The crazy ants in my Salem kitchen

A single ant can seem almost heroic.

There he is on the counter searching for food, lifting one hundred times his own body weight in – what?

Cupcake crumbs? Dried juice? Spilled honey? Maybe I left a few granules of sugar on the counter after serving guests coffee one evening and forgot to wipe down the surface.

But there he is.

Surely, we all can identify with a tiny ant going about his business, one working, walking stiff just trying to find his way.

I don’t always know what it is that I’ve neglected in the kitchen the night before, but I can tell you there is nothing heroic about waking up to an army of ants moving in a silent mirage like a Salvador Dali painting come alive. In fact, the word that springs to mind is always “teeming.”

And that’s when my skin begins to itch and I become an angel of the ant apocalypse, raining vengeance on them with a spray bottle of Clorox Green Clean. I leave them in a mass grave, crumpled, wet and destroyed.

My brother-in-law Jeff says the ants that share our kitchen here in Salem are similar to the “hormigas locas,” or “crazy ants,” that live in Panama. Crazy ants are travelers foraging far from their nests – our guess is that ours actually live under our herb garden about seven feet from the outside wall of our kitchen.  These crazies are highly adaptable and prefer moist environments. The more I learn about them, the more I have started to consider them just part of the fabric of living here in Salem.

But the word on the street (okay, on NPR) is that these swarms are becoming increasingly more common across the United States.

The other, infinitely more troubling characteristic of these buggers is that they move in what entomologists would call a highly erratic fashion. At the moment you discover them, they scramble, exploding like fireworks in every direction.

In Panama, Jeff found, the way to cure the crazy was to accept a life lived in balance with the ants, which is the only real solution when your house is basically an unsealed wooden shack and your Peace Corps stints lasts only two years. But we live in a 1910s cottage in Northeast Salem, near the State Hospital, and we didn’t sign up to live in a group home.

So naturally we’ve done what everyone else has done – buying plastic white ant hotels, dribbling boric acid at the baseline of all the cabinets and at the all of the edges of our house.  These are temporary solutions that fail when these tiny travelers revisit, or as I often imagine, get smart.

Pesticides can only offer a short-term relief –real peace of mind comes from scrubbing down your surfaces and evolving into your own Mini-maid. This is no small task for someone like me, who once thought that doing the dishes after dinner spoiled the meal.

These ants have brought out the best in me.  Ant season may only come for part of the year, but now, I’m like a woman on fire who has her settings set to “hospital-grade clean.” It’s so sparkling in here that no one is eating off of our floor.

I still come across the occasional ant scouting for food. But he’d be crazy to stop here.


6 Responses to “The crazy ants in my Salem kitchen”

  1. Emily Grosvenor Says:

    My husband just asked me why the breakfast shot? Well, look how clean my kitchen is! I’ll post some ant pics if they ever come back…

  2. Chris Hahn Says:

    We’ve had the same problem here every summer. The interesting thing is, we have sticky syrup bottles, and honey, and various others goodies in the open pantry just across from the sink, and it gets no ants. The sink area gets a herd of 30 or 40 every morning, and it’s uncluttered and spic and span. We get alot in the dishwasher too, which is gross. Ew.

  3. Sophie Says:

    I like the ant season here in Salem — at our apartment, it is warm weather, and really wet weather. So, year-round we have ants. We live at a complex notorious for it’s ants, actually, and the management hasn’t been able to conquer them in 10 years or so. It’s each renter for himself!

    I always feel lousy when I come into the kitchen and see it “teeming” because it makes me feel… dirty. I am a tad OCD about keeping a clean home, so I don’t appreciate the connotation ant-infestation brings. And it surprises me what they do and don’t find appetizing, like Chris said. The sticky ooze from my tube of tomato paste? YES. The bag of marshmallows? Not so much. We have traps set all the time but occasionally I just have to shove everything into the oven or microwave for protection, remember not to turn them on, and spray down all the cupboards and countertops.

    We also found that removing the electrical outlet covers and spraying RAID into the wall really keeps the buggers away for several weeks. But it stinks and is highly toxic; not very earth-friendly. Sigh.

  4. Emily Grosvenor Says:

    We have had times where they have left and foraged elsewhere. But they always come back! The grossest ant attacks are the ones where they go after our catfood. We’ve developed rube goldbergesque contraptions to keep the catfood from being infested. I can’t bring myself to go all napalm on the ants for fear the toxicity will harm us, the pets, or the baby, so I’m back to being very un-me. Clean.

  5. butchjackson Says:

    We had sugar ants in our last home. We moved recently and with our wild ten year old son, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before they find us.

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