Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tiny Game Hunting

On a recent visit to Santa Barbara to see two of my dearest friends, who are both generally very hip about all matters environmental, I was astonished to find out that one of them has a pretty serious case of Myrmecophobia, or fear of ants, that she usually combats with chemicals.

After an unfortunate mishap involving some not well-placed cupcakes, we had an invasion on the premises. You kind of had to be proud of the ants' ingenuity - I mean after only one night of sugary bait, they had infiltrated everywhere - through the door, up the walls, and even halfway up the staircase. Impressive...but unfortunately for them, unwelcome.

Not Sprinkles.

My friend Amy pulled out a can of the chemicals and started spraying. What she was spraying was labeled with cautions, which meant that the contents were toxic, and it wasn't just the ants breathing it in either; my nose and lungs confirmed that we were certainly getting a dose too. The ants were dying fast, but I couldn't help thinking that there must be a better way to discourage the ants from entering in the first place. I know, I know, other than leaving out cupcakes - thank you very much!

So we did a little research, and Amy came across the book Tiny Game Hunting, by Hilary Dole Klein and Adrian M. Wenner. The section on ants starts out with a few fun facts:

Some people believe that the cockroach will take over the world , but we bet on the lowly ant. Breeding colonies of ants, sometimes known as superorganisms, are resistant to both radiation and industrial pollution. Colonies of some species can even survive in flooded ground. In terms of sheer biomass, ants, along with termites are the dominant insect species on earth. They not only outnumber us; they outweigh us. When it comes to social organization and cooperation, they are in some ways more evolved than humans, acting for the survival of the colony rather than the individual. Various ant species plant crops, herd other insects for food, wage ferocious wars, take slaves, and live with elaborate caste structures. Interestingly, ant colonies are virtual female societies; males are bred only occasionally and only for protection.

Whoa. These little gals are even more impressive than I thought. As for the benefits offered by ants, Klein and Wenner go on to say:

Besides being utterly impossible, it would be foolish to attempt to eliminate all your ants, because in many ways ants are our friends and allies, and we need them. Ants actually help control pests that we haven't always been very successful controlling on our own. Both indoors and out, they eat the eggs and larvae of fleas, flies, spiders, bed bugs, and probably silverfish and clothes moths. They also go after cockroaches and conenose bugs. In addition, ants patrol the perimeters of our houses and keep termites, their mortal enemies, from establishing colonies in our homes. If we let them do their job that is.

So, how to let them do their job and keep them out of your house without chemicals?

According to the book and my own common sense, it can be deduced that ants have needs too. Often they are entering your home to stay dry or to get food or water. Insecticides are unnecessary when you eliminate what might be attracting the ants to your abode. Here are a few suggestions from the wee game hunters:

  • Don't leave out garbage, sweet or smelly foods, crumbs, or dirty dishes.
  • Wipe down counters and walls with natural deterrents like soapy water or vinegar
  • Follow the trail to the point of entry and put down barriers of food not on the ants menu like citrus rinds or oil, mint, cayenne pepper, or cinnamon
  • If they are getting in through a larger opening, use caulk to seal it off
  • For food and and water dishes that you have to leave out like pet food, place the dish in a bowl of soapy water, which will act as a deterrent
For more suggestions on how to rid your home of unwanted pests without the use of unwanted toxic chemicals, check out Tiny Game Hunting.

Remember, only you can prevent cupcake tragedies. Only you.

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