really didn’t bother me. I reason: there are more loathsome creatures than ants crawling around. Ants do not necessarily harbor or transmit diseases although they can bite and those bites can be painful. Matter of fact ants are quite helpful because they eat flies and other insects, they aerate the earth by burrowing and tunneling and they pollinate plants.

They are not welcome to do any of this in my apartment. Furthermore, there are no plants for them to pollinate, no dead flesh to consume and no earth to aerate in my apartment. Yet they persist on cohabitating with me, acting as predatory feeders. Should I leave something out that they like to eat, within minutes I will have a whole swarm jockeying for position and feasting.

Ants do not like corn flour. I know this by experience. One of my recent culinary experiments was to make corn tortillas. This wheat sensitivity has really cut into the list of foods I can eat and not suffer for days afterwards. Research has shown that corn based foods tend to not irritate like wheat does. It sure irritated the ants!

My forays into corn based gastronomy were a dismal failure but I did learn that ants will not venture anywhere near where corn flour might be. Gleefully I started powdering my kitchen counter seams, and tracked the ants back to their burrows, sealing them in with a liberally applied dose of this fine milled, yellow powder. They stopped coming out of those cracks and found other cracks to come in through. I was either going to have to cook in a perpetually powdered kitchen or find alternate means of repelling these pests.

Time for an internet search. What will repel ants? Lemon, lemon rind, the smell of lemons… all except for lemonade because it is sweet, not tart and citrus-y. I checked my cleaning supplies: this can of lemon scented Pledge will do nicely! I cleaned up the corn flour and started shooting Pledge into known burrows. Ants, frenzied, scrambled about, trying to find a way back through the cracks in the walls they came from. I had those shot full of lemon scent. They found different cracks to disappear into.

Cracks in the walls? Haven’t I previously said the building is solid concrete?

Yes, I did say that. Apparently the ants have burrowed into the concrete structure and are finding outlets within the spaces between the concrete and tiled areas like the bathroom and kitchen. In the living room they come through minute gaps between the sliding glass doors and the walls. Maybe they even come out of the laminate flooring seams. I have even seen them come out of outlet covers.

This was all before I left for my latest round of vagabonding. With my sights set on faraway mountains I really didn’t give much thought to the ants. Upon my return, a few days ago, I found the ant population had multiplied extensively and were boldly swaggering all over the place: on my couches, across the living room floor, all over the coffee table and in the bathroom. The kitchen was not just populated by ants, it was infested. My computer keyboard had ants coming out of it and as I logged on I had to repeatedly swish ants away and off my body. The only places that did not have any ants were my bedroom and the dining room table, where I suspect some of that corn flour still lingered.    

I am not the best housekeeper. I am aware of that. However, I am not so slovenly that ants should feel they can walk around with impunity, sampling whatever is laying about and then whistling for the entire colony to come and dine.

Whereas before my departure I was tolerant of the poor ants seeking shelter from the heat, now I grow more anti-ant with every creepy crawler I saw.

Coming out of my computer keyboard! How can that be? There is nothing there for them to eat! I can guarantee you that because I do not eat anywhere but in the dining room, or in the living room if I’m watching a movie. I’m very careful about not spilling. If something spills or crumbles it gets cleaned up immediately. And why are they prowling around in the bathroom? I certainly don’t eat or store food there!

The kitchen is a no-brainer. I think everyone can understand why ants gather in the kitchen.

The night I got home from all my travels, at a little past 10PM all I wanted to do was lounge on one of my couches and just do nothing for about an hour, and then shower and go to bed. The ants must have thought their smorgasbord had just been delivered. Within minutes they were crawling all over me. I leaped up, horrified and started swatting at myself.

Granted I probably did smell like dinner to the ants, having just come off the train and walking through the OTW community. The mercury hovered around 40 degrees Celsius that muggy day and I probably gave off a nice, ripe scent. Doesn’t mean ants are entitled to devour me. I am the mistress of this castle! I do the devouring! Or, in this case the de-pesting.  

I am loath to kill anything, especially a creature as beneficial as an ant. I do feel compelled to declare my boundaries – with humans and with nature. Ants all over the place simply will not do. I went to war.

The office: shook a whole colony out of my keyboard, and then sprayed them down with Mr. Muscle, a citrus smelling cleanser. As I type this not one ant has crawled onto me, anywhere on my desk or out of the keyboard. I did see a few roaming on the walls… as though I fling food on my walls for ants to snack on. What could they possibly be looking for on my walls?

Today I spent over 7 hours cleaning my kitchen. Every nook, every cranny, anywhere ants could be seen crawling in or out from the tile. I cleaned top to bottom. I daresay I have possibly the cleanest kitchen in China. I even amazed myself with how brand new my kitchen looks. Of course I applied liberal doses of Mr. Clean. Gotta keep that citrus scent prominent.  

I had occasion to go back into the kitchen a few minutes ago. There are the ants, crisscrossing my freshly cleaned walls, crawling my gleaming counters, climbing my cabinets. Meanwhile, the smell of citrus still lingers. Pride turned into despair. How am I ever going to get rid of these things?

I suspect these individual ants crawling around are advance patrols, sent out by their colony to seek food. Once a source is found, somehow the scout notifies the entire ant population and soon there is nothing to see but squirming bodies over whatever detritus I was foolish enough to not dispose of properly.

Here’s what I don’t understand. If ants have the ability to communicate that they’ve located a food source and bring everybody on the run, how is it they cannot communicate that there is a murderous human hell bent on destroying every last one of them and they should take their leave from my premises?

I suppose I should count my blessings. Ants are nothing compared to the time I came home from an extended journey and a rat crawled on my leg while I was sleeping. (See the Rat Party, posted September 2011). At least ants are beneficial and not disease carrying.     

No comments:

Post a Comment