The ants go marching on...

July 29, 2019

It seems like almost anyone I talk with this summer has an ant problem. “It’s maddening” we all say, yet at the same time I am enthralled by their steadfast determination. I follow the directions from the “Absolute Ant Killer” box to swab a dab of killing liquid on a square of cardboard as a sure fire way to deter their mission to stealthily confiscate the toast crumbs from my kitchen counter to bring back to their home to feed the thousands of their colony. In so many ways it’s laughable because even though I see fewer the following day, it’s a temporary reprieve at best. I have never felt a more diligent opponent in the pest world. Each year they seem to leave when they decide it’s time and return to our exact counter the following year.

When I was a kid I had an ant farm. No group of ants I ever studied in that see through plastic home lived past a few weeks. I wish I had had a colony of these guys instead.

I sometimes refer to Aesop’s fable of the Grasshopper and the Ant when I discuss duties divided at home with my husband. Of course I am the ant and he is the grasshopper. The ant was the admirable protagonist of the story working and working as winter was coming as the grasshopper played his fiddle. At this point in my life I am trying to harness a little more of the grasshopper every day.

But back to the ants. On a lazy drive through the back roads of Indiana yesterday we discovered Versailles State Park. I remember camping there as a kid. It was the first stop in a grand family tour via pop up camper from Indiana to Michigan. I recall a pack of bikers, referred to as a mysterious organization called the “hells angels” by my Mom who were also setting up camp at dusk across the lot from us. A lot of people ride motorcycles in groups these days, but none of us had ever seen the likes of that burly ensemble. The evening went on without a hitch, but later my Mom told me she hadn’t slept a wink praying all night that all would go well.

My husband and I decided to take a drive around the grounds of the park and ended up at the Nature Center. Nature centers all seem to have been constructed and assembled in 1958 when the only tools to create an educational display were construction paper and articles from an already ten year old library book titled Forest Animals of Indiana.  Hand written signs saying Do Not Touch Displays were posted on everything that was exactly at kid height and screamed to be touched. Like a real skunk pelt, an actual stuffed beaver sitting next to the tree he had felled or ten different sizes of turtle shells that had been discovered at the park. I was compelled to pick up the jaw of a coyote which helped me to understand how a coyote could snatch up a little dog or cat, who sat unaware of the dangerous beast that may be  lurking behind a familiar bush in his own back yard.

As I left that room I went face to face with a dense collage of a thousand insects all mounted in a shadow box with pins stuck through their abdomens. They descended from top to bottom from giant moths to the tiniest mosquito. All had been inhabitants of Versailles State Park. There were only two insects, however, that warranted additional attention. One was the black widow spider that was horrifyingly more populous than I realized, and the other was my kitchen invader, the ant.

I began to admire my ants the more I read about them. From the nature center’s perspective they were wondrous creatures with elaborate social behavior and talents. There is a special ant called the scout and once the scout ant finds food he leaves a scent trail back to his colony that will include a road map to that specific location including information about the amount of food available and the kind of food that will be there. The article said that if you collected just a gram of this powerful liquid present in the ant’s trail it could direct ants from the moon and back 23 times. That I still can’t wrap my head around.

If you were wondering where this might be going, I began to think about how the smell of pastries, cakes and cookies baking also telegraphs information of what to expect ahead when you follow the scent. I know it draws customers to the BonBonerie, just like it draws me to bakeries wherever I go. As people walk up the stairs to the front door they regularly ask me how I could even work here it smells so good. We humans have our own kind of powers to draw our species to a place that will be sure to bring them pleasure and sustenance, just like my ants.


Sharon Butler