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Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Ants are Marching

The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah
The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah
                The ants go marching one by one,
                The little one stops to suck his thumb
And they all go marching out in the big parade.

The ants go marching two by two, hurrah, hurrah
The ants go marching two by two, hurrah, hurrah
                The ants go marching two by two,
                The little one stops to tie his shoe
And they all go marching out in the big parade.

The ants go marching three by three, hurrah, hurrah
The ants go marching three by three, hurrah, hurrah
                The ants go marching three by three,
                The little one stops to climb a tree
And they all go marching out in the big parade.

The ants go marching four by four, hurrah, hurrah
The ants go marching four by four, hurrah, hurrah
                The ants go marching four by four,
                The little one stops to shut the door
And they all go marching out in the big parade.

The above song is sung to the tune of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” If you’ve forgotten the lyrics and would like to sing this song, the fifth ant stops to take a dive, the sixth
ant picks up sticks, the seventh ant stops to pray to heaven, the eighth ant stops to shut the gate, the ninth ant stops to check the time, and the tenth ant stops to say “The End.”

So why am I blogging about ants today? Because sometime around Easter is when the ants start marching into my house. When I had children, they were attracted to the Easter candy the kids often stashed under their beds or in their closets hidden from their siblings but not the ants. Last week I saw an ant in the living room, a black ant a little larger than the usual ones I get on my kitchen counter. I dispatched that lone scout and haven’t seen another one yet.

I find ants fascinating, but not in my house. Years ago back in the precomputer days, my husband discovered a bunch of flying ants near the house, or were they termites? I dug out the encyclopedia to research them and ended up spending several hours reading about ants. (These were not termites.) I was fascinated by them. Years later I read the book Naturalist by Edward O. Wilson, an autobiography of his life starting as a boy naturalist and his developing later as an entomologist studying ants all over the world. A university professor at Harvard (at least at that time in the 1990s) he won two Pulitzer prizes for his work. I loved his book and it increased my interest in ants. Of course, that doesn’t mean I want them building their nests in my perennial beds or have them scavenging for food in my house, but their social structure never ceases to amaze me. Each ant has its own job in the colony, and they communicate with one another. Watch as one ant comes up to another. They’ll touch feelers which convey some message. The scouts also leave a trail for other ants to follow to the food source they’ve found – on my kitchen counter, for instance. I don’t use poison in getting rid of ants in my house. I sprinkle borax at the back of my counters where they come in and spray the counters with window spray where they’ve left their trails. Eventually, they disappear. My sister said peppermint oil works, too.

In February I heard on NPR of a study being done on “Taking Traffic Control Lessons – From Ants,” by Brandon Kiem. The point of the discussion or study was that if humans acted like ants, they might spend less time in traffic. Audrey Dussutour, a University of Sydney entomologist, says. “We should use their rules.” She said, “I’ve been working with ants for eight years, and have never seen a traffic jam – and I’ve tried.” In her latest discovery, in the February issue of   the Journal of Experimental Biology, Dussutour’s team found that leaf cutters organized themselves into separate and tightly organized streams of load-carrying ants, and unburdened ants going in the opposite direction on wide paths, and then again on narrow twig paths like our one-lane roads. They discovered that the ants leaving the colony, automatically gave the food-bearing ants the right-of-way. Those ants returning without leaves gathered in clusters behind those with the leaves and traveled behind them.

The results of this study showed that the ants’ patterns strongly resembled human traffic patterns with the exception that humans don’t show that kind of forbearance. “One dominating factor in human traffic is egotism,” said University of Zoln traffic flow theorist, Andreas Schadschneider. “Drivers optimize their own travel time without taking much care of others. Ants, on the other hand, are not egotistic.”

If people behaved more like ants, there would be less road rage and fewer traffic accidents causing injuries and death. There are some people who feel driverless cars of the future may be the solution to traffic jams and accidents and cause our car travel to be more like that of the ants.

How do you feel about ants?

Are you looking forward to driver-less cars?



Margaret S. Hamilton said...

In Atlanta, we lived on top of a sugar ant hill. One drop of rain and they were in the kitchen, swarming the counters and streaming towards the pantry where there was a box of overturned cereal.

Kara Cerise said...

Interesting blog, Gloria. I'm not fond of ants especially when they march through my house. But we could take a lesson from their traffic patterns. The other day I was almost hit by a guy who was texting using both hands. Was he steering with his knee? For that reason I'm in favor of driverless cars.

Jim Jackson said...

I can sit and watch ants for long periods of time. Down south we get periodic infestations, going after food sources I can’t quite figure out.

Up north I have had trouble with carpenter ants a couple of time at my log cabin. They can be loud, and the sawdust trails give them away. Those guys get sprayed with heavy chemicals. The rest generally get to live, and I’ll put down so repellents outside.

~ Jim

Gloria Alden said...

Margaret, that must have been horrible. I get some infestations, but not to that extent.

Kara, with the advent of texting I'm more leery of driving. I just heard on NPR that accidents with teen drivers is going up because of texting. Of course, it isn't only teens who are doing that.

Jim, I do put those little ant traps under rocks in my perennial gardens where ants are creating mounds that grow and grow. I also spray yellow jacket nests when they build them where they are a problem like in the lean-to where I park my car and do a lot of my potting of plants. As for carpenter ants, I would definitely spray them, too.

KB Inglee said...

Ants are fascinating. While my house is not infested with them, I do have a trail that comes in through my back door, across the sink and up the wall. I've never figures out where they are going. They don't go anywhere near my food.

Warren Bull said...

I'm not sure we humans are at the top of the food chain. Some insect species have us outnumbered and ants, among others, do very well indeed.

Kait said...

URGH - ants give me the creeps. I never had or wanted an ant farm as a child. When we moved to this house in Florida we discovered the kitchen was infested with ghost ants. Tiny little things you can hardly see until you get right up on them. Awful. Thank you Truly Nolen for effecting a cure!

Gloria Alden said...

KB, that is so interesting. I wonder what they're looking for.

You are so right, Warren. Except when other types of ants invade their area, they get along very well with their own kind.

Kait, there isn't much that creeps me out except slugs. Those I scoop up with a garden trowel and feed to my chickens who love them. Yummy. It's one of the reasons I wear garden gloves when gardening.

Nancy Eady said...

Ants are fascinating unless they are 1) in my house, 2) on me or 3) fire ants. It is amazing the trails they can blaze to reach something. In one house we had, they liked to march a trail up to the outside trash can. My husband sprayed, he thought everywhere, to stop that trail. About three days later, he saw the ants again. They had learned to go to the back of the house, crawl up to the house just under the eaves over 20 feet then crawl back down the 20 feet to reach a new point from which they could access the trash can. I sometimes wish I had that much persistence!

Nancy E.

Sarah Henning said...

My husband will love this post, Gloria. He is currently waging a battle against those little sugar ants. It's making him insane. The man is wielding his spray bottle of soapy water like freaking Zorro.

KM Rockwood said...

I tend to have a live and let live policy toward insects unless they are creating a real problem (black hornets nesting in next to the fill valve of the propane tank, for instance.)

We don't usually have too many ant problems. We live in the woods, and I have a feeling the numerous birds (which we feed) keep the numbers down.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

I had to laugh because this topic is so timely at my house. Yesterday, the pest control company came by with super dooper stuff to keep the ants from marching into my house, something they do every spring.

I'm not sure about driverless cars. I'm sure about no cell phone usage in cars.

Gloria Alden said...

Nancy, what a story in perseverance. Thanks for sharing with us.

Sarah, thanks for my laugh of the day. Is he wearing a mask and cape, too????

KM, I only get them in my house for a brief period in the spring. Apparently, the borax and window spray on the counter discourage them. I've tried digging up ant hills in my gardens and with my wheelbarrow relocate them out near the pond. Not sure if it works or not.

Vicki, my son sprays around his house, too, but I have a feeling what is in those insecticides is worse than ants. It took us a long time to find out what a horrible thing DDT was and how hard on the environment. I agree about cell phones. How often I've been behind someone who slows down, speeds up and weaves a little and when I finally go around them, they're holding a cell phone to their ear.

Shari Randall said...

Ugh, ghost ants?! I thought the regular ones were bad enough. I find ant society and persistence fascinating and inspiring, but NOT IN MY HOUSE.
I think it is fun to drive, so I am not pro driverless cars, however, after almost getting creamed by way too many people who are texting/applying makeup/watching movies I am starting to think they're a good idea. Or maybe making those people who want entertainment while they drive ride a bus is a better idea.

Grace Topping said...

Your column was so timely. We just noticed our first ant visitors. Usually we spray them, but we have our daughter's dog staying with us and don't want to endanger him. The ants drive us crazy. They walk freely across our kitchen counters and congregate in our dishwasher. We've tried every natural method of getting rid of them that we can find (borax, cucumber, cloves, soapy water, vinegar, etc.. Nothing seems to work except the ant killer sprays. I'm almost ready to break down and call an exterminator.

I should be so diligent about my writing as those ants are about collecting food from my house!

Anonymous said...

I am not looking forward to driverless cars. Most of my dialogue comes to me while I'm driving. For your mind to be involved in an action such as driving can still leave the creative portion of your mind available for work. My favorite lesson from your blog today was: ANTS DON'T HAVE EGOS. What an interesting world! Laura Byrnes

Gloria Alden said...

Shari, or making those with cell phones who text either ride the bus as you said, or be forced to buy a driverless car, or maybe hire someone to drive them.

Grace, I must have different ants than you have. They can be quite persistent for awhile, and then give up. I found if I spray my counters with window spray, it helps a lot.

Kait and Laura, I wouldn't want to give up driving, either. I like feeling in control. However, that doesn't mean I don't enjoy having my friend in her much nicer car take me to concerts, etc.

Laura, it is rather cool about ants not having egos, isn't it.

Unknown said...

Yikes. If there is one thing you wouldn't want marching into your house, it is ants. They can be quite destructive, and also difficult to get rid of entirely. A good countermeasure would be to fumigate, so that you could get rid of not only the ants, but all the pests in the house at the same time. Good luck!

Debra Owen @ Invader

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