The Ants Came Marching Two By Two

The rain makes many creatures scarce, and it is making us glum.

For the mansion within our mansion lies echoing and uninhabited. There is no patter of feet, no politicking between queen and subjects, and no floor show at which the Shrewsdays may gawp.

I must rewind events a little: back to Christmas, when I was wracking my foolish middle class brain for educationally enhancing Christmas presents.

Will I ever learn? Christmas is for toys, not for education. It is the moment when we cease to browbeat our small loved ones with improving texts and trinkets, and allow them to eat crisps and watch Spongebob in a Santa suit.

No: I bought  a myrmicologist’s dream present. A formicarium. To you and I, an ant farm.

It was simple: you put together something which looked like a picture frame and filled the space between the perspex with super-ant-chow and sandy burrowing stuff.

They didn’t, however, provide ants.

Felix, predictably,forgot about it: but recently he reorganised his bedroom and rediscovered the farm. His nimble fingers and engineer’s genes made light work of constructing it, and in a trice it sat ready on the windowsill, an ant condo in trendy green plastic, a window on the ant world.

And there, the project hit a bit of a hitch.

Lately – maybe you’ve heard – an old-fashioned deluge, a veritable fludde has hit these islands. And I believe – correct me if I’m wrong – that ants don’t show their little antennae in heavy rain. It’s a bit hazardous, if you’re an ant, surfing all the ground water which appears swiftly from nowhere.

Added to this, in our inclement climate, the ant spends winter in a period of inactivity. Their alarm clocks were probably just about to go off when the fludde arrived.

Bottom line: we searched our garden, looking high and low. Not an ant showed its face. Nada. Rien.

So there we sat, glum and antless, when help came from an unexpected source.

It is 11 years since researchers at Stanford linked the behaviour of ants firmly to weather conditions. In the book Ants at Work: How Insect Society Is Organized, Deborah M. Gordon, associate professor of biological sciences, outlines how 69 households painstakingly recorded ant sightings in their San Francisco homes.

She and her team found that ants are most likely to breach human strongholds when it is wet. And cold.

This afternoon, Big Al and I trundled down to the primary school to collect Felix and my two stunning little nieces, the princesses.

“Marks out of ten for the day?” I asked each in turn. The eldest princess gave it a three. She looked affronted.

“What was the problem?” I asked sympathetically.

“My packed lunch was full of ants!” she exclaimed.

The drama; you have no idea. The princess had come to her pristine packed lunch of tuna fish sandwiches, yoghurt, fruit and cookie to find an army of ants had got there before her. Outside was wet and cold; and the school was warm and welcoming. A stand packed full of boxes of food was the perfect lure, and the little workers arrived to plunder the spoils.

How they got in is anyone’s guess: the school is a modern construction, sealed against the natural world, and my niece’s packed lunch box zipped tight. Yet still, somehow, they made it in. These creatures are little escape artists. They can penetrate anything.

The school arranged a school dinner and the packed lunch came home untouched by human hand.

I should have been sympathetic. I know. I should have commiserated the loss of the little girl’s favourite sandwiches. Instead, I had only heard this: “Blah blah blah blah blah ants blah blah blah.”

I looked disgracefully gleeful.

“Are they still in there?”

“I think so. I just shut them inside and walked away.”

“Can you bring me the box?” I interrogated. She looked at me as if I had quite lost my reason. Quick, get the phone, text Mummy, Auntie Kate has finally flipped.

She pottered off and brought it to me. My idiosyncratic behaviour had attracted an audience and everyone, even Big Al, soon knew the score. There was hushed silence, an awed pause as five pairs of eyes watched the zip being undone.

They must have been Houdini ants.

As mysteriously as they had appeared, they had plundered and gone back through the ant tunnel from whence they came.

The atmosphere of disappointment was palpable. You could cut it with a knife.

Our ant condo must remain vacant a little longer.


53 thoughts on “The Ants Came Marching Two By Two

  1. After MacAulay has visited, I’ll pack up the tool belts of the carpentar ants and send them to England with him. I’ll work desparately to not miss them!

  2. Not so much a lunchbox as an Ant Ark! Sensible choice, really; a waterproof shelter, packed with sustenance which will float merrily on the ‘veritable fludde’ 🙂

  3. We get ants all to easily, and I just hate them! I’ve awakened before to find millions, I know there are at least that many, all over the kitchen. And what brought them in…maybe a dead fly! Too much heat and they come in. Too cold? They come in…rain, yes, that, too! They’re awful! I would give an “ant invasion” a minus 1. A long time ago, maybe when I was a child, I think we could send away for the ants in the mail. I think they ought to provide the ants! Put lots of time into baking cookies or a cake, and I can almost guarantee you’ll have your ants! Debra

  4. I’ve got them!! They’re here in my garden!! I’ve also got your neighbours. Your neighbours’ neighbours. Your neighbours’ neighbours’ neighbours…

    I would post them to you, but I’m pretty sure they’d ‘Houdini’ their way out of the envelope.

    1. I know, I know! You should have been there, Fiona! And when not an ant was to be found, well, there were four disgusted kids staring at those tuna fish sandwiches.

  5. Such a funny post, the ups and downs of a possible ant kingdom dashed by their wicked little sneaky souls.
    We have so many kinds of ants here in S. Carolina that it is inevitable that they occasionally find their way inside to forage and plunder. The red fire ants are a scourge and can be a real problem in the yards while mowing. getting one or two on your ankles is a recipe for numbing pain and high pitched screams.
    check out this video which speaks highly of the little rascals.

  6. I shudder to think what our kitchen must be like, Kate!!!
    Never mind, I think we will be home next week – but folk here want to be sure June is really healed.
    The indications are very good today
    Love, Dad

    1. I love this, Karen – maybe we could learn a thing or two about eco-friendly temperature control from these guys…

      Thanks. Mum is talking properly for the first time in three weeks. Everyone’s so relieved!

  7. During the move, I found our sugar dish (on the counter, in the kitchen, away from the floor and everything) FULL of ants. It always mystified me how they ever got into the house, and into that specific corner, without being detected at all. I totally understand the lunchbox episode.

  8. Amazing how they appear and disappear. Even in the very center of the house, far from exterior walls and doorways, they’ll suddenly appear. And disappear. How, from outdoors, did they discover that morsel of food on the kitchen counter, or that single nugget of cat chow in the laundry room????

    1. They are really the master race, I think, PT, masquerading as small things. They probably have technology beyond our wildest dreams. Like on Star Trek.Especially those red fire ants.

  9. Just when we got rid of the big ants, in marched the tiniest ants you can ever imagine. It seems, under hushed breath, that everyone had them but weren’t going to say so aloud. A tip from a friend’s husband, under cloak of email, put us on to some new “traps”. We were told to leave it on the counter, not panic at the invasion, and let them all take the magic juice back to their hive. The troops marched in and out for a full day, up to the little trap and back, lines longer than any military could surmount so quickly . . . and then there were none.

  10. I think our Ant Form came with a mail-in coupon to get the ants. Perhaps you need to bait a trap with tuna sandwiches . . . out of Mac’s reach, of course.

  11. Clever ants. But still, shudder!

    I do love the image of the lunch sack as Ark. A merry crew of ants afloat in a lunch sack, well-provisioned, from a puddle in a school yard to a woodsy brook, straight on to the Thames… adventuring the fludde…

    Save that one for after the Macaulay series of picture books has stormed the world!

  12. I destest ants. We are plagued by them throughout the summer and I do whatever I can in an environmentally friendly way to get rid of them. Not even the cutsie Disney or Pixar movies about the little critters can make me even remotely fond of them. I admire their tenacity and their work ethic — I just don’t want either in my backyard or basement! Great post, Kate. Your poor niece!

    1. I think it’s the numbers, isn’t it, Kathy? They rather overwhelm one, especially when they’re everywhere in the kitchen and you can’t work out how!

  13. LOL! You just gave me a flashback to my childhood! I remember so desperately wanting an ant farm that I got a bucket and put food in it! It was situated right next to my father’s shed…You can only imagine what happened next and I got into a lot of trouble!

  14. Oh dear – you almost got the ants. Which reminds me, we also have an empty ant house somewhere tucked away in a child’s cupboard (if they won’t remember I sure won’t be reminding them of its existence 😉 )

  15. We get invaded by the small sugar ants at certain times of the year, and every now and then I find the odd outsized ant in the house – not my favourite creatures – Felix is welcome to them:)

  16. That is just the strangest of stories.. I can’t imagine how the ants squeezed their way in.. but they do scatter very fast, so I guess once they had their “loot” they marched off.. I wonder how the school will avoid having that happen again??

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