ant

While I find hive minds fascinating–great example of a truly organic computer–I prefer keeping them at arm’s length. Specifically, the AntMind, better known as Tapinoma sessile, the Odiferous House Ant, should really find somewhere else to live.

AntMind disagrees, and has instructed its peripheral units to think of my home as theirs. Until recently this took the form of a trickle of tiny nuisance ants in the bathroom, off and on. I don’t do antly things in there–it’s not like I’m jagging out on sugar–so Mom says they’re after the soap.

I put out ant baits; AntMind neatly bypassed them on its way to the soap dish. I resorted to more primitive methods or, as my old entomology professor used to say, extended dorso-ventral flattening. Squishing Tapinoma sessile produces an outsized, rotten-sweet stink that sticks to your fingers and clues us in to how these things got their name.

AntMind usually goes quiet after I flattened a couple legions’ worth (I’m picturing the antmind doing “Alas, poor Yoricks” all over the bathroom floor). I did a victory dance.

Last month they came back during the blizzard. In force.

As they don’t bite,  (I have discovered that they do INDEED bite. Hard.) don’t hurt anything but my pride and maybe the soap, I’d pretty much resigned myself to continually squishing ants in the bathroom–I once worked for Orkin, I KNOW how hard these things are to get rid of. I mentioned this to my friend Tami.

“Ants!” she snorted, “I can fix that. Where’s your bleach?”

Next thing I knew, Tami had unloaded half a bottle of Clorox into my medium-grey grout, giving it an interesting piebald appearance, but it worked: The ants left the bathroom and moved into my office.

I’m trying hard to see this as a victory.

You learn patience when your roommates are Formicidaean. When an ant skitters across your laptop airvents, wait until she’s back on solid titanium to squish, unless you enjoy vacuuming ants out of your computer.

The office is roughly 20 feet from the catfood and another 10 from the kitchen; I give the AntMind 30 days to discover these new food sources.

In the meantime, I’m studying the ants for exploitable weaknesses. I grabbed my macro lens, captured some ants on a piece of tape and tried some not-very-closeups (it’s a MACRO lens, not a micro). And, as in one of my favorite movies, Joyeux Noel, I found that getting to know your enemy changes your perspective.

For one thing, these ants aren’t black. They’re black and brown and amber, they have stripes and, when you look at them head-on, permanently annoyed expressions. Or maybe it’s deep concentration. They have gigantic antenna that extend when they’re lost (or stuck on a piece of tape) and wave about furiously. When you get right down to it, they’re kind of attractive. Interestingly, my newfound appreciation has not stopped me from squishing them.

antantenna

Each ant responds to the tape treatment in the same way. First, laboriously, roll over (these ants are too small to walk onto the tape and get stuck, so the tape gets stuck on them). Then, free the antenna and see where you are. If the front legs aren’t already free, work first the left front, then the right, then use them for leverage to free the others. Finally, get the hell out of there.

The antmind isn’t a joke; they really DO organize, in ways that far outshine armies and high-tech multinationals. They apply what looks like a hellish form of Six Sigma to solve problems, they rarely seem to agonize over miscommunications in the chain of command so they don’t really need HR and–in what is probably a cautionary tale for this jobless time–they’ve perfected the ruthless pruning of workers for efficiency’s sake. They (literally) don’t know the meaning of “never leave a man behind.”

I checked online for effective ant eradicators that wouldn’t turn the house into a superfund site. One suggested peppermint oil: I can attest now that ants hate it, and will go (for them) miles to avoid it. Whether it actually deters them–the antmind seems fully capable of calculating complicated detours–is another story.

Another site suggested lining the baseboards and corners with coffee grounds. I think I’d rather have the ants.

Here’s another:

“Mix 5 tspb. Of cornmeal with 3 tspb of bacon grease. Add 3 tspb. of baking powder and 3 packages of yeast. Then, put it on something like a canning jar lid and place the lid near the nest. The ants will literally eat themselves to death!”

This presupposes that you know where the nest is, of course. I don’t particularly fancy staging the party scene from Satyricon, ant-style, in my living room.

And according to the info I’m studying, Tapinoma sessile colonies contain hundreds of intercommunicating queens (wow, a true multitasking multiprocessor) with hundreds of thousands or millions of ants. By the time that many ants have gorged themselves to oblivion I will have gone through the world’s supply of cornmeal and bacon grease. I’d be off Southern cooking for life.

Fortunately, things appear to have quieted down tonight; a couple of ants are wandering the peppermint-coated floor like drunks trying to remember which way is home. Nobody (visible) has made it as far as the desk in the last hour. I suspect they’re planning a surprise party for me up in the bathroom.

Sigh.

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Since this post was published, the Antmind and I pretty much stage an annual get-together: