2011.04.13 Spiced ants

Written by David Green.


I was surprised when I saw my bag of peanuts on the floor at work next to my wastebasket. It was a small stash of peanuts, transferred from a large bag at home into a smaller bag for late afternoon hunger at the office.

I had placed the bag in my paper recycling box behind my desk and to see it on the floor meant one of two things: Either it fell out of the overflowing box or it had been discovered by a mouse.

I reached down and picked it up. Empty. Some small holes torn in the bag. One half of an empty shell remaining. A mouse had one fine meal, even though the peanuts were unsalted.

I caught it the next day in my reliable Victor Iron Cat trap and released it at an undisclosed location in the neighborhood. I’ll probably have another in the trap tomorrow.

It’s soon going to be ant season and perhaps they’ve started early. As I sat at the Fayette council meeting April 4, I noticed one crawling across the carpet. Tonight, leaving Morenci Middle School after the board meeting, I saw another one on the floor.

Ants are annual visitors to our kitchen at sometime during the summer. Twenty years ago they came early.

May 15, 1991

Ants haven’t crawled into this column since the week of the Great Escape from Ben’s Ant Farm Prison. That was a problem we should have anticipated. You take those hardened, big city type ants, move them to a rural setting where there’s nothing to do but milk aphids and you’re going to have trouble. We did, and I probably have the tiny scars to show it.

All of those ants perished while in prison, but now we’re raising a new crop. Rather than battle the confines of a small, plastic see-through box with a top that kept coming off—the typical Ant Farm—we decided to use our entire kitchen. Happy, healthy free-range ants.

Our new guests seem to appreciate these accommodations entirely. I don’t think they even know we’re trying to murder them all.

That’s too strong a statement. True, we’re making a few surgical strikes on the floor—providing we aren’t barefoot—but for the most part it’s just a loosely run harassment campaign. It’s rather interesting, too, so of course I’ll let you in on the details.

Colleen read somewhere that chili powder sprinkled on counter tops would get rid of ants. Since it’s such a long walk downtown to purchase a commercial ant trap, we decided to turn to the spice rack.

Here’s what we’ve learned to date:

Chili powder doesn’t get rid of ants. In fact, I’m not so sure it doesn’t attract them. But it does appear to make them hyperactive. I think they enjoy walking through fields of the stuff just to get their miniscule drop of adrenaline flowing.

Next I tried cumin, but I had some trouble figuring out their response. It took a magnifying glass to really comprehend what was going on. I got down close and this ant was tossing the cumin into the air over and over, letting it fall down over its head.

The look on its face said, “This stuff is so weird. Interesting smell, a soft touch, it almost tickles.”

Scratch cumin as an ant poison.

Powdered mustard actually did tickle, I guess. I took a close look and the darn ant was laughing every time it stepped into the stuff. It just kept dancing around, trying to get out of it, then edging back into it.

Scratch mustard as an ant poison, too.

Next came a good, strong curry. Wow! I dumped a little pile of that stuff onto a couple of the critters and they went wild, dancing around as though they accidentally wandered onto a bed of hot coals. The magnifying glass confirmed my suspicions.

“Whoa, Charlene! What is this stuff, anyway?”

“I don’t know but get me some water fast! Holy chapati!”

I kept checking back over the next couple of hours, and I never saw another ant on our counter top. There weren’t even any up on the Great Eastern Trade Route that follows the decorative, dust-collecting shelf above the refrigerator. I think this might be the magic ingredient to get those guys out of our house for good.

Even if it fails, here’s an added bonus to the pungent Curry Attack. We could be eating something as exciting as macaroni and cheese, but if we close our eyes and inhale, we’re suddenly dining on a wonderful curry dish in an exotic Indian restaurant—without ants.

  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

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