Thursday, April 7, 2011

Fire Ants--The Bane of Southerners

For those of you who have lived or currently live in the "Deep South" of the USofA know what I'm talking about.  Fire ants are insidious, well organized, demonic creatures that dig exceptionally deep tunnels in terra firma, and protect their queens like nobodies business.  You simply CANNOT eradicate them.  You might kill a few thousand here and there.  You might encourage them to move their surface entrances from one place to another, but you CANNOT induce them to leave you alone.

If you till up a garden, they will exercise willful disregard for your hard work and joyfully pop up another entrance or three from which they will plunder whatever plants you place there for your own consumption.  And, just out of pure meanness, they will attack you with vengeance if you try to eliminate them--AGAIN--from your premises.

And, after a good rain they gleefully pop up jillions of new hills--their surface entrances.  They work non-stop.  I've seen cow pastures after a rain with hundreds of new fire ant hills.  I certainly wouldn't want to be the cattle in those pastures!!!!  And, we've had some "hills" that border our back patio that we've poisoned over and over for years.  Those particular entrances will be dormant for long periods of time--months and even a few years.  Then, bingo!  After a good rain, we'll see they've moved back in to create havoc for us once again.

Now when I said they will attack you a minute ago, I mean a full-blown military attack.  The soldier ants in the group--all female, I hate to say--will pour out of the nest and literally cover your feet, or whatever is closest and begin to bite and urinate into that bite. (Yes.  A lovely thought.)  That's what makes the bitten site feel "on fire"!  It is very painful and festers in a short time.  For some it is literally deadly--even one bite--if a person is allergic to their "sting".

I remember some years ago when we lived north of Houston, Texas.  Our garden was great.  Raised beds for intense use of a small space.  It had begun to rain, and I ran out to shut off the water hose that was trying to keep the plants from burning up--since we'd been without rain for an extended period. In my haste I didn't watch where I was stepping.  I felt a sting and looked down to discover both my feet were swarming with fire ants.  Thank Heaven I had on shoes and socks and NOT flipflops!!!  I did quite a dance in the rain that day, stomping and yelling and stomping wildly around the yard to disengage as many of the vile insects as possible before chucking said shoes/socks and running inside to view the destruction to my ankles, etc.  I remember brushing off what I could of the little monsters before they carted me, piece by piece, down into the infernal pit of their deepest tunnel to feed their hordes of fiendish little sisters, and perhaps a few drone brothers, along with their super fat, egg-laying machine we designate as "queen."

I didn't escape unscathed.  I had several bites around my ankles.  Those kinds of bites have lingered on my feet and elsewhere for weeks, even with popping the festered spot and applying a good antibiotic salve to quell the mess.  They itch like all get-out, too.  I have had scars on my feet from some particularly vicious bites for over a year.

With all that vitriolic-ness spewing from my thoughts, I have to admit that ants are quite incredible creatures.  (Doesn't mean I like fire ants anyway.)  Last Saturday, in preparation for my husband tilling up the garden, I lifted up all the paving stones we had placed there last spring between the vegetable rows to clear the way for his tiller.  As I lifted two or three stones, I squealed like a little girl and ran.  Guess what I found underneath those stones?  Uh huh!  Fire ants and a lot of their eggs and tunnels.  They immediately went into action.  And, yes!  I did the fire ant stomp once again and got out of their way.  It didn't take them long to go into hyper-drive and cart those little embryos out of harms way.  In just minutes there was not a little white egg to be seen.  Then I doused them with a healthy (for us) sprinkling of Sevin dust before my mate was tilling away without disturbance.  A little later I found a stray ant or two doin' their thing.  One made it to my chest, close to my pacemaker and the other got me on the back of my neck.  I still have a hard knot on the back of my neck, but I managed to dislodge the one on my chest before much damage was done.

Oh, and another thing I found rather interesting:  Under the second row of paving stones I discovered more ant tunnels and ants, but these were the tiny little black ants we used to find in our kitchen--the ones that love to get into sugar and oil.  I was really surprised to find them such extremely close neighbors to the fire ants.  Do you suppose they have some kind of symbiotic relationship?  I don't know if that's such a good thing.  It disturbs me to think about it.


Mary Paddock said...

Sam was asking me yesterday about fire ants. Having grown up in Texas, I am intimately familiar with them.
Nothing quite like stepping in their nests.

We don't have them here. We do have what we call "sugar ants' who invade houses and gardens. They are annoying, but their bites aren't painful. My mom tells me they don't like vinegar. I wonder if it would work for fire ants too?

Pencil Writer said...

I think the little black ants I found so close to the fire ants are what we also call "sugar ants". Vinegar MIGHT work . . . but I'd have to have a gazillion gallons of the stuff to pump down every tunnel for miles around to do any good.

And speaking of vinegar . . . I know this sound rather stupid, but . . . oh well. I once heard that ants taste like dill pickles. Yep. When I was a stupid teenager, I tested the theory. It's true. Ants to taste like dill pickles.

Hmmmm. Maybe they're filled with vinegar and they really like it????

Bob said...

Fire ants = evil.
Rice crispy treats = heavenly.

Pencil Writer said...

Bob, you made me laugh!!!!

Pencil Writer said...
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