A thousand ants

Got home just a couple minutes before the editorial meeting, only to discover a line of ants in my bathroom. Which I followed back, and up the wall, and over the door, and across, and into the bathtub—where there were hundreds of them, all over the tub.

This tub doesn't drain very well, so I've been showering in the shower stall in the other bathroom, figuring sooner or later I'd either clear out the drain or get someone to do it for me. Now I'm wondering if ants are what's been clogging the drain.

'Cause I ran the tub for a while, and wiped down all available surfaces with soap and water (I don't have any Murphy's Oil Soap, nor any diatomaceous earth), and then I shut off the tap to let the tub drain, and a swarm of ants came up from behind a metal plate in the tub that I assume is the overflow drain.

All through this process I kept thinking about an entomologist I heard on NPR a while back, who when asked what he would recommend if someone found ants in their kitchen, said he would recommend putting a dish of sugar on the floor and watching them, 'cause they're fascinating. I guess I don't have any actual compelling reason to kill these ants, and I usually try to avoid killing anything without a good reason. But I did it anyway.

'Sfunny, one of the side effects of renting where I've been renting for the past six years is that I've almost never had to deal with crawling insects of any kind—I suspect the apartment managers have the outdoors area of that complex heavily poisoned, but I never asked about it 'cause it was such a relief not to have to deal with ants and (ugh) cockroaches. Flies, sure, and a fair number of little spiders lived in various places in my apartment, but no creepy-crawly critters. (Somehow I got imprinted early with the notion that spiders are our friends, so they don't count as creepy-crawly for me.)

You probably think that by "a thousand" I just mean "a lot," but no, that was my actual (very rough) estimate for the number of ants that were floating in my tub a few minutes ago. And that was the second batch; probably at least as many drowned in the first deluge.

So I have the blood of a thousand ants on my hands. Do ants have blood?

Perhaps the ant-bards will write songs about the noble deeds of all those who perished in the great floods. (And now the phrase "a thousand ants" is trying to turn itself, using my brain as a transformative agent, into a filk of Fred Small's "Cranes Over Hiroshima," and with a title like "Ants Over Hiroshima" it's got to be a monster-movie song. I'm trying to resist.)

Tomorrow, mixed in with everything else I gotta do, I'll try and remember to pick up some diatomaceous earth.

12 Responses to “A thousand ants”

  1. Jenn Reese

    JED!!!! I feel your pain, dude. DOWN WITH THE ANTS!

  2. Jed

    I had forgotten about your ant ordeals, Jenn. I hope I didn’t give you flashbacks! 🙂

    The whole ant thing reminds me unpleasantly of that classic Escape! episode Leiningen versus the Ants. (Warning: if you’re antphobic, probably best not to read that.) I have a vague notion that I once saw a TV version of it, and I may even have read the original short story it was based on…. Not sure.

  3. Will

    So, your method is Flooding Ant Death, and Chaos’s is Flaming Ant Death. Interesting what this says about people’s personalities…. I chose Montressor Ant Death — they were always coming out of the breaker-box door, so I spackled it shut while soliliquizing gleefully at them and making bad masonry puns.

    It worked. (Though the ants were disappointing unresponsive throughout. And no little jingling of ant bells towards the end.)

    I hope Ben and Noda don’t need to reset any circuit breakers any time soon….

  4. Jon

    I think ants have ichor.

    I say that without any research at all, mind you. It just seems to me that insects, like demons, should have ichor. You know, just because.

  5. stella

    Ugh. Ants.

    I’ve had similar experiences in (rented) apartments; apparently, when a new queen is born, the hill splits up and they go a-swarming looking for a new place to live.

    I had this explained to me in detail by my landlord-at-the-time, a biology professor, after I woke up with a swarm on the inside of my bedroom window, on my covers, and in my hair.

    He said two things which I will always remember:

    “Are they winged? Because if they are, then I’ll do something about it. Otherwise, you’re fine.”

    “Oh, and don’t kill them, whatever you do– if you only kill a part of the swarm, the rest will come back for their dead.”


  6. Jed

    Will: Be careful; the ants now control your electricity!

    Jon: Good point. Might make it hard to tell the difference between an ant and a demon, though; if you ever find yourself unable to tell, just remember that the ant is the one with spiracles.

    Stella: Yikes! Scary. I knew that bees swarmed like that, but didn’t know ants did.

    Update: I found some Murphy’s Oil Soap, and used it to wipe out the scent trails, and I dripped a little of it into the overflow-drain area they seemed to be coming out of. This morning I checked and found a couple dozen of them on one particular path, but very few coming out of that drain area, and even fewer away from the tub, so the problem may be resolved for now. But if I don’t post for a few days and then Mary Anne shows up here and finds my skeleton picked clean, you’ll know that the ants won after all.

  7. Dan Percival

    The other suggestion I’ve heard recently for keeping ants out is to put baby powder in their path. Apparently it clogs up the spiracles, and they don’t like that onebit.

    Last night we discovered what’s been keeping the giant ant swarm outside from becoming an indoor swarm: the spiders. I knew we had spiders inside, but I didn’t notice all the little mounds of dried-up ant corpses below the webs before. Nice that the ecosystem can work for you sometimes.

  8. Joe

    Will: So now we’ve got earth, fire, and water. How do we get rid of ants by air? A big fan to blow them away, perhaps?

  9. Leah Bobet

    Air is easy: deprive them of it. My favourite bug-destroying method (and I live in a crappy studio apartment, so I have many methods) is to leave out an open, mostly rinsed spaghetti sauce jar. The bugs climb in, they can’t climb out. When the catch is sufficient, on goes the lid. Clean, efficient, low-maintenance: there’s only so much oxygen in there.

    I call it the Meester Bond Bug Death. 😉

  10. Nao

    Variation on jar entrapment for fruit flies:

    take a jar, put a little vinegar in the bottom, possibly with a little fruit juice or wine added. (Nothing citrusy–they don’t like it for whatever reason). Wait until the flies are swarming inside the jar–some will have drowned already. Slap a lid or something flat on top. Wait a few days. Dead fruit flies.

  11. Dan P

    Leah: I sealed about a hundred ants in a ziplock bag for a week and they showed no signs of suffocation, starvation, or any other kind of deathification. More evidence for the demon/ichor connection, I think. 🙂

  12. heather w

    death by air: I recommend using a vacuum cleaner (the type with a long hose you can easily move above your head) to end fruit and/or cluster fly infestation.


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