All queens must die
July 29, 2018 12:30 PM   Subscribe

There was but one invasive animal remaining, the toughest and hardiest creature of them all. For years, no one had figured out how to kill it. For half a century, no one even knew it was there. But it was, in the millions. And now the conservationists turned to face their most tenacious foe: the Argentine ant.
posted by Chrysostom (48 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thanks for posting! I've been slightly obsessed with these formidable ants since hearing this old Radiolab episode.
posted by grandiloquiet at 12:48 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


The Nature Conservancy was tantalizingly close to its goal — to restore Santa Cruz Island to something approximating its prehistoric, virgin state.

There was but one invasive animal remaining, the toughest and hardiest creature of them all.
As is usually the case, this is a misstatement. After the six-legged invaders are gone, there will still be the two-legged ones, and they're the most persistent.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:58 PM on July 29 [18 favorites]


Humans aren’t invaders to this island, the Chumash used to be there.

Also fuck argentine ants right in the ear. The only good thing they do is alert me to aphids via swarming my plants. But come the rains in November I just know they’re going to come into the house in droves. Bleh.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 1:06 PM on July 29 [4 favorites]


My entire relationship with ants is heavily shaped by the fact that I played SimAnt when I was a kid. I was always secretly fond of them the way I am fond of all nuisance species that make human habitats their own- they're survivors, after all. To this day, whenever I drop a poison trap or wipe up a trail of them with a wet towel, I remember colonizing the humans' house in the game, and just think to myself "your move, ants".

The sidebar that the island foxes were brought by the Chumash thousands of years ago was interesting- it illuminates the question of why we necessarily bother so much with invasive species. The Columbian exchange was basically an enormous speciation event- in a million years, California Eucalypti will diverge from their Australian cousins, Swedish Argentine ants may better deal with the cold weather, and who knows what else. Nonetheless, I appreciate how much knowledge the scientists must be gaining in these efforts to restore ecosystems- surely that'll come in handy as we continue to shape the world in the climate change era.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 1:41 PM on July 29 [10 favorites]


It sucks what Argentine ants do to other species, especially other native ant species, and, as documented in that Radiolab episode, that they're fighting what would seem to be the galaxy's most vicious and pointless civil war.

But on the bright side, they don't bite and they seem to do be doing pretty good job, here in Southern California at least, of keeping out other shittier species of invasive ants like fire ants and those ants in Texas that swarm by the trash-bag-full and eat your electronics. I also like to believe they'll stop those horrible stinkbugs from ever settling here.

The one thing I've found really kicks their ass is these liquid bait traps. Don't waste your time fumigating or hiring exterminators. Just place a few of these at strategic access points. Then try to clean up after yourself.
posted by bunbury at 1:56 PM on July 29 [9 favorites]


Three cheers for Channel Islands National Park! My wife and I visited Santa Cruz Island earlier this summer. It's a beautiful place. If you live in Southern California, or if you find yourself in the vicinity of Santa Barbara, take a day (or more, if you like to camp/backpack) and visit the park.
posted by compartment at 2:06 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


Humans aren’t invaders to this island, the Chumash used to be there.

well how did they get there?
posted by thelonius at 2:20 PM on July 29


well how did they get there?

Same as they ever did.
posted by curious nu at 2:22 PM on July 29 [13 favorites]


The one thing I've found really kicks their ass is these liquid bait traps.

Yes, agreed; but I've had much better results with just the Terro Liquid. I've found the ants may just walk around and ignore the traps.

In addition to the Argentine, and the Pharoah, I'm now under siege by the almost microscopic Tiny Ants.
posted by Rash at 2:51 PM on July 29 [5 favorites]


If you are a nerd who is interested in the planning process for things like invasive ant eradication, you may be interested in taking a look at the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) issued before at the end of that process.

The National Park Service received five public comments on the Environmental Assessment that it prepared. Of the five comments, two were substantive.

Only two substantial comments! I mean, yes, this was definitely not a controversial project or anything, but there are also about ten million people who live within a hundred miles of the park.

If you want to be one of the two people making substantial comments on projects like this, here's how:
  1. Find the national park units nearest to you physically, and dearest to you personally.
  2. Go to the park's website (it will be a .gov domain), and find the "Contact Us" section at the bottom of the page. Click on it.
  3. Send them an email. Ask to be added to their mailing lists that announce any projects open to public comment.
posted by compartment at 3:03 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


The one thing I've found really kicks their ass is these liquid bait traps. Don't waste your time fumigating or hiring exterminators. Just place a few of these at strategic access points. Then try to clean up after yourself.

Yes indeed. Terro Bait is the ne plus ultra of ant solutions. At the first signs of visitors I put out a few around the usual entryways. In three days they are gone as if they never were. Forget everything you have tried before. Go Terro!
posted by Splunge at 3:33 PM on July 29 [6 favorites]


I've been fighting these ants for the past 2-3 weeks during the southern California heat wave, using the Terro liquid, which is relatively effective. I went hunting around the yard to find the nests and place bait as close as possible (and speed up the forage-feed-return loop). I found one nest that wasn't even underground--just a mass of ants and nests in the grass underneath a small plastic kids' swimming pool.
posted by jjwiseman at 3:34 PM on July 29


The only good thing they do is alert me to aphids via swarming my plants.

Would that this were true. What they are actually doing is "farming" the aphids onto your plants, and supping on their poop-nectar.

While aphids will certainly swarm a plant of their own accord, whenever there are aphids and ants, the ants put them there (or are actively spreading them).
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:55 PM on July 29 [9 favorites]


those ants in Texas that swarm by the trash-bag-full and eat your electronics

We call 'em rasberry crazy ants round these parts! Also, they ate the hell out of the electronics of the call box for my gated yuppie ghetto a few years back.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:05 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


While aphids will certainly swarm a plant of their own accord, whenever there are aphids and ants, the ants put them there (or are actively spreading them).


The ants... put the aphids... on the plants....

Man. I didn’t think I could hate ants anymore than I already did. Those absolute mother fuckers.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 4:26 PM on July 29 [22 favorites]


EVERYTHING WHICH IS NOT FORBIDDEN IS COMPULSORY
posted by Brocktoon at 5:00 PM on July 29 [9 favorites]


I think the thing about historic Native American population is an interesting question. What is the state we're trying to restore these islands to? Just 1492? Or pre-human migrations entirely?
posted by Chrysostom at 5:18 PM on July 29 [7 favorites]


I feel like that’s a really good point, and I wonder if the modern Chumash have any say in this “conservation” effort. I somehow doubt it- but I’d be very happy to be proven wrong. The a-historical view that the americas were “empty land” until white people showed up and put the “empty land” to “proper use” seems to have a twin belief in conservationists who want to “return the land” to its “pre-human” state- when people have been here for 15,000 years give or take.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 5:25 PM on July 29 [6 favorites]


Get out of my browser history, Chrysostom. I read this two-year-old article just a couple weeks ago because we were planning a trip to the Channel Islands. (Santa Cruz Island is beautiful).
posted by fedward at 6:06 PM on July 29


(The terrific writer) Elizabeth Kolbert had a piece in the New Yorker a few years back on the efforts in New Zealand to eliminate invasive animals-- gruesomely fascinating and even funny -- "in New Zealand, killing small mammals brings people together."

And I have had great luck killing Argentine ants with boric acid + sugar water (1% bv boric acid, 10% bv sugar), which I suspect is being used in the Channel Islands also. This solution btw also is used on mosquitos with 90% or higher mortality -- it's called Attractive Toxic Sugar Bait, which should be a post-punk band.
posted by PandaMomentum at 6:49 PM on July 29 [7 favorites]


Attractive Toxic Sugar Bait would be an Airborne Toxic Event cover band.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:32 PM on July 29 [4 favorites]


well how did they get there?

There's an (EXCELLENT) bit of journalism attached to the FPP, and in our busy times, I do not fault you for not reading it this excellent bit of journalism.

Commenting without reading, tho?

Really?

Why, tho?
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:55 PM on July 29 [5 favorites]


How do they keep the other ant species from eating these?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:03 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


The argentine ants haven’t invaded the whole island yet so they are basically extirpating all ants in the area, with the expectation that the native ants will recolonize once the Argentine ants are gone
posted by rockindata at 8:22 PM on July 29


The article also said that they're spreading the bait in the months when the Argentinean ants are still very active and foraging but when most of the other species are bunking down a bit due to the heat.
posted by Scattercat at 8:31 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


Humans aren’t invaders to this island, the Chumash used to be there.

There was a time before the Chumash were there, obviously, which is the real problem with statements like "its goal — to restore Santa Cruz Island to something approximating its prehistoric, virgin state": There is no one such state.
posted by kenko at 9:17 PM on July 29 [4 favorites]


The one thing I've found really kicks their ass is these liquid bait traps.

Rather than pay Amazon drug-dealer rates for drug-dealer quantities of these things, I make my own for next to nothing and they work every bit as well.

Sit a smallish screw top jar on a digital kitchen scale and zero it. Add 100g of sugar, 5g of borax and 100g of boiling water. Screw on the lid. Wrap in a tea towel and shake until all the solids have dissolved.

After it's cooled, fill upturned milk bottle caps with the syrup and sit them somewhere close to the places where trails are entering the building. If you have cats, put a saucer upside down over each cap with a matchstick under the edge. The small amount of borax in a capful of syrup won't poison a cat, but it's a nuisance to have to keep replacing ant traps because something other than ants is licking them up.

There's enough sugar in this syrup that it keeps quite well, but if you open last year's jar and it smells alcoholic, flush it and make another batch.
posted by flabdablet at 9:18 PM on July 29 [10 favorites]


There was a time before the Chumash were there, obviously, which is the real problem with statements like "its goal — to restore Santa Cruz Island to something approximating its prehistoric, virgin state":

Pre white colonization will do, because those invasive plants and animals tend to make local ones go extinct.

Take the island foxes, which were under threat from various sources, the main one of which were European introduced ungulates, and the golden eagles those pigs attracted. The removal of the ungulates was opposed by another invasive species, in this case the newly transplanted News Press owner, originally from a wealthy and snobbish East Coast nest.

The Channel Island foxes managed to survive and turn the corner. The News Press, not so much. There is a lesson there.
posted by happyroach at 10:08 PM on July 29 [5 favorites]


Humans aren’t invaders to this island, the Chumash used to be there.

Since several people have commented about the Chumash "colonizing" the islands, I feel obliged to point out that there is evidence of them living on the islands going back as far as the last big ice age when the islands were connected to the mainland by an ice sheet. In other words, there were Chumash on the islands before they were islands.
posted by cali at 11:09 PM on July 29 [7 favorites]


Setting the target at "prehistoric" sounds like science fiction. The climate can't have been similar (a lot more carbon dioxide in the air back then, for example, trapped water vapor in a much thinner atmosphere). "Pre-colonial" sounds more reasonable.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:37 AM on July 30 [1 favorite]


Wow the ant hate.

Argentine ants suck because they get rid of native species, but ants in general are amazing and very successful.

I saw, in a period of 10 years, a small front yard in California go from 6 or 7 ant species to just Argentine ants.

I particularly like a local tiny black ant. One or two colonies are moving around my house all the time. When the dogs make a hidden mess (food under heavy furniture, chewed crickets and other bugs) the ants will move the hole colony to a potted plant near the disaster area, will completely clean up in a couple days, and areate and fertilize the soil in the pot in the process. I like to watch them move all the brood from plant to plant, and the way they protect the queen.

In other news, my Camponotus, two of the Pogonomyrmex, the Solenopsis, and one of the mystery black queens had their first workers eclose late last week. I spent all weekend building ourworlds and founding nests, and it has been a lot of fun. I put a little bit of apple with the Solenopsis, they've been eating fruit juice and hunting the fruit flies that visit.

Some people would expect my house to be a stinky mess, but the ants, jumping spiders and hummingbird take care of most nasty bugs, the house plants are very healthy, and my house does not smell or chemical disinfectant.
posted by Dr. Curare at 7:28 AM on July 30 [6 favorites]


>What is the state we're trying to restore these islands to? Just 1492? Or pre-human migrations entirely?

It would make a great Jurassic Park. A lot more accessible for tourism than 120 miles off Costa Rica.
posted by Naberius at 7:34 AM on July 30


I still can't help but think they did some hand-waving about the poisony sugar balls. It's not like ants are the only thing that will eat a shiny ball of simple carbs.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:03 AM on July 30 [2 favorites]


well how did they get there?

I only scanned the article, but I think that the two-legged vermin got there when their eggs were attached to dugout canoes, and when the eggs hatched they developed thicker coats because the harsher climate.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:05 AM on July 30


It would make a great Jurassic Park.

Site C, presumably.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:07 AM on July 30


Dr. Curare, you'd probably really enjoy this youtube channel.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 11:39 AM on July 30


Dr. Curare: "but the ants, jumping spiders and hummingbird"


You have a hummingbird? Talk about burying the lede!
posted by namewithoutwords at 11:50 AM on July 30 [2 favorites]


I also want to hear about the house hummingbird.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:32 PM on July 30


It would make a great Jurassic Park. A lot more accessible for tourism than 120 miles off Costa Rica.

As a former resident of Santa Barbara, I'd prefer to leave the islands alone and release the dinosaurs in Santa Barbara.

...actually as a current resident of the bay area, I vote for the dinosaurs to be released in Mountain View and Santa Clara.
posted by happyroach at 1:42 PM on July 30


As a resident of Earth, I'm down for killer dinosaurs all over.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:49 PM on July 30


What is the state we're trying to restore these islands to? Just 1492? Or pre-human migrations entirely?

From the article:
When Boser told me this, I asked her why foxes were considered native but the Argentine ants were not. Was the distinction of native vs. invasive simply one of time? "Where do you draw the line?" I asked her. "Do you go back 100 years? Two hundred?"

"No, no," she said. "Naming dates gets you in a lot of trouble, drawing firm lines like that." The best she could do, both as an employee of The Nature Conservancy and an ecologist, was to value biodiversity above all, right up there with the overall health of the ecosystem.

The Argentine ants kill all the other ants and aren't good for the soil, hence they are eradicated. Island foxes don't ruin the ecology for everyone else, so they can stay.
posted by JDHarper at 2:47 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I saw that. I wasn't asking about the Argentine ants - which seem to be a) a recent arrival, and b) disruptive - but about people.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:09 PM on July 30


The house hummingbird is like one of those outdoors cats that come in for a nap and some food.

Half the backyard lies under the neighborh's 60 year old giant ficus tree. There is a whole bird civilization living there.

We hung a hummingbird feeder just outside the living room window and we have dozens of birds visiting every day.

One hot day when the feeder was empty I found an exhausted hummingbird on the hammock. Hand fed him some plain water followed by simple syrup until he recovered.

Now he (I assume it's the same bird) will fly rounds inside the house whenever the door is open. He likes to catch flies and other flying bugs, and likes to pick dog hair off the sofa. Won't accept food from my hand anymore, but will hover close to me.
posted by Dr. Curare at 5:10 PM on July 30 [5 favorites]


Wow the ant hate.

Oh my ant hate is specifically Argentine ant hate! One time in Sea Ranch way up north I saw a very large native ant and I was thrilled! I followed her around for like an hour, enthralled. Unfortunately I've never seen any other ant but an Argentine here in San Francisco and my murderous hate for them know no bounds.

Your house sounds hella cool btw!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 5:33 PM on July 30


This is a picture of one of the outdoor ant colonies moving the brood to a new nest. They just finished cleaning cake from between the weave of a woven chair. I gave them a pile of moist limestone tiles to live in while they cleaned, and rewarded them with some sugar water.

This is an indoors colony of the same stock. They just had their first 10 workers eclose. Sorry for shit quality pic, they are pretty light sensitive right now and I don't want to stress them.

I am in the process of casting a new nest. Once I combine traditional casting, 3D printing and other stuff I end up with nests like these.

And who could hate lovely queen ants like these? Juts look at that face, with the three extra eyes on top! Or the beautiful proportions here. Here are some puppy eyes. If tiny ants are not your thing, this queen is over 1/2 an inch long, and her face reminds me of my dog. Still too small? This queen is over an inch long!

All of these are alive and well except for the last one. I was very excited to keep it, an Atta mexicana, but I caught it in a park where they use pesticides and it died in a couple of days. They invented agriculture about 60,000,000 years before humans, it is amazing to observe them take care of their mushroom gardens and use their magical weed-killing bacterial patch.
posted by Dr. Curare at 5:50 PM on July 30 [3 favorites]


Your house sounds hella cool btw! Thanks. We rent, and the architecture sucks, so we hide it with plants and animals.

I get the San Francisco thing. Last year I only found Argentine ants and a couple of pavement ants in my neighborhood, and almost nothing in Golden Gate Park. Just a short drive to the foot of Mount Diablo and you can find all kinds of ants.
posted by Dr. Curare at 5:53 PM on July 30


>As is usually the case, this is a misstatement. After the six-legged invaders are gone, there will still be the two-legged ones, and they're the most persistent.

I often wonder why we don't consider ourselves an invasive species and why we don't make any efforts to stop our spread.
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:49 AM on July 31


Well, the last major region to be human populated was Polynesia and that was some 2,000 years ago. We've been indigenous to most areas much longer than that.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:59 AM on July 31


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