Sugar Ants - July 2006

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They are intrepid, pervasive, and persistent. They are the big red and black sugar ants whose native habitat is the palm trees which dominate Chageen,  but who seem equally at home in our home. They will invade any dry, dark cavity, however small, and set up yet another outpost of their amazing civilization. The British Empire itself was never so efficient in colonizing the world as these critters. 

And they are organized - more organized than the Germans. Some weeks ago, I saw saw some of the big soldier ants - scouts really - coming down an electrical cable from the attic over my desk. I thought "these guys are looking for a new home." Sure enough, a few days later there was a huddle of several hundred in the back corner of my desk at a kind of staging area awaiting further instructions - shall they set up house in Mark's computer - or shall they, like last time, set up an enormous colony in the spacious confines of Mark's old dot matrix printer (pictures to right)? 

Once on the move, the big soldier ants corral the smaller worker ants and actually give them instructions. You can, as I have, sit and watch them do it (- as good a sign as any of our desperation to control them). And they are very, very evasive. Unlike other species which make a nice trail which you can easily follow to their nest, these guys run around and around in circles in a mostly successful effort to drive a predator (like Mark) crazy with frustration. Of course, as their name implies, they love sugar in particular and human food in general. Leave your dinner plates unwashed on the kitchen counter, turn the lights out, and in short order you'll have a  major infestation. 

Besides the dinner plates, dot matrix printer, attic and every unplugged nook and cranny of our house, we have had a colony move into Mark's dresser and into the inside (i.e. inside the foam insulation) of the refrigerator door. And in the most masterful move of all, the wily critters set up a colony inside the suitcase of one our guests the night before he flew back to the USA. Of course at the airport the US Agriculture department checked his shoes for manure (mad cow disease) and asked him if he had any fruits or vegetables. They may have even x-rayed his suitcase, but ants probably don't show up very well on x-rays.  Anyway, a day or two after arriving in what shall remain an unnamed mid-western state, he took the suitcase to his mother's house to present the requisite gifts from Chad and... You guessed it. He discovered, however, that this species of ant does not, happily,  stand up to sub-freezing temperatures and snow very well. He has since retrieved the curios and suitcase from the snowbank he threw them in, and so far, there have been no reports of a new species of ant in that state.

As of this writing, we finally have them under control. The secret? Acephate - sold in the southern states to control fire-ants. It's great stuff -if you can get used to the pungent smell. You put it around the opening of the those dry, dark cavities, and the worker ants carry it on their feet where it poisons the rest of the colony. By now of course our whole yard would probably be declared a toxic waste super-fund cleanup site, but happily the EPA doesn't have jurisdiction here in Chageen. 


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