Eugene O’Neil, America’s prominent 20th century playwrite and author had a favorite saying about the common housefly – “God in His wisdom made the fly – I wish He would have told us why!” With apologies to Eugene, I have modified it slightly – “God in His wisdom made the ant – To make us swear, swat, and rant!”
I was reminded of O’Neil, God, and “why” when I managed in my limited wisdom, to stand innocently atop a fire ant nest while working on my hillside project. “One, two, three – STING!”, I seemed to hear the “ant captain” yell and like all obedient fire ant workers, they stung my ankles in unison, creating a swear, a swat, and unending rant.
Fire ants don’t bite as most people think – they use their mandiples to anchor themselves and then arch their abdomen for a judicious sting. After all, I invaded their domain and as we all know “Ignorance of the ant law is no excuse!”
I swatted, swore, and ranted to no effect and resorted to dousing shoes, socks, and ankles with cold water from a nearby hose. Off came the shoes and then socks and then another dose of cold watery relief. I sprayed the nest top with an ant and roach killer and as the fumes and droplets worked their way into the inner chambers, a thousand workers erupted enmasse intent on defending their home from the chemical invader. It reminded me of the nuclear disaster ar Chernobyl where human workers volunteered to put out the deadly fires leading to certain radioactive death. I wonder if the ant queen awarded medals of valor to her fallen subjects – posthumously, of course.
Fire ants belong to the Formicae family comprising most all ants and ants represent one of the largest masses of animals on earth. I would like someone to count how many ants are worldwide – he (or she) would have to borrow zeros from the Smithsonian Museum in DC as there simply are not enough zeroes extant to describe the vast quantity of ants abounding in my backyard – not to mention or count those worldwide.
I raised my kids to respect life – even the smallest. “Don’t stomp that ant! An ant is your friend!”, I used to say. That was before I moved to Georgia and points south. The Fire Ant, Solenopsis invicta, is a recent invader to the southern states coming from South America where it has natural enemies that keep it in relative check. No such ant predators live in Georgia!
Home Depot sales clerks recommend an ant bait as being more effective than a direct chemical spray but I had to retaliate and teach ANTS, Inc. a lesson not to sting me. The lesson didn’t take, as the very next day as I was moving wood pallets, a few “Invictas” that had claimed the earth under the pallets managed to ambush my hand and sure enough within seconds two new welts appeared. I fashioned the wood pallets into a hanging platform and executed the two guilty culprits in plain view for all the ant world to see. The grisly vision of two of their accomplices hanging by silken ropes still didn’t deter a counter attack. I now avoid that section of my jungle at least until the ant bait (which is spread around the mound, not on it) begins to eradicate the queen in her underground castle. I am also thinking of carrying a 45 Colt revolver as added protection when working in the area.
“Stomp that ant!”, I now tell my grandkids, who instantly respond with a resounding swat from a size six shoe. Despite their lack of attention when told to pick up their toys or eat their spinach, each grandchild, without hesitation, will jump instintively away from a spotted ant nest with a simple command “Look out, there’s an ant nest!”
Eugene O’Neil didn’t know about fire ants or he would have written his tiny poem more in line with mine, although he may still have wondered why God created such miniscule monsters!