Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I love you but now you must die.

I really, really like bugs. I enjoy looking under rocks to see what kind of bugs I might find. In most cases, if I find a spider in the house, I am more likely to catch it and release it outdoors than to squash it (exceptions: if it's night and the spider is in my bedroom, or if it is in the shower with me). As a kid, I dug up worms and twirled them around the axles of my upside-down plastic shopping cart to play "worm circus". I once caught a praying mantis and kept it in a cage. I don't freak out when a bee is flying near me in the yard.

There are only a couple of bugs that I actively dislike. Silverfish, because they are just gross, and earwigs because they are both gross and scary. To me, the worst horror movie ever would involve an invasion of giant earwigs. In our old house last year, we had a big earwig problem and I was thoroughly creeped out.

Now, because I am a geeky scientist and also a bug lover, I happen to be really

fascinated by social insects, and ants are some of my favorites. A lone ant can do some pretty cool stuff, but as a group, an ant colony is capable of amazing things. Leaf cutter ants are probably my personal favorite--they forage for leaves, which they bring back to their nests not to eat, but to use as a medium for growing fungus, which they do eat. This means that leaf-cutter ants have developed agriculture--they actively grow their own food. Pretty neat.

Now, appreciating ants in the wild is one thing, but nobody likes it when they invade your home. Last year in the old house, on top of the earwigs, we also dealt with a minor ant problem after my brother-in-law and his friends watched the house and left chex mix crumbs all over the living room. They were those small black ants, and a few of those little poison baits took care of them.

Currently, in our new house, we are facing a new vermin problem: carpenter ants: They are a problem for me for a different reason than they would probably be bothersome to other people...I really don't like killing them but I don't like having them crawl around in my dishwasher or in my cupboards. In case you didn't realize, these ants are pretty big. So to me, squishing one of them is almost like squishing a toad. They really are more like little animals to me than they are bugs. Maybe it's the way they sit and groom themselves like cats, or they cute way they carry big food crumbs or their dead friends around, but I really feel bad when I have to hear their little bodies go "pop" beneath my thumb and a paper towel.

I've put the poison baits out, but they haven't seemed to have had much of an effect. So I keep on squishing and cringing to myself. I did discover that squirting them with Simple Green or my Lysol kitchen cleaner also kills them, but they do flail around a little before they die. Today I got so frustrated when one crawled around while I was heating up my soup that I took the pot off the stove and shook the ant onto the burner. It seemed to do the trick pretty quickly, but I felt kind of sadistic about it.

The good news is that I just read something that suggested they are more of a nuisance than anything (an exterminator's ad made it sound like they would eat your house) so we certainly won't have to resort to fogging the house or doing anything so nasty. I *have* always wanted an ant farm, after all...


Mary Beth said...

Joshua calls ants "guck," which in his language is "yuck." I have to say I agree.

Jennifer said...

How cool! I am fairly fond of bugs myself. When I find one in the house, I am likely to catch it and study it for a while, trying to determine what species it is, what gender, and all that. When I was a kid, I had a little toy refrigerator. But instead of play food, I stored bug specimens inside it, in my sister’s used baby food jars.

I did not know about ants growing their own food! That is fascinating. I did believe that carpenter ants were destructive, so thanks for setting me straight. Yea, I can’t stand killing the little critters, either. But sometimes, they leave you no choice.

Kat E said...

Well, to be perfectly clear, I read that they won't bother with solid's only if you have soft/rotting wood in your house that they may be a concern. Though I would think that the soft/rotting wood on its own would be a problem anyway!

Glad to hear you're a fellow bug lover :) Though I'm not entirely surprised!

Mercedes said...

In the South we call things that are so big you can hear them squish when you step on them, "Critters" and there are whole bunches of them around -- palmetto bugs, flying ants, you name it. I am not so enamoured of insects as you, but, I feel better somehow when I stop focusing on the type of bug it is and just call it a "critter." :-)