Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I hate ants!

Well, it's not that I hate ants so much as I hate seeing ants in my house. They are welcome to eat, breed, and be happy in the great outdoors, but stay out of my house, please!!!

The first run-in I had with ants in my house was a little over two years ago. Our church was having its annual picnic that day, and I was preparing to leave. Happily gathering goodies to put in our picnic basket, I was stopped in my tracks at the door of the pantry when I noticed several ants crawling around on one of the shelves. I killed them. Then I looked a little more closely and noticed a few more. I stood up straight, looked at the back wall of the pantry, and realized I was under a full scale attack. They were everywhere, all over everything, crawling in, out, up, and all around all of my food.

Lest anyone think that I am not a serious housecleaner or that I only rarely go into my pantry, I want to set the record straight. I keep a very clean home. I believe that my house should be presentable at all times. Anyone should be able to come over at anytime and I ought to be comfortable with how my house looks. I sweep, dust (yes, Karen, my dusting skills have improved tremendously since moving down here!), vacuum, mop, do laundry on a weekly basis. So that Sunday afternoon appearance of the sugar ants was quite a shock to me.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, "sugar ants," I will explain. Down here in the South (and in other critter friendly environments) there are several varieties of ants. There are the biting, horrifying red ants. There are the huge black ants, the ones that look like they are ants on steroids. There are the regular black ants. And then there are sugar ants. They are about half the size of regular ants, and they move in legions. Tiny little things that suddenly appear out of no where and seem to have taken over before you realize it.

Well, that lazy Sunday afternoon quickly became an all-out defensive. I recruited my husband, the kids, and a friend who was at our house at the time to help me empty everything out of the pantry. Everything. A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about my tendency to buy things in multiples. Food is no exception. So my many bottles of olive oil, pancake syrup, boxes of cereal, oatmeal, and Swiffer sheets all had to come out. Anything that had ants on it had to go - unless it hadn't yet been opened, in which case it was washed off and set on the dining room table. We cleared out the entire pantry. I sprayed a lot of bug spray. I wiped down the shelves. Then I took the shelves out. I wiped down the walls. And the next day, Steve sealed up every visible crack and crevice, then proceeded to paint the walls of the pantry.

It turns out that the guy who installed our alarm system had drilled a hole in the floor of the pantry to run the wire under the house and failed to seal the hole. The ants accepted the "open invitation" to invade our home and couldn't believe their luck: the door led directly into the main food source in our house. We closed, locked, and sealed that door.

A few weeks ago now as I chatted on the telephone in the kitchen, I looked up at the two bottle of Starbucks syrup on top of our refrigerator (we make frappaccinos and all kinds of coffee drinks here at home) and noticed that they were darkened and swarmed by the moving, feasting bodies of sugar ants. "Oh crap!" I thought to myself. "Here we go again." I had to throw the two bottles away, spray all around and on top of the fridge, and clean up the mess again.

Did I mention that I hate ants?

Again, how did I miss them? How did they take over so fast? I knew that it hadn't been more than a day or two since the last time we'd used the syrup. I ended up having to throw away several other things that were stored on top of the fridge as the ants had made that whole area their new home. I pulled the fridge out of its alcove and discovered that the ants were coming in from a crack in the floor of the kitchen! There is simply no hole too small for those little creatures to squeeze through. Yuck, yuck, double yuck!

At great risk of freaking out all the people I know who are anti-chemical - I even count myself among their number - I will continue with my story. We are members of the "just call Terminix" club. Down here in the South, the critters are far too overwhelming to take lightly. I am no fan of pesticides on the lawn or spraying toxic substances willy-nilly on the property line in order to kill every living thing within 100 feet of our house. All I ask is that the animals that belong outside stay outside. Within these four walls, I will admit no multilegged creatures that we haven't paid good money for!

So I called Terminix and asked them to make an emergency visit. A sweet woman came yesterday and explained something absolutely fascinating to me. She said that sugar ants lay trails as they walk. If the first one veers to the right, all the rest of them will also. As soon as one ant finds a source of sugar, thousands will follow. And each ant will make hundreds of trips on the same ant-made trail. In order to get rid of them effectively, there are several steps to take.

The first one, she said, is to not spray bug spray on them. (My first thought was, "She's nuts.") She said to use Windex. It kills the ants I see, but doesn't kill the scent trail. Then I should call Terminix and have them come put out bait for the ants. (My second thought quickly morphed into a question: "But isn't bait meant to attract them? Why would I want to attract them INTO my house?) She said that the reason for bait was the attract the ants to the sweet poison which they take back to the nest and feed to each other thereby eventually killing the nest. The toughest part, she said, is seeing the ants swarm to the bait in the first 24 to 48 hours. But once that time passes, the numbers will dwindle as the nest is destroyed by its own hard-working inhabitants.

A second line of defense, she went on, is a powder the Terminix people lay down. The ants walk through the powder and take it back to their nests on their feet. Then during the communal cleaning and grooming process, they spread the poison to each other and die that way.

I realize that this is quite the gruesome explanation of ridding ourselves of small, defenseless, hard-working creatures that God created. I feel awful about allowing big, bad chemical companies to spread their ghastly liquids and powders in my home. In my defense, I will say that I tried several all natural products before calling in the big boys, but they didn't seem to get the problem under control. I just cannot stand seeing ants, bugs, flying things, or anything with more than the four cute little legs Maya scampers around on IN MY HOUSE.

After her thorough and eye-popping explanation, the very kind woman from Terminix proceeded to inspect the outside of our home to try to find where the ants were coming in. As it turned out, they were congregating and entering through the crawl space door.

Another explanation may be necessary here: because of the nature of the landscaped here in NC, basements are rare. The infamous red clay of the South cannot support the walls of basements, so houses tend to be built on cinderblock and cement foundations with crawl spaces. Those spaces tend to be about four feet in height, big enough to get into in order to repair plumbing or electrical issues under the house, but not big enough to expand into useable living space. Big enough for all the bugs in the county to congregate but not big enough for a family to hide in the event of a tornado. By the way, I hope I never have to test out the validity of that last statement!

Yes, the ants had found a way into the crawl space, a crevice in the floor below the house, and were apparently planning another invasion. She said she powdered them, sprayed them, and used all the other weapons at her disposal to discourage them from continuing with their assault. I thanked her, asked God to protect us from any long-term effects of our exposure to only He-knows-what, and breathed a sigh of relief.

Within moments of her departure, a spiritual analogy flashed through my mind.
I'll share it tomorrow.


Lori said...

I should share with you my mice story. Lori

GailNHB said...

Lori, I cannot wait to hear your mice story. It was a little strange writing today's blog because I wondered if I was wasting my time focusing on something trivial. But as I said, there have been so many lessons already from the ants. There are lessons in everything, I have found. Plus everyone has experienced one home invasion or another, right? Thanks for your prompt response. Gail