My grandparents lived in a small stucco bungalow in Burbank, with a great room in the front, dining room, kitchen and laundry room to the left, and two bedrooms and a bathroom with pink tiles to the right. A few steps down from the great room and off the laundry room was a den, which had originally been a large patio.
Off the den was a large concrete patio with a metal awning. Often, there was a trail of little black ants traipsing across the patio, lining up in single file to sneak into the house through a crack in the foundation.
I was intrigued by the ants. They were very tiny, delicate and determined. My grandmother wasn’t overly concerned with them, leading me to believe it was okay if they entered the house in search of food and water.
Until I met fire ants in Texas, I never felt a need to harm an ant. Instead, I was amused by their tenacity. The most assertive action I took against them was to place a leaf or rock in front of one of their parades to see if they went under, over or around the obstacle.
This essay by my grandmother, written in September 1963, explains why she didn’t bother to put out ant poison.
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I wish to heavens ants would stay out of my house. I hate to kill them.
They are so industrious. Scooting around on all fours…? Sixes? Eights? They push, pull, balance bits of matter a mere pinpoint to several times their size.
As so adventurous. You will find scouts reconnoitering the territory from the farthest, darkest corner to the ceiling overhead, and rug underneath.
I came into the kitchen this early, barely light morning and groped to the sink to draw water for the cereal. Something looked odd. I put on my glasses, turned on the light… the sink and thereabouts was just black with ants.
I shook my head in wonder and despair. Some weeks before when company came to dinner, I was just too exhausted to finish the last of the dishes. With misgivings, I stacked them in the dishpan, and went to bed worried that I would have to fight an army of ants the next morning. There was nary a one.
Now here with everything clean and dry, with absolutely nothing around, the place was crawling. So it might be as my friend says, they come not for food, but water. This late in the summer, with no rain, the grounds are dry no matter how much we hand-water.
Looking to plug their point-of-entry, the best way to rid of ants, I followed their narrow black ribbon, three and four abreast, some coming and some going. I was absolutely amazing by their circuitous route.
From the sink, they traversed 40 feet of counter, slithered down the wall to the floor, to the door opening, hugging the baseboard, and then zigzagging across the laundry to the door of the den, a few steps lower than the rest of the house.
Instead of taking the long way, marching down the two wide and deep stairs into the den, they veered to the far corner of the door sill, skimmed down the wall, and across the floor until they encountered a throw rug. You and I would simply have gone right across the rug, but for some reason, they circled it to reach the opposite side.
Angling off, and maneuvering an obstacle course of table and chair legs, they ended up at a tiny opening beneath the baseboard in the paneling. Tunneling through they reached the outdoors.
In a straight line, their march would cover 32-feet, but with the zigzagging, detouring, backing up, circling, I would add at least three feet.
Now 35 feet, doesn’t seem much of a distance, until you consider that a man, built perpendicular, could project his whole body about 15-20 inches at one stride, whereas an ant built horizontal, must cover the entire distance with his body.
If an ant is about ¼-inches long, he would need to propel himself four times to cover an inch; 50-60 steps to a man’s one. Thirty-five feet equals 420 inches; if a man’s stride covers 20 inches he would need to take… oh dear, let me not get mired in deep waters.
I wish I was a mathematician so I could figure out the comparative distance between man’s and ant’s journey.
Another remarkable thing, if an ant has climbed the outside wall of the kitchen, stolen through the window over the sink, snooped around, and Eureka! Water! I could understand that!
But it had to cross the den, climb stairs to the laundry, and then to the kitchen, and finally, mount counters to reach the sink. It must have taken real scouting and a power nose to smell out water at that distance. And it could easily have been misled by the door leading into the living room at the opposite end of the den. There wasn’t an ant within eighteen feet of it.
And there was no fooling around. From closing the kitchen door at night to opening it the next morning was only eight hours; considering their size not a very long time to scout, report, organize, and get a continuous line moving both ways.
There must have been thousands upon thousands of these uninvited creatures, but when they left there as not one bit of evidence around of their visit, as would be with other pests. They are clean.
But much as I admire them, they gotta go! If I turn my back, they will walk off with the house!