Giving ants the benefit of the doubt (update)


Ants get wings in Barbara's garden: July

Update 21:50  The first year after my marriage we had ants, hundreds of them, who suddenly showed up when the weather turned warm. I had no intention of playing the good housewife who made sure the house was clean and free of insects, but I was driven to putting down ant killer. I hadn’t really thought much about ants since I was five years old and was given hell by an older sister for sitting on the curb and catching ants then pulling the legs off them. It was the last truly violent act of my life until the ants came into my newlywed apartment.

And they never came back, which is even more of a mystery to me than why they were there in the first place. In 25 years of living in the same place I expect weather, climate and other cycles to have repeated, at some point, the conditions of that first year of marriage. But no.

I thought about those ants again when overthemoon, who contributes beautiful photos to GenevaLunch via flickr, recently wrote that she was setting out cinnamon to chase away a sudden infestation of ants. What a civilized solution, I thought. I wrote to ask if it worked and here is her reply:

I put a little heap of ground cinnamon behind the taps on the washbasin, and scattered some more beneath the cutting board in the kitchen (we had ants all over the floor, table and working surfaces). And not a single ant in sight since! So I think it is effective, unless they are staying underground because of the rain.

They come every March, but I don’t complain too much because our landlady, on the two floors above us, gets them in their thousands. You just have to tap on the doorframe and they all come rushing out! I suppose this was their home before the house was built.

In July they have wings and fly off – I see the grass glittering with them, they climb to the top of blades of grass and take off into the skies and I watch clouds of them rising (it always seems to happen on a warm Saturday afternoon when I’m sitting outside).

Oxford University Press has just published a book that I think I might buy, On Ants, by Laurent Keller and Elisabeth Gordon. The OUP mentions that “ants are not only efficient, they are hard-working and thrifty, qualities which have always seemed like good reasons for seeing them as virtuous role models.” Another case of why we should get to know those we think are our enemies, because once we do, we won’t want to kill them.

Most remarkably, Keller is a neighbour, it seems, professor and head of the department of ecology and evolution, at the University of Lausanne, just down the road from overthemoon’s ants. I had a good laugh when I saw their web page – you will too, I suspect. Do ants jump, I wonder?

Overthemoon just wrote that a friend of hers on flickr, Sati K, has an extraordinary photo of ants. It is a very humbling shot of creatures hard at work (no Internet browsing for these guys), and well worth a look.

This also reminded me of the other kind of ants, the ones who build high-rises in the middle of Africa, Asia and a few other warm places.