In late summer and autumn our ant species are probably the ones to make their presence felt, both in the garden and most certainly inside the house. Their numbers are high – activity is at a peak.
They raid your pantry and the spillages behind the stove. They’ll join cockroaches, mites and other recyclers we habitually welcome into our home, because as the messiest mammal on the planet, we are, in their eyes, a seriously good contender for flat mates. There are quite a few different ant species and many of them are exotic types that were transported to Aotearoa in containers, goods and machinery.
The Biosecurity threat of ants is enormous. We should be fearful of the impact of fire ants; we don’t know those yet, as they are not established in New Zealand but they are trying to come in from time to time.
We do know about the Argentine ants; they are a nuisance everywhere they occur.
Their impact on our native ecosystems is quite severe. The trailing hordes sniff out bird’s nests and execute raids on the nestlings, killing them, cutting them up into convenient cuts of protein and hauling them all the way down to their lair, to feed the kids. A decent baiting system will keep them under control. For your information, Fiprinol (Ants-in-ya-pants and such products) are the modern-day replacements for the old recipes with Borax and Boracic Acid.
White-footed ants are another species that often comes inside.
Ants live in a chemical world. Everything is done with trails and smells: communication, food harvest, reproduction When one ant finds a decent reservoir of edible materials (sweet, sour, natural nectars, honeydew or protein) it lays a pheromone trail from source to home. That trail may initially be weak, but as soon as the second ant follows the scent it, too, lays a bit more pheromone on the track.
The chemistry allows the emission of warning signals, should, for instance, a predator or foot-stomping human be causing a massacre on the track.
The signal is often a “help me, HELP ME!!!” kind of pheromone that causes a lot of angst and makes the nest mates scurry to the scene of the crime. It is very similar to what happens when you lift a stone or log in the garden with an ant’s nest underneath: Panic!
Now imagine the following scenario; it happened in our old home, somewhere in West Auckland. The kitchen light had shown signs of some jitteriness. It became more noticeable and the thinking behind this phenomenon was that sooner or later we were going to have to change the bulb. Then, one evening – when we least expected it – the light was switched on and an impressive explosion took place, not in the bulb, but inside the switch itself. Black streaks, the smell of burning, followed by the smell of a vinegar-like substance.
On inspection, some ants had been playing around inside the switch; one poor bugger had made contact between the two plates and short-circuited the whole lot. The ant vapourised and frizzled to a crisp, but managed to send a compelling warning scent of formic acid to ask for HELP!
Many members of the colony complied with this request and all got stuck in the same predicament.
More messages, more formic acid and more frizzle. It was a total massacre.
Or… a new way of ant control??
LISTEN TO AUDIO ABOVE