Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fire on the Front (yard)

The battle against the insects continues on another front. I am waging war on the army that has been massing these past few weeks. Through some unintentional reconnaissance, I discovered a large camp housing several battalions of my particular foe.

I found a big mess of fire ants on the side of the house. I was pulling up a tall weed, and as the grass parted, the mound became visible, and in half a second, a brown tide of angry ants came boiling out toward me, covering the adjacent fence boards and climbing the stalk toward my hand frozen on the stalk.

When I was a kid, we had two kinds of ants to contend with; little black ants and red ants. The black ants were innocuous little societies, running and gathering and burrowing all the time, and I was content to watch them for hours (cumulatively) over the kid years. They were even OK to gently pick up to traverse the acre of your hand.

Red ants were the ones to watch out for. They were aggressive and dealt a painful sting. Their hills were a bit higher and their pace was more deliberate and ominous. The only redeeming aspect of their existence was that they are the primary food of the Texas horned toad.

This was all before the advent of the fire ant invasion from South America. Google it if you want to know more about the origins of these murderous little devils. Back before they came to oppress us, a kid could lay in the shade of a tree right there on the grass. For a half hour or more at a time, with no idea of being overrun by ants. Nowadays (how’s THAT for a geezer expression) one would be hard pressed to stand still in a yard of any kind for more than a few minutes for fear of attracting a traveling scout party of fire ants ready to kill and drag anything smaller than a Brahma bull to the (most likely) nearby ant hill.

I have seen baby birds knocked from the nest by an evening storm suffering on the ground, covered with biting, stinging, dismembering little terrors. Evil creatures. Their sting is where their name is derived; it burns like fire almost immediately, and even after you mash the deliverer to butter, the fresh bite still feels exactly like it is still being stung. The wound takes an overnight break, then develops into the characteristic little blister surrounded by an itching ring of fire. I think this is what Johnny Cash may have been inspired by…

I suppose the most frightening thing about them besides their toxicity is their teamwork. What happens when you step on (or near) the hill, phalanxes of heartless little soldiers are dispatched to swarm your foot, climb your leg and bite at the same time. The victim is suddenly compelled to start the “ant dance” in a futile attempt to dislodge them from their post. Feet are slapped, ankles are rubbed, shins are skimmed, shoes come off, heck I have seen pants come off in an attempt to repel the stinging hordes.

My Dad’s remedy, though not completely effective, is more fun to watch. His method is to take a spade full from one mound, place it next to another mound, take a spade from the second mound, place it in the original hill and likewise with the first shovel full. This technique pits the innate aggression of both “families” to maximum effect, and if he’s lucky, a soldier ant gets in to the queen’s chamber and delivers a fatal “check mate”.

It’s often the little things that bring one pleasure in the battle for yard dominance. My Dad has found one.

Now where did I leave my shovel?


innominatus said...

Those little guys sound awful. I remember reading about a guy who was hunting. He treestand broke and he fell and broke his back. He also landed on a fire ant nest. He had to crawl something like a mile on his elbows because his legs were non-functional, with the ants stinging him the whole way. Finally he got back to his truck and drove into town to get help. Crazy.

Tell ya what - I'll keep the toothache, you keep the Devil Ants.

Rob V. said...

My favorite way to eradicate a fireant hill is to pour gasoline on it until it's saturated. Then I wait about 45 seconds (allowing the fuel to penetrate), and then drop a lit match on the hill. I enjoy the satisfying sound of the "whoosh" at the point of incineration. I also enjoy the snap, crackle, pop sounds made as the ants get roasted. As the fire begins to die down, I plunge a spade deep into the mound and turn over a spade-full of dirt. That re-ignites the fire (producing another satisfying "whoosh"), and it also generally brings up a large collection of little ant eggs to join in the roasting party. When the fire dies down, there's usually an unattractive, round charred spot where the ant hill used to be. But, in about two weeks, the fast-growing San Augustine grass covers the spot. Might sound sort of cruel and ruthless, but it works.

Howlsatmoon said...

Dragn was introduced to their little brothers in Tucson some weeks back....Ant Dance indeed.

PS...Rob? Yup, that works well. They are demonic souls, don't fret none about 'em....

DammitWomann said...

I hate ants! Any kind - any color!