Making Peace with Those Pesky Ants!

I moved to Oregon in August of 2005. Within a couple of months, my counters were under attack from a hungry colony of ants. They would come and go throughout the year, but when they come, they wouldn’t stop! No matter how many I would smash, how clean my counters were, more would follow. At the onslaught of their most recent and most intense campaign, I tried a new strategy.

My new approach had two fronts, and a new weapon. If you are a Buddhist, you might want to avoid phase one. I first began using a common kitchen cleaning spray to kill large quantities of ants at once. They die instantly when sprayed. I would kill dozens at a time, and hundreds every week. At the same time, I implemented the second phase of my plan.

Before I go into the details of phase two, I’ll share some background information with you. My observations of the ants in my house, along with some introductory education into stochastic patterns and a minor in biology, led me to believe that ants act as robots with one mission, to find food. There are different types of ants. The first are what I call the scouts. These are the trailblazers of the ant world. They walk the earth in search of food and chemical signals left by other ants. (Smash one and your finger will smell like peppermint!) They travel in random patterns at first, but once they find food, the pattern of the ants changes. When the scout finds a food, it marks the source with a chemical, and then returns to the mound to alert the workers. On the entire voyage home, the scout is laying down a chemical trail that will soon become an ant super highway. Depending on the amount of food and the distance from the mound, the number of ants that come will vary. Initially, they will trickle in, but if the source is of sufficient quantity, they will become a nearly seamless string of ants. Two-way traffic will commense, and ants that meet each other along the road exchange saliva to signal the quantity and quality of food at the source.

With all of this in mind and my never-ending war with the ants, I came up with the second part of my plan. I knew that the ants wouldn’t stop searching for food, and didn’t think they should. It dawned on me that there was a rich food source for the ants in my kitchen that I wouldn’t mind them accessing. My trash can was the perfect feeding ground for the ants, but I never saw ants anywhere near it. So, I set out to change their route. My chemical war was working, but it had only slowed their onslaught. I decided to put a light trail of syrup down the edge of my trash can that led to the place where they entered the kitchen. Soon, a scout found the trail, and ants began accessing the trash. They have since stopped looking for food on my counter, although I do kill the occasional scout. There are some casualties when I have to take out the trash, but I have kept the trail active. Whenever I put in a new trash bag, I insert a small sugary treat for the ants to find. The trail is only down for a few minutes. So far, the approach has worked, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you aren’t currently involved in a war of your own!

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