Duck Soup
The Ants Go Marching One by One

(hurrah, hurrah!)


This is the time of year when your ants are likely to stop in for a visit. This bugs a lot of folks. Sometimes people even get pushed to the point where they sound like Arlo Guthrie in Alice's Restaurant. "I wanna' kill!"

   Relax. Visiting ants are not nearly as bad as their reputation. Your ants are your friends. Most of the ants you see around the house are the little red ones known as Pharaoh Ants. When I was a child my momma called them "sugar ants." And, true enough, what they are most interested in is sweets. After a long cold winter there is very little fructose available in the outside world. Think of the poor hungry little red ants who have waited six months without an apple or a grape. It's no wonder they sneak into your kitchen for a springtime snack.

   It's important to remember what ants actually do. Ants are scavengers. They search for and collect all sorts of edibles: sugar, yes, but also bread and cake and cookie crumbs, seeds, sprouts, spices, spaetzle and dead insects. All the stuff that falls into cracks, sneaks behind the fridge, wanders under the counters and otherwise hides from your best efforts at cleaning.

That means that houses with ants
are cleaner than houses without ants.
That is the simple truth.

   That means that houses with ants are cleaner than houses without ants. That is the simple truth. Ants are nature's janitorial staff. They clean up the leftovers and recycle them into the soil. Poisoning ants is like poisoning a janitor. Are you the sort of person who would poison a janitor?

   And, while it is easy to take those individual little insects for granted, consider this: Ants can live to be 12 years old. The companies that sell poison don't remind you that those little creatures scurrying along the baseboard carrying pieces of dead flies and pizza crumbs have histories. Their lives extend far beyond this springtime day when you happen to notice them.

   Later in the year, they will find work in the garden cleaning up nature's leftovers, and come autumn they will be enjoying windfall apples and wild grapes. A year from now, some of those same ants will return to your kitchen in time for spring cleaning.

   My ant consciousness was raised several years ago when I noticed a large, bustling colony in my garden. Amidst all that seemingly random busy-ness I saw a column headed off across the driveway. A closer look revealed a continuous, cleared path about a half-inch wide, with two-way traffic. I knelt and examined the comers and goers and was startled to discover that the goers were carrying luggage while the comers were empty handed.

   So I followed that insect interstate into the woods. More than a quarter of a mile away, having crossed the driveway again, and later a woods road, over boulders and dead trees, I found the entrance to their home under a log. In my all too human way, I had assumed that the colony was on my property, in my garden. But I was not central to their lives at all. What I had was a work camp, maybe a canning kitchen set up for a few weeks. Sure enough, a month later there was little sign of that crowd around my boulder, but the main colony was still going strong.

   My old point of view is symptomatic of the way we tend to fragment the world with our ideas of possession and ownership. Ants we see in the kitchen seem an affront to our dominion over these appliances and this tile and that sink. We sometimes act like terrorist generals and order up chemical weapons to destroy the enemy.

   On the other hand, we could consider that those scurrying insects have an important function in the whole scheme of things and are critical to our own survival as part of the natural world. Hey, we could be knee-deep in dead flies and cookie crumbs, or up to our armpits in pasta particles and pizza parts.


   C.L. Bothwell III hails from the other Carolina. Duck Soup is served at 8:40 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday on FM stations in North Carolina on WNCW 88.7, Spindale, 100.7 Charlotte, 95.5 Beech Mountain, 92.9 Boone; on 97.3 Knoxville, Tenn., and 97.5 in Greenville.

© Copyright by POINT, 1997
Last modified 6/23/97