2011.04.13 Spiced ants

Written by David Green.

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.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • 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.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.

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