Native ants are diverse; they're beautiful.
January 9, 2016 1:53 PM   Subscribe

Argentine ants altering California's ecosystems as homeowners give them shelter The Kentucky woman found herself waging war on a freezer full of Argentine ants. Thousands of them had set up shop inside the appliance's insulation, and a steady stream of tiny bodies poured out of the cracks to forage in the kitchen. "There was a fortress within the freezer walls," said Cliggett, who set out baits but still spent nearly an hour a day wiping up the fallen soldiers' carcasses.
posted by Michele in California (67 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm thrilled that we've had a week of rain here in the Bay Area, and God knows we need more, but as soon as the rain started to fall, I knew we were in for it. They won't cross a line of cinnamon, so every time we find out where they're getting in, we lay down some cinnamon. Our house looks like a giant, deranged baker sneezed.
posted by jesourie at 2:11 PM on January 9, 2016 [18 favorites]


Who's giving them a safe haven? Not me. These little fuckers aren't safe in here. I've killed millions of them.

This is both horrifying and comforting to read about. I think I have these guys in my house. There's thousands of them. Every time I murder the thousands coming out of one little hole and seal it up, they find another way. There's different colonies in every room.

It's comforting to know I'm not the only one. I was feeling like a failure for letting this happen to my house.
posted by bleep at 2:15 PM on January 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


burn them all with fire. nuke it from orbit. california during drought time is a constant battle to keep those fuckers out. they come in when its dry. they come in when it rains. they really like wet cat food....

I recently had ants on my desk. one here, one there. I could not find where they were coming from, for about 1 week. then I happened to notice that the curtain rod of the window next to me was covered with ants. WTF?? they seemed to be coming from inside the curtain rod.

so I took it down and took it outside to get it out of the house. I pulled apart the rod to remove the curtain and ants.just.SPILLED.out.

like this

it was one of the grossest, weirdest things I have ever seen. WTF???? an ant colony in a curtain rod? there were eggs too. SO GROSS!!!!
posted by supermedusa at 2:27 PM on January 9, 2016 [5 favorites]


and I REALLY REALLY hate having ants in my house. more than just about anything. ask my husband!
posted by supermedusa at 2:31 PM on January 9, 2016


When I lived in SF I kept the little monsters at bay with insecticide chalk. Super toxic but highly effective.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:32 PM on January 9, 2016


> Our house looks like a giant, deranged baker sneezed.

We use diatomaceous earth, so ours looks like a giant, deranged coke addict is setting up for an epic binge.
posted by rtha at 2:32 PM on January 9, 2016 [18 favorites]


That map in the article is underestimating their range, they've gotten to San Benito County too. I'd wake up as a kid with them crawling on me and biting during the summertime. My mom basically has to keep any unsealed food inside lines of baby powder or in a pan of water during their summer pantry raids. No matter how many holes you seal with caulk, they find a way.
posted by JauntyFedora at 2:39 PM on January 9, 2016


I won't link in case there are those whose ick factor causes discomfort (close up photos), but the Wikipedia link on Argentine Ants contains some fascinating/horrifying information and links about our new overlords.

For example, the three Argentine Ant supercolonies in the N. and S. Americas, Europe and Japan are "most likely genetically related." Researchers are positing that the extent of this population is paralleled only by humans.

In our Bay Area apartment they laugh and laugh and laugh at cinnamon, diatomaceous earth, etc. We have finally conceded defeat to Terro which seems to thin the herd somewhat. This is along with strict cleanliness and always dry sinks and tub.

Speaking of squeamish: DO NOT google Argentine Ant mega-colony world map unless you are sure you want to do so.
posted by pipoquinha at 2:40 PM on January 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


Well they will inherit the wreckage -- and they're getting impatient.
posted by jamjam at 2:46 PM on January 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


They're coming in from somewhere in our laundry room, dear goodness. What do we do? Any advice? We can't even locate where they are coming from, there's some sleeper cell. California!!!!
posted by yueliang at 2:48 PM on January 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Speaking of squeamish: DO NOT google Argentine Ant mega-colony world map unless you are sure you want to do so.

They seem very observant of county lines.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:48 PM on January 9, 2016 [7 favorites]


You want ants? This is how...

Given the choice, I'd take ants over roaches, but ants are suspiciously smart. I'm grossed out by roaches, but worried about what ants are plotting.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:49 PM on January 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


Roaches just survive and proliferate. Ants have a system, man.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:50 PM on January 9, 2016 [14 favorites]


Given the choice, I'd take ants over roaches,

Roaches make me shriek, like something out of a horror movie. (I grew up in Georgia. If you have been there, you should understand.) So I felt the same way you did...until I lived for about 5 years in an apartment in the San Francisco Bay Area and learned to dread the ants.

We vacuumed them up with a small hand vac and wiped trails down with vinegar to try to kill the pheromone trail. After a while, when the hand vac got turned on, the ants on the wall would react like they were in a nervous tizzy, which had a creep factor to it in terms of "Um, okay, just how intelligent are these little beasties???"
posted by Michele in California at 2:54 PM on January 9, 2016 [9 favorites]


"If all of humanity were to disappear, the remainder of life would spring back and flourish. The mass extinctions now under way would cease, the damaged ecosystems heal and expand outward. If all the ants somehow disappeared, the effect would be exactly the opposite, and catastrophic. Species extinction would increase even more over the present rate, and the land ecosystems would shrivel more rapidly as the considerable services provided by these insects were pulled away."

- E.O. Wilson & Bert Hölldobler in Journey To The Ants (the introductory version of their Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece: The Ants)
posted by fairmettle at 2:58 PM on January 9, 2016 [10 favorites]


Having lived in various places on the East Coast of the US, including Florida where Palmetto Bugs a.k.a. GIANT FLYING ROACHES that seemingly aim for flying towards your mouth, I get the roach thing. I'm definitely of the Drew Barrymore in Firestarter rule when it comes to them.

That said, after a few seasons in California dealing with these particular ants I'm starting to give them the side-eye and reconsidering my options.

At this point I'm trying the What Would E.O. Wilson Think? mantra.
posted by pipoquinha at 3:08 PM on January 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


They're coming in from somewhere in our laundry room, dear goodness. What do we do? Any advice? We can't even locate where they are coming from, there's some sleeper cell.

I'm in SoCal and after our recent rains I found bathroom ants. I live on a second floor apartment over a parking garage, so my best guess is they crawled up a pole in the garage, into the floor, along the drain pipe and under the tub, then up inside the tub and through a tiny ripple in the caulk sealing the bathtub to the wall. I couldn't even see the ripple and didn't believe it until I saw an ant emerge from it.
posted by holyrood at 3:09 PM on January 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


holyrood: what kind of ants are they?
posted by persona au gratin at 3:14 PM on January 9, 2016


Some say the world will end in ants,
Some say in a roach.
From that feeling in my pants
I hold with those who favor ants.
But if it needed another approach,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction a roach
Is also great
And beyond reproach.

(sorry)
posted by Zonker at 3:17 PM on January 9, 2016 [39 favorites]


They've been obsessed with our upstairs bathrooms this wet winter in California. They even set up a local base behind a built-in medicine cabinet as far as we could tell. To get rid of them we generally mix sugar with borax, dip wet cotton wool balls in that, and leave those at what look like hotspots. This time we also put straight borax into the cracks of the bathroom cabinet they were emerging through and that seemed to help. They hate borax, which is basically a kind of laundry powder and is easy to get in the supermarket.
posted by w0mbat at 3:23 PM on January 9, 2016


MAYBE WE ARE THE ANTS??

I love ants and think they're facinating, but not in my house! I am kinda paranoid about them entering orifices and such when I'm sleeping
posted by littlesq at 3:41 PM on January 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Borax is a great ant destroyer. You can mix a spoonful into something sugary (jam/jelly or maple syrup or whatever) and leave it out for the ants (Terro is basically just borax). It's an effective poison because it acts fairly slowly, allowing the ants to carry it back to the nest. It then does some sort of enzyme-disrupting thing that causes the ants to starve (or something - I've heard a few different 'explanations').

The good thing about Borax is that it's relatively safe - it used to be used as a preservative in all sorts of foods, including milk. Unfortunately consuming lots and lots of borax turns out to be a bit harmful to humans (who would have guessed?), but the tiny quantities you're exposed to when using it as an ant killer are completely harmless.

I have no idea what sort of ants live around my house (meadow ants?), but if you lift a piece of turf anywhere on our street, you'll find an abundance of ants. You can't kneel on the ground in the summer because they're guaranteed to bite your knees.
posted by pipeski at 3:50 PM on January 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


The maps all show then having colonized Florida, but I haven't had or heard of anyone having ant problems on the scale y'all describe. Do they behave differently in different climates?
posted by bracems at 4:00 PM on January 9, 2016


I have no idea what sort of ants live around my house (meadow ants?), but if you lift a piece of turf anywhere on our street, you'll find an abundance of ants. You can't kneel on the ground in the summer because they're guaranteed to bite your knees.

But how are you supposed to find the ant that is painted yellow?
posted by cynical pinnacle at 4:09 PM on January 9, 2016 [9 favorites]


We have been dealing with these in our house. In an abstract way I kind of admire ants, all organized and efficient and with their little systems. But I want every one dead. Ugh. We had a 6 month reprieve but they're back now and we're stocking up on Terro traps. They seem to kind of work but they work by attracting MORE of them so it's really disgusting while that's going on before it abates a bit. And if you accidentally knock one over you're cleaning up sticky dead ant bodies forever.

Since they seem to have distinct trails it's easy enough to kind of avoid them but I know the day will come when I see one on a kitchen counter and I'll have to burn my house to the ground. It's bad enough how hard it is to keep them out of the cat food. ::full body shudder::
posted by marylynn at 4:14 PM on January 9, 2016


"We knew then, that we were being changed... and made part of their world. We didn't know for what purpose... but we knew, we would be told. "
posted by Auden at 4:16 PM on January 9, 2016


MAYBE WE ARE THE ANTS??
posted by littlesq


Nice of you to notice.
posted by workerant at 4:44 PM on January 9, 2016 [18 favorites]


basically an ant colony is a single mindless organism with many legs and many mouths.

I forget where I first heard that, but it was a transformative observation about nature for me
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 5:02 PM on January 9, 2016 [5 favorites]


Whenever Mr. Westridge wants to have an exterminator in to kill the acrobat ants in our yard, I remind him of my rule, any insect minding it's own business in my yard is welcome. (most) Insects are not welcome in the house. We've left our acrobat ants alone and they've never come into the house (though they did try a foray into the outbuilding once... ONCE). I like to think of them out there in the yard, as our first line of defense against fire ants and termites and argentine ants.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 5:02 PM on January 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't want this to sound like gloating, because everywhere's got its problems, but January is a great time for me to read about things like this. Whenever I'm tempted to gripe about the bitter cold of a hard winter, I can just visualize all the invasive buggies it kills off for us.
posted by traveler_ at 5:03 PM on January 9, 2016 [10 favorites]


My parents had one of those full on invasions in their rec room. After a few months of all the folk remedies, they called in a pro. Turns out, there are exterminators who specialize in just ants. I'm not sure what he used, but it didn't simply kill them, it drove them from the house like an exorcism. He came every day for 3-4 days, and on the last day there was a huge mass of ants congregated outside the house on the driveway. Probably a good 3 feet across. They poured something on them and shop-vac'ed them up. That was that. A few follow ups, and they haven't had ants in the 5 years since. My guess was that he employed dark magic. My sister joked that maybe ants are more reasonable than we realize, and will listen if you ask them to leave in just the right way.
posted by billyfleetwood at 5:11 PM on January 9, 2016 [10 favorites]


WHAT IF everyone in California got a cute baby aardvark
posted by poffin boffin at 5:11 PM on January 9, 2016 [23 favorites]




I gave up and used fire. A couple of gallons of gas and ANTBEQUE!!!

Of course, now my house looks like an arson scene....


This is a joke. Do not use flammable liquids against indoor ant infestations. Outside? That's another thing.
posted by eriko at 5:15 PM on January 9, 2016


Metafilter: a single mindless organism with many legs* and many mouths.

*Not everyone has legs.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:23 PM on January 9, 2016 [5 favorites]


How do the Argentinians deal with them?
posted by sneebler at 5:24 PM on January 9, 2016


they have baby aardvarks
posted by poffin boffin at 5:33 PM on January 9, 2016 [7 favorites]


But in California, there are strict laws about child varking.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:17 PM on January 9, 2016


However, their insurance rates are very low, because aardvarks never get sick. It's because they are so full of anty bodies.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:18 PM on January 9, 2016 [32 favorites]


What's an aardvark's favorite song?
posted by ostro at 6:24 PM on January 9, 2016


Dead ant

Dead ant

Dead ant dead ant dead ant
posted by ostro at 6:25 PM on January 9, 2016 [11 favorites]


Vark your car in aardvark yard.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:30 PM on January 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


We live in SF and in September, a few months after we had moved into a new place, there were ants. I was out of town for most of it; my housemate did some studying and found where they were coming in* and killed them all with traps and bleach spray.

now retroactively i am shuddering at what might have been

bless him and his industrious nature because i would have just never brought food into our home again

*A construction site next door has left holes in the sidewalk, still not filled in many months later, which accumulate food, trash, microwaves, rolling chairs, used needles, etc.
posted by you could feel the sky at 6:40 PM on January 9, 2016


I guess living in Fire Ant Central in TX, I'm not horrified by ants so much as respectful of them as an enemy. They don't push my "ew gross" button the way roaches/flies/other kinds of bugs tend to. But then fire ants tend not to colonize house spaces in the same way.
posted by emjaybee at 7:34 PM on January 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is purely anecdata on my part, but we had a horrible time with ants when we first moved into our house. We suspect now that it's because the built-in immune system of spiders was wiped out by extermination. Once the spider-bros came back and took up residence (we only kill the nasty ones), the ant problem improved a lot.
posted by chimaera at 8:39 PM on January 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


OH riiiiight. Fire Ants. How could I possibly forget that median strip in Orlando? What is up with those, those, gah, those creatures? The swarm? The pain? The smarmy pharmacist looking at me like I was crazy for walking across grass in Florida? If I could I would give Mr. E.O. Wilson a piece of my mind on this point I would.
posted by pipoquinha at 9:32 PM on January 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wait. Anyone know if Aardvarks can deal with fire ants? Because daaaang I gotta get me one and start a business if so. Plus their little faces....
posted by pipoquinha at 9:36 PM on January 9, 2016


What's the code to activate all the death lasers in the spiders of California? That should do the trick nicely, worked in SimAnt.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:03 PM on January 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


MAYBE WE ARE THE ANTS??
posted by littlesq

Nice of you to notice.


we r coming 4 u
posted by threeants at 11:06 PM on January 9, 2016 [8 favorites]


I am kinda paranoid about them entering orifices and such when I'm sleeping

What are you hiding in there that would be of interest to ants?
posted by fairmettle at 2:39 AM on January 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is we need NASA, so we can get offworld.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:14 AM on January 10, 2016


Ants have a system, man.

There are many copies, and they have a plan.
posted by curious nu at 7:12 AM on January 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


We had this in SF. They're were absolute motherfuckers.

At the time my son was a toddler, so food was everywhere. But they didn't eat normal food. No cookies, candy, sugar.

Just meat.

Not fat. They'd ignore peanut butter, oil, butter. Just Meat.

A tiny piece of Chicken, Pork, Beef, Turkey and the kitchen looked like Phase IV.

I tried Terro, Amdro, Borax, Lemon Juice, blah blah blah. I even bought professional grade toxic as all hell ant-traps/goo and tired that. Nada.

Since nobody makes meat traps, I embarked on a long trial-and-error of making custom ant-bait. Organic turkey ground up with Borax and some water in traps worked in the sense that they ate the hell out of it, went home and fed their families.

All it did was give them resistance to borax.

Potted ham and poison wasn't a big winner since they'd eat it, and then die on the way home. Less poison just made them more powerful.

I must've tried 10 different combinations. All I ended up with was a fridge full of tiny tupperware labeled "POISON DO NOT EAT UNLESS YOU ARE AN ANT", and poison resistant ants.

Then one day they decided that in addition to eating meat, they loved cat snot. Which sucked because one of our cats sneezed everywhere uncontrollably, so that was common.

We finally gave up and moved to seattle. Fuck those guys. They can overpay for rent without eating all of our meat.
posted by Lord_Pall at 8:16 AM on January 10, 2016 [6 favorites]


A late tip: down in Mexico our place was built of cement. There were a few holes and cracks that micro-ants came through, seeking sugar. Toothpaste fixed the problem. Filled the holes invisibly and the ants really didn't like whatever scents the toothpaste gave off. They'd run from it.

But these were teeny tiny wimp ants. The macho Predator-style ants y'all are talking about might laugh at toothpaste. It's probably a chitinous, clicky laugh
posted by five fresh fish at 8:40 AM on January 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


Those teeny weeny ants are terrible. A house I lived in about a mile from where I live now had a yard infested with the smallest ants I have ever seen, almost imperceptible to the naked eye. I discovered them while standing barefoot in the yard. I felt a sharp sting between two toes and at first could not see anything but on closer inspection saw a teeny tiny ant had decided to go to war. That place was the only place I have seen these ants, they stayed mostly in the yard I only remember one foray in to the house, but they were so teeny if they weren't aggressive biters you'd never know they were there. One of my kids was a bug enthusiast and we have done many surveys of the insect population in the current back yard and we have never seen these teeny ones and I have been barefoot tons of times and not been bitten. I wonder when I will meet one again.
posted by readery at 9:33 AM on January 10, 2016


Living in Colorado, on farm-zoned land even, I'm amazed at all the horror stories. Seems it's too high/cold/dry for many things to get to "infestation-level".

We get a lot of mice though. The problem with those suckers is that the dumber they are, the cuter they are, and it's always the dumb, cute ones that get stuck in the traps. We don't even have to bate them with anything.
posted by alex_skazat at 10:18 AM on January 10, 2016


Leiningen Versus the Ants
posted by merelyglib at 10:28 AM on January 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


Forgot to add this part:

....Leiningen!" he shouted. "You're insane! They're not creatures you can fight--they're an elemental--an 'act of God!' Ten miles long, two miles wide--ants, nothing but ants! And every single one of them a fiend from hell..."
posted by merelyglib at 10:29 AM on January 10, 2016


I've heard that the argentines are looking for water as much as food, which would explain why it's usually late summer or fall when I get the crazy invasions. I had a terrible time this year because the columns were coming from behind the sink cabinet where I couldn't get to the source, so I just had to beat down each tendril as it found a new route. Only thing I will use insecticide for.

My favorite argentine story was when we had just moved into a new house. A jar of honey had leaked during transport, so one corner of a box in the kitchen had some honey oozing out. We came back from more moving to discover that a column of ants an inch wide had come from the back door, crawled up high on the wall, around the dining room, around the quite large living room, past two doorways, and down the kitchen wall to collect the honey. An inch wide stripe of ants, around half the ground floor rooms. I was so freaked that I sprayed the wall (instead of sensibly spraying just the entry point), resulting in us having a band of dead ants glued to the wall by insecticide.
posted by tavella at 11:24 AM on January 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


They weren't an inch wide, but at the Silicon Valley apartment where I experienced the worst invasions inside I once observed two Argentine ant columns outside, marching along a very long sidewalk, in opposite directions, right next to each other. One receded into the distance to the east, the other to the west, disappearing into the underbrush where the concrete ended. Weird.

I suppose we should be grateful they're not fire ants (as the Argentine does not bite) but still -- man I hate those little fuckers. I've had the most success with Terro products (and I appreciate the recipe for DIY, in the article's comments.) Must also note the other weapon in the arsenal, Windex. Spray it on 'em and they all stop moving, dead. Mop up the mess with paper towels, and start watching for movement -- you may be able to detect their entrance this way, to be plugged up or duct-taped immediately. The alcohol in the Windex may also disrupt the chemical trail they're leaving behind, but it's clearly not 100% effective for that.
posted by Rash at 12:15 PM on January 10, 2016


IIRC Fantastik works well for dropping ants, wasps, etc. Plus as you wipe them up, you 're also cleaning the wall.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:37 PM on January 10, 2016


I mean yeah you can spray them with any cleaning solution and it will kill them, but they keep coming back. I'm all about actual ant poison spray now - they don't come back from that. Right now they're re-grouping and finding another exit, but it's a nice respite. I'm sure we're all going to get cancer from it though.
posted by bleep at 12:54 PM on January 10, 2016


Bay area here. We just live with a fine carpet of diatomaceous earth around much of the apartment now. This year, I wasn't as religious about sprinkling the trails in the yard, so we did get a mild invasion with the rain, but it's nothing compared to BDE (before diatomaceous earth).

I kid you not, the ants death marched themselves right into our freezer a few years ago. The freezer. Not the freezer's electrics or whatnot. The freezer. Where they promptly froze to death. Leaving me to figure out how to clean little piles of frozen ants out of the front couple inches of the freezer. There was a queen and everything. I was so mad.
posted by ktkt at 3:32 AM on January 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Note that diatomaceous earth dust is not good to breath. Might be best to not use it heavily indoors.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:06 AM on January 11, 2016


Since we can't get rid of them, we should try to get them to do something useful to us (the Rumpelstiltskin Option, one might say), such as systematically seeking out and eating the eggs of deer ticks, for example, by using a little GMO technology.

A long time ago I read that the ubiquitous ghost ants of the southeast US actually do eat the eggs of the assassin bug (vector of Leishmaniasis), but that website is defunct now, and I couldn't find another page making a similar assertion.
posted by jamjam at 9:22 AM on January 11, 2016


They do serve the purpose of reminding me to keep up with keeping the kitchen clean.
posted by bleep at 11:39 AM on January 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


I had some Argentine ants build a nest in my Roku seemingly overnight. I still shudder with intense disgust when I think about it.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:47 PM on January 11, 2016


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