Sunday, August 12, 2012

If Ants Wanted To

Working at home, I am cut off from the normal daily flow of human traffic experienced by most people. I see the mail man, our house-keeper, some contractors, and a few others, and I'm always delighted to meet someone with fresh ideas.

Consider our bamboo. It has a case of scale, which is a sticky, ugly brown substance on the surface of the culm. Scale is perfectly normal on this type of bamboo; it is produced by aphids that live in the tops of the branches, 50 or 60 feet off the ground.

But here's the weird part. Ants loves to eat the scale, so they "farm" out the aphids--they bring them down to the bottom of the plant and make them crawl back to the top, leaving the little deposits along the way. To control the scale, as I understand it, I need to first get rid of the ants. (The bamboo lady says I should leave it alone because ladybugs like it.)

As luck would have it our pest control guy came by yesterday for his annual visit. He specializes in pet-safe and environmentally safe methods. I remembered from the past that he is a scholar in the subject of ants, and he loves to talk about them, so I took him outside to the bamboo.

"Those are fire ants. See that guy, there," he said, pointing to an ant that was several times bigger than the others, all of them marching in a line upwards. "He's the soldier. It's his job to protect these workers."

We had a nice talk about the ants. I noticed, though, a cloud forming in his eyes. Something was troubling him, and he needed very much to tell me. "No one really knows this," he told me in a whisper, "but if these guys ever figure out that we are a threat to them, they will take us out overnight, and there's nothing we could do to stop them.

"There are millions and millions of these guys in your yard alone. If they wanted to attach us, there's nothing we could do and nowhere we could go."

"Is this possible?" I said back in a whisper, hoping to prolong the discussion.

He looked at me as if to determine my trustworthiness--could I handle the truth?

More later...

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