Monday, October 19, 2009

The ants go marching...

"9 a.m.?" I repeated hesitantly. I don't know why; it's not like the eye doctor takes patients at 9 p.m.

"Yes, we'll take the first one at nine, and then the rest of you one at a time afterword," said the cheerful voice on the other end of the line.

I agreed to this, keeping my reluctance to myself. After all, it's hard enough to get Saturday appointments for all five of us, since our eye doctor isn't open a full day Saturday. Friday nights are often my night to stay up late, and since I'm a night owl "late" often turns into "early," as in early morning. But I could alter my usual habits just this once; I shouldn't be staying up so late on Friday nights anyway, and getting up early Saturday would make it easier to get up early Sunday as we always do.

Accordingly, I only let the girls stay up a little late on Friday night; and Thad and I were ready to turn in by eleven, which is considerably earlier than I'd normally think about going to bed. I tidied up a few things in the kitchen and started off toward the bedroom.

But Thad called me back into the den, where he was staring at the back door. "We've got a problem," he said in that grim, serious voice that indicates a major homeowner crisis.

I walked over to him and looked down. There were hundreds of black ants crawling all over the bottom of the door frame, clearly up to no good.

Ordinarily in a situation like that I'd grab a can of ant poison, and that would be that--but with a cat in the house, we've had to rethink our usual "Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" approach to pest control. Not that we didn't still intend to kill them all--but we'd have to think of a way to kill them all that wouldn't hurt Emmett, who tends to like to lie on the tile patch in front of the back door.

So I got out the vacuum cleaner and started vacuuming up the ants, while Thad explored outside with a flashlight, trying to see where the ants were coming from. Emmett, who is terrified of the vacuum, was not being helpful, so after a while I put him in Kitten's room. He had not yet been allowed in the bedrooms at night (mostly because of the danger to him from such objects as Polly Pocket dolls and other tiny pastel plastics), but Kitten's room isn't really a source of those things anymore. He was thrilled to be in there, and ended up sleeping the whole night on the end of her bed, which will probably become a habit for him pretty soon.

Meanwhile, Thad had located a few possible ant mounds and trails, but he didn't really see proof that our back door ants were coming from any of these locations. He sprayed some of them anyway, and we noticed that the number of ants coming in and needing to be vacuumed started to diminish, so we thought we were nearly finished.

Except that they kept coming in. They kept appearing in front of the back door, three or four or five at a time. A couple of them had clearly wandered through the poison outside, but most of them looked perfectly healthy. Thad started muttering a bit about that back door--we've already replaced it once, but for some reason when we have a lot of heavy rain (not that often here in Texas) we get water inside; it comes across the tile and gets the adjacent carpet wet. Thad went back outside and sprayed some more around the door area, being careful not to spray anywhere where the poison would actually come in under the door.

But the ants kept coming. We kept killing them or sucking them up with the vacuum. It would seem like they were not coming anymore, and we would stop; once Thad removed the vacuum bag, sprayed it with poison to kill the ants inside of it, and took it out to the garbage. But he had to put another bag in the vacuum right away, because the

It was well after one a.m., and we were still wearily killing ants, when Thad had an idea.

Going into his tool box, he pulled out a painter's tool like this one and carefully inserted it between the tile and the area of the carpet that gets damp when it rains. I stood nearby with the vacuum running and the hose attachment at the ready; slowly, like someone in a horror movie who's turning the doorknob that you just know the monster is behind, Thad lifted up the carpet.

And there they were.

Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. Some of them with wings, apparently looking for a nice new location to establish a colony. I think one of them was wearing a little ant-shaped Realtor (tm) jacket and carrying a tiny ant-sized briefcase, and was in the process of assuring the clients that this was a great place to start a colony and raise up a few million kids. I'm not sure, though, because like the usually-hysterical but suddenly oddly competent heroine in a horror film I was already applying the Vacuum of Doom to thwart their evil domestic plans.

By the time we had vacuumed up all the ants, removed the wet tack strip they'd obviously been attracted to, sprayed some poison carefully in places Emmett couldn't possibly get to (especially since we were spraying under carpet and then placing a bookshelf on top of that area so he couldn't even accidentally lift the carpet up and be at risk) and watched warily to be sure that there were no more ants coming inside, it was after 2 a.m., leaving us with the prospect of about four hours sleep before it would be time to get up and get to the eye doctor in time for our appointments.

But we made it. And Thad spent much of Saturday and Sunday fixing and painting some areas of the back door, removing some bricks from the porch that he thinks might have contributed to the water problem, treating visible ant mounds, looking for signs of infestation under the porch, and, sadly, finding that the ants had built mounds up and under the siding on the back of the house; some of them started appearing in our bedroom, which like the den is also at the back of the house. This time, though, Thad automatically used the painter's tool and lifted the carpet, and we managed to dissuade a hopeful colony of red ants from establishing a base camp under the carpet in our room; there weren't (yet) as many of them as we'd seen under the carpet in the den, though they had brought dirt with them and clearly planned to build an indoor mound close to shopping and dining.

The next step will be to get some professional pest control people out here to treat our yard; I'd like to rip out all the carpet after that and replace it with the kinds of floors that don't leave enough room for ants to get under, but we'll probably have to do that one room at a time.

The moral of this story? I see two: one, ants inside your home are bad news.

And two--don't bother making plans to go to bed early. Not even if you have a 9 a.m. appointment the next day.


LarryD said...

You realize, of course, that PETA will be at your door some time soon.

Keep that painter's tool handy just in case!

Aaron said...

There are ant killers you can put down wherever ants are walking, which they'll carry back outside to the nest and share with the others, wiping out the colony. You can get it in little containers that pets can't get into. That may be worth a try before going to the expense of treating an entire lawn.

Anonymous said...

Alas, the plague of the least they might have a better reputation than termites possibly which are the local insect problem in this 'wet' area of the country.

(First encountered termites when we stayed in a summerhouse exposed to outdoors. I grabbed an electric skillet from its storage area under the sink, and finding the lid stuck, jiggled it and pulled it off quickly to reveal the winged creatures in a little papery type colony in the base of the pan; with adrenaline flowing, grabbed the door handle and promptly threw it all out the front door.)

As mentioned earlier, there's s type of chemical which can be placed in 'bait stations' and replaced when consumed by hungry termites. It interferes with reproductive capability and the idea is that after seasonal cycles, the colony size is limited.