Don’t kill the ants in the lounge!

Leave some sugar out and there will be ants. Sugar ants, tramp ants, crazy ants, fire ants, you name it, we do not live in sterile environments and ants find food. If you bring in a plant, you may well bring in a happy, usually harmless colony of ants.

So why is it that people at the first sign of ants want to call in the dealers in poison, the chlorinated organophosphates and the like? Why are people not more afraid of these chemicals than of a few ants? What kind of environment do they imagine we have? Why can’t we just tolerate a few ants and use them as a reminder to be a little neater?

What if all the microbes on our bodies and our work areas were as visible as the ants?  What would we do then? Would we bathe and scrub with soap like Lady Macbeth, washing out stains that will not leave? Aren’t we doing more harm than good, turning our immune systems back on ourselves when they have nothing foreign to chew on? Why are we so obsessed with this form of purity?

Yes, we have a faculty lounge here at Wash U. It is largely unused because it is locked and only for faculty, to protect the free packeted coffee. And yes, there were ants in there today, the kind I call crazy ants, named for their speed. I bet I could get a great photo of them from Alex Wild. The poison guy was called. He wanted to put out a gel, just a gel, why not? Yes, it has something toxic in it. Yes is was manufactured somewhere. No, we don’t know what the standards for its manufacture were. What will it harm besides the ants?

The thing is, we don’t need it. We don’t need purity. What we need is nature and more of it. We need living things. We are extincting so much. How do these harmless little behaviors, so called, contribute? Where does the poison come from? Where does it go? What is the end?

I like the attitude of my wonderful Venezuelan friends, Juan and Simonetta Castillo. When the termites hatch and fly, the cats feast. When the army ants move through, everything is cleaned. Keep the house open to nature and accept what comes with the seasons. I need to get out of here for respite in the peaceful tropics. Ants, I love you!


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Environment, Insects, Rice University and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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