In the summer of 2018, the ants started invading. My husband and I did everything we could think of to kill of this invading army of little black ants. Somehow, enough survived to launch additional assaults.
I read “The Ants Go Marching” in episode 039 of my Words of Jen podcast.
The Summer of 2018 was a dramatic one. There was more than one heat wave. It seemed like at least half of California was either on fire at any given time, or extinguished… or on fire again. Organizations that keep track of air quality posted warnings on social media strongly encouraging people to stay indoors when the smoke got bad.
Some of this happened around the time the second pollen season of the year started up. As someone whose chronic illnesses include allergies and other autoimmune diseases, I was pretty much stuck indoors for a while.
It was then that the ants decided to invade.
I noticed the ants when I walked down the hallway, toward the room with the TV and our cockatiels. A line of little black ants was coming in the back door and heading straight into the bathroom (which was located almost exactly across the hallway). Some of them had started exploring the TV room.
My husband, Shawn, who was watching TV, was unaware of the ants. He’s legally blind, and the tiny black ants, most of whom were crossing a decorative concrete floor that was black and dark grey, were invisible to him.
I had no idea what the ants wanted, and they didn’t seem to either. One thing was clear – they didn’t want the kibble that our cockatiels fling all over the floor. This was unsurprising. When we first switched the cockatiels from seed to kibble – they didn’t want it either. The ants would bump into a kibble, stop and consider it, and then go right around it.
We did not have any ant poison.
So, I did what I could with what was at hand. It turns out ants die pretty quickly if you spray them with a blue colored liquid glass cleaner. There’s ammonia in it. Spray that on ants, and they start moving really slow, then curl up and die, and get stuck to the floor. I figured that would hold off the tiny invading army for a while, which gave me time to power clean the TV room.
The first thing I did was sweep the floor. I found one, round, bright green, M&M that had rolled underneath one of Shawn’s guitars. The ants had not discovered it yet, but I suspected this was what they were after. It ended up in the kitchen trash can, which has a lid, and a texture that would be difficult, if not impossible, for ants to climb.
This led to a scorched-earth style cleaning which involved moving furniture, more sweeping, and much effort with a steam mop. My hope was that this would destroy whatever chemical trails the ants had created, and leave them with no idea where to go. Ideally, they would conclude there was no food here and go back outside. One could hope.
I sprayed some more glass cleaner on the remaining ants I found, and called that good enough. I was exhausted, and super allergic, and probably shouldn’t have decided to expose myself to that much dust when there was so much smoke in the air. For good measure, I sprayed a small puddle of glass cleaner by the back door where the ants had come in.
Very few ants trickled in the next day. I had successfully quelled the ant invasion!
The day after that, I learned that ants will come back to pick up their dead.
I quick internet search revealed that dead ants release some kind of chemical, or hormone, or whatever, when they die. It smells like death and alerts the rest of the ants to the location of their corpse. There was now a line of tiny, black, Borg-like creatures carrying out the bodies of the dead ants they scrapped off the floor. Some were carrying pieces of dead ants.
They weren’t collecting the dead out of sympathy, or mourning, or a “no ant left behind” mentality. According to the internet search, ants are programmed to pick up dead ants and move them to a pile of ant corpses somewhere away from where the rest of the ants are living. Which means these ants thought my home was part of their ant tunnel.
I did not find that to be comforting.
Shawn set out to get some ant poison. There was a brand of it we had used in the past that worked really well. He asked me if I wanted anything else while he was out. I asked for more glass cleaner. Unfortunately, the store Shawn went to was completely out of ant poison. Not just the really good kind – but all the ant poison.
Fortunately, the store had bottles of blue glass cleaner. I used it to poison every ant I could find. Next, I cast a half-circle of used coffee grounds around the door where the ants were coming in.
Would this work? There was an ant, heading for the exit. It bumped into the wet coffee grounds, recoiled in horror, and tried its best to go around it. I left him to figure out his own way home and hoped for the best.
The next day, the ants were back. They headed straight for the bathroom and claimed the bathmat. I threw it out on the back porch and swept up the coffee grounds. I sprayed the remaining ants with the blue glass cleaner, watched them die, and then picked up the dead with a paper towel (which ended up in the kitchen trash can).
Shawn found an article online from our local news. It included a video. The news interviewed several people whose homes had been invaded by ants. This explains why the stores were entirely out of ant poison.
The war with the ants wasn’t over. They launched a third invasion, the biggest so far. A two lane highway of ants went from the back door, down the hallway, and into the kitchen. They were targeting something I could not immediately identify and moving fast.
Shawn went out in the hopes of finding ant poison, while I killed the ants with blue glass cleaner. It was horrifying how fast they were moving, and how many of them there were. My plan was to get some writing work done, but that had to wait. The ants were marching under the refrigerator, and under the stove, and…. then I found their target.
There was one, little, desiccated piece of apple skin on the floor near the kitchen trash can. I angrily picked it up and threw it in the trash. I keep cleaning, and these little marching demons find the smallest thing and decide it’s enough to wage war for.
I returned to my computer, but was too angry to work on the writing I had planned to do. So, I posted a haiku of frustration and rage on social media:
And then…the ants invaded
Had to murder them
Shawn returned home victorious, carrying the prized ant poison we desperately needed. These were little plastic squares with a raised part on top that had little openings for ants to come in and get the bait. We put one by the back door where the ants were coming in, and one in the kitchen under the refrigerator. I figured that the ants who were coming down the hallway and turning at that corner would head right into the ant poison.
A tiny spider decided to become my ally. He built a nearly invisible, delicate, web on the wall and across the floor of the ant highway. I could see three or four round, black, wiggling ants that the tiny spider had captured.
Over the next day or so, there was a noticeable reduction of ants. We waited, and left the ant bait on the floor. The result was a few, peaceful, days with no ants. They were gone! Believing the war with the ants was over, we threw out the ant bait. Why? We have cockatiels who like to come out of their cage from time to time. Most of them stay on the top of it, but some go down the hallway… and get curious and poke at the things they find.
A few days ago, I was up until the wee hours of the morning trying to get some writing done. Around 2 AM, I walked into the bathroom and found a ton of ants crawling around the sink and across the counter. I ran to get the blue glass cleaner from under the kitchen sink.
On the way out, I came face to face with a medium-sized spider, who was sitting on the open door frame, doing nothing. “Well, you’re not doing your job, now are you?” I complained at the lazy spider.
I let Shawn know we had more ants. He told me there were two more ant baits, which I found and carried with me. The lazy spider had disappeared while I was gone.
So now, I’m power cleaning the bathroom, spraying windex like a gunslinger, and intentionally removing the dead from where they lie. A second cleaning product was deployed like napalm all over the bathroom sink, in the hopes of deterring the ants that seemed to be coming out of the drain. I scoured and scrubbed the sink, the toilet, and part of the wall that the ants had climbed to get up to (or down from) the sink.
The shower did not need to be cleaned, as it was left in a half-finished state. We hired a guy to replace the toilet (which was broken beyond repair due to how old it was) remove the bathtub (that came with stains I could never get out) and build a shower. He did an excellent job, but suggested someone else to do the tile work.
We ran out of money for that project, which was ok, because he have a second bathroom. The point of this is that the edge of the still under construction shower has treated wood going across it. The ants do not like it at all, and turned back around when they found it.
Time goes by, and I find myself alternating between killing the ants that come out of the sink and the ones that are crossing the bathroom floor. Slowly, their numbers start to diminish. Fewer ants were trickling in.
Every so often, I pushed the ant bait that I put down in the middle of the bathroom floor, and in front of the incoming ants, a little bit farther back. I wash my hands and leave a pile of soap bubbles in the bottom of the sink, hoping the ants won’t want to cross it. I spray a few more floor ants, and push the ant bait a little bit farther, gaining ground.
I know the ants are looking for food, but feel no remorse or guilt for murdering them. In the backyard, we have an amazingly abundant lemon tree that constantly produces lemons. When I go to pick up the dropped lemons, I have to flick the ants off of them before I can take the lemons inside. There is a wonderful, natural, endless supply of sugar out there… and yet, they choose to invade my home.
I select a line in the decorative concrete tile floor and choose it as a border. The ants that cross it get picked up with a square of toilet paper, dropped into the freshly cleaned toilet, and left to drown. I’m standing beyond that line, waiting for ants to cross it, and destroying them. I am Gandalf, yelling “You shall not pass!” (but using a spray bottle instead of a staff).
Eventually, the invading ant army is left with only a few, confused and poisoned ants wandering aimlessly about. The battle is won!
This morning, shortly before I started writing this, I found ants in the bathroom once again. Will this war never end? I strategically moved the ant bait that was already in the bathroom to a spot that interrupts the slow trail of incoming ants. The other ant bait was still by the back door, where the ants stubbornly and stupidly keep coming in.
When I was at my acupuncturist appointment the other day, I told her about the ant invasion. She suggested I sprinkle some cinnamon around where the ants were coming in. Ants hate cinnamon, and all it takes is just a little bit to deter them. So, I tried it.
There was nothing to lose, except a little bit of cinnamon. The ants had learned to avoid the ant bait, and had been going around it or underneath it.
To my surprise, the cinnamon seemed to work. No more ants came in. I periodically swept the few ants that remained, and who couldn’t figure out how to get outside, right out the back door. Then, I’d check them again later, and sweep a few more back outside. One time, a small spider was rushing to get in the open door, but changed his mind as I swept the ants out. I’m hoping he’s hungry.
The scent of cinnamon is now wafting through my home. Victory smells like pumpkin pie.
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