Ant Misbehaving

This article was originally published on Humorality, on October 26, 2009.

The Insect You Step on May Be Your Senator

Southern California is a great place to live. No matter how difficult the work week is, there’s always a sunny weekend ahead: a chance to get in your car, drive to some scenic mountain or ocean recreation spot, and feel your skin warmed by the collective friction of millions of tiny ant feet.

At least that’s been my experience, because ants are everywhere in California. You can’t get away from them, even at home. For example, when you open the front door to your house and look down, you immediately see hundreds of ants crawling all over your homeless immigrant. And if you leave even the tiniest bit of food on the kitchen counter, the ants will find it within minutes and will, by working together as a cohesive team over the course of several hours, produce a new episode for Food Network.

I found this out firsthand over the summer when a local gang of black ants moved into my house. These ants are tenacious, maybe even twelvacious, and refuse to leave. It’s possible that they are related to the creatures discussed in the classic 1954 documentary Them!, a film about giant mutated ants that, after escaping from the Nevada nuclear test range, move to New York to attend a special high school for gifted dance students looking to make it big on Broadway. Or perhaps that was Fame. It’s hard to tell the movies apart with all those moving legs.

I tried several different ant killers, including sprays, powders, and “ant traps,” which are more like “ant Sizzler salad bars” from the way the ants kept returning for more. The local home center offered a product that promised to make ants as scarce as that store’s employees, which seemed numerically impossible. I even bought one pesticide that was supposed to kill the ants and leave behind “the refreshing scent of oranges.” Ants love oranges.

Of course, the treatments did kill a few thousand ants. But the typical colony is made up of millions of ants, each working for the benefit of the nest and its queen: building homes, collecting food, responding to calls from angry cable TV customers. They accomplish all this and more because, despite having brains no larger than that of the typical Nobel Peace Prize committee member, they are highly social creatures. Ants communicate by means of chemical signals called “pheromones,” a term derived from the Greek words “pherein,” meaning “to transport,” and “horomone,” meaning “across a 3G wireless network for one low monthly fee.” This signal system is tremendously complex and allows groups of ants to work on projects like a team.

Ant 1: Hey Larry, can you move that piece of sand next to your right hand?

Ant 2: Like this?

Ant 1: No, I meant your other right hand.

Ant 2: Oops, sorry. How’s this?

Ant 1: No, I meant your other other right hand.

My point is that killing ants doesn’t seem to be working. Instead, I’ve come up with another method: introduce presidential campaigns to the ant world. By breaking ants up into distinct political parties—including Democr-ants and Insect-pendants—and removing all restrictions on campaign contributions, those ants will be arguing social policy and voting for whichever ant has the best antennae presence in no time. In a colony where every drone and worker will dream of growing up to be the first black ant president, they won’t have time to worry about wrecking my home.

In that great and glorious day, I will finally be able to say “good riddance” to this plague of ants and rejoice in never needing to see them in my house again. Unless they know of some way to get rid of this orange smell.

Tim Patrick

Tim Patrick is an author, software developer, and the host of Japan Everyday. He has published a dozen books and hundreds of articles covering technology, current events, and life in Japan. Find his latest books at

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