"Firing My Ants" by Troy H. Cheek on Mar 16, 2009
It was a beautiful, peaceful, Spring-like day, perfect for a nap. The sun was shining peacefully. The wind was blowing peacefully. The songbirds were singing peacefully. Even the small winged insects were buzzing around my head peacefully.
Well, until I realized that I was in bed and surrounded by small winged insects, that is.
These small winged insicts buzzing peacefully around my head looked like tiny ants with wings. This was, I thought, bad because I knew of only two things that looked like tiny ants with wings: termites when swarming and actual ants when swarming.
Termites are bad for a house, even a brick one, because most of the interior structure is wood. Termites eat wood. Ants are more annoying to people but less likely to cause the house to fall down. I have nothing against ants or termites, or even most other insect species, as long as they don't come visit me while I'm trying to take a nap. I decided that I had something against these.
Ants, termites, and I assume other mostly wingless insects are usually related to bees or wasps or other winged insects. As a boy, I was told that ants were basically wasps without wings and termites were basically bees without wings. However, I have since learned that termites are most closely related to the wood-eating cockroaches (genus Cryptocercus). Regardless of actual origin, somewhere along the line both ants and termites decided that flying was too much work and instead moved underground. However, every so often, the queen lays a bunch of eggs from which hatch new winged females and males. These climb out of the ground, shake the dust off their wings, and fly off to start new colonies elsewhere.
Like in my bed linens.
After swatting and spraying (ant and roach killer spray, don't leave home without it), the swarm into submission, I swept up a few samples and checked the internet to see if these were ants or termites. There are several websites that show the difference. Unfortunately, none of them had any pictures which seemed to exactly match the critters I had on hand. (Must remember to wash my hands later.) The spray seemed to drop them instantly, but that was direct contact. That spray would probably kill small furry woodland creatures on direct content. (Must remember to open windows later.) The label said it kills cockroaches, ants, crickets, spiders, firebrats, fleas, scorpions, and others as listed. Curiously enough, though it says "others as listed" I couldn't find any other list on the can. The label didn't help me narrow things down any, as termites are related to cockroaches and ants are related to, well, ants.
I discovered the crack in the outer wall through which the creatures seemed to be entering. I sent my youngest nephew, N2, outside to check that section of wall to see if he could find anything that suggested an ant or termite mound. He came back in a little later to report seeing nothing. I walked out a bit later and nearly choked to death in a cloud of small winged insects. I sent N2 to fetch a rake or something while I checked my chemical weapons arsenal.
I found some white dust that was designed for red imported fire ants. We'd been having a few mounds full of swarming, biting red ants pop up every Summer and Dad had been dusting them down. These couldn't possibly be fire ants because, according to the nice people at the Nature Center, fire ants didn't exist this far north. Also, that cougar we shot last year has been extinct here since the turn of the last century. Oh, and the civets we used to trap when I was a kid haven't existed here since the last Ice Age.
After reading the white dust instructions, I wasn't sure what effect this stuff would have on termites (for some reason, I had become paranoid that the house was about to cave in because of termite infestation - I then remembered that I never did open the windows after spraying) but I couldn't imagine that any stuff which would kill fire ants would be beneficial to termites. It was my best bet short of calling in a professional exterminator. I would have turned to the Internet, but every website that spoke of termite infestations also said not to try to treat it yourself and call in a professional. If I wanted to call in a professional, I wouldn't have checked the Internet.
I stormed off to do battle, armed with several dry ounces of white dust. My nephew was armed with a mattock. Locating the location where the swarms seemed to be coming out of the ground, I asked N2 to clear away the loose sticks and leaves.
"How deep do you want me to dig, Uncle Troy?"
"I don't want you to dig. That's why I said to get a rake."
He managed to avoid digging very deep as we cleaned out the loose sticks and leaves and bricks and blocks of wood and spare pieces of roofing tin which constitute my mother's attempt at erosion control. I noticed in a few places that it seemed as if the earth had been freshly turned, including big chunks of it which had managed to wash up on top of the tin. We unearthed ants in a few places and determined that their holes went right down against the foundation. After clearing out for several feet on either side, I proceeded to scatter dust against the foundation, shaking a little extra every place I located a hole.
"There's some over there, Uncle Troy! You missed on over there, Uncle Troy! Cover these over here, Uncle Troy!"
"We don't have to sprinkle dust on every individual ant, Nephew. We just have to get it in places where they'll track it back into the hive. And quit burying the head of that mattock in the yard every time you want to put it down. You're disturbing the gophers."
The dust had no immediate effect on the ants, much to N2's disappointment, so we started moving the leaves and sticks and roofing tin back into place. While moving the tin, I decided to move some of that dirt which had washed up on top of it. About the third or fourth piece I grabbed decided to explode in my hand. Dust went flying everywhere. As I was dropping the remains, I noticed that my hand was hurting. Stinging. Burning, almost. Looking down, I saw half a dozen little ants hanging on to the backs of my fingers and squirming around. I didn't get a good look at them as my other hand, apparently deciding not to wait for my brain to figure out what was going on, had already brushed them off before I'd realized that there were ants on my fingers.
Looking down, I saw that pretty much every square foot of earth we'd disturbed was now crawling with ants. In most places, you couldn't even see the ground. I decided that we'd found the main nest and needed to give the dust a chance to work.
The hand itched for a while, but only two tiny little red marks appeared, and they were mostly gone by the next day. I'm told that the ants could not possibly have been fire ants, or at least not the red imported fire ants, because my hand would be all swollen up with little pustules by now. On the other hand, I've never seen any other kind of ant swarm like that, and the only other time I've ever been bitten or stung by an ant was the time that giant "cow killer" velvet ant decided to stab me in the toe. I later learned that velvet ants are actually wingless wasps and not really ants, although aren't ants basically wingless wasps anyway?
Anyway, my theory is that only a few ants actually got on me, only a couple managed to bite into me, and I shook them all off before any could sting me. That or I am less sensitive to the venom than usual.
Or the fact that my hands were covered with white dust and roach killer spray made them try to get away from me as fast as I was trying to get away from them.
Must remember to wash hands later.
And something about a window...