If you engage online discussions on animal and wildlife issues, sooner or later you’ll encounter the troll who has something like this to say:
“You Bambi freaks are such hipocritical [sic] idiots. You think *%@# animals are more important than humans but when rats and bugs infest your pathetic houses you’re the first killers.”
Okay, that’s lightly paraphrased … but I’m very, very close on this. 🙂
What the average, talking-point troll doesn’t understand is that a lot of people who care about “Bambi” generally take pains to avoid other inadvertent killing — even understanding the impossibility of living without harming something or someone on this earth.
Enter the ants. For the better part of my adult life, I’ve been challenged by my coexistence imperative with them. I also made a commitment in the 80s to forgo toxic products in the house and garden, for the animals and for me, too. So in removing the nerve-gas arsenal that most people employed in the pre-Google era, I was left to ingenuity and leg work to deal with the issue.
Many times, I just wasn’t ingenious enough to dissuade these diligent, 24/7 workers. Actually, I failed miserably in my trial and error. Ants barreled right over natural repellants and barriers, and in the most notable case, a huge colony inhabited the entire terrain under my parents’ hillside home in Southern California.
You probably know that ants work day and night. And day and night. In fact, if you need a lesson in the effectiveness of perseverance, coexist with an ant hill and you’ll walk away with new resolve to “be the ant.” The ant ground force that took over my mom’s kitchen rivaled the PLAGF. My parents tried every maneuver known to human-ant conflicts, and the ants always prevailed.
When Hugh and I moved to our townhouse in Los Angeles, it didn’t take long for a much smaller army of savory-loving ants to stream in through our screen door looking for leftover crumbs from Kings Road Cafe. Because we had autonomy over our immediate environment (as opposed to a condo or apartment) I was able to observe and track the ants from their indoor entry point, to their garden colony outside. I know a lot of people would have crop dusted the area. But, I was determined to fine-tune a least-lethal approach for future incidents.
I tried a number of things including the usual natural barriers like citrus and cinnamon. Someone suggested coffee grounds as barrier layer but these ants actually seemed to like the java. We plugged up entry holes but ants found other ways inside. I put a sparse barrier of food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE) in a few areas. I did it reluctantly because this is not entirely non-lethal to ants. It’s non-toxic in the environment and to other animals, but it’s a desiccant for some insects. I found the ants avoided it for good reason, but that thin trench of DE still wasn’t enough of a deterrent.
Finally, after exhausting these antagonistic options, I decided I’d try to work with ant physiology. I knew they were coming in to eat and drink so I thought … why not provide them with the same options outside? What did I have to lose? I put dollop of their favorite savories in a tiny dish near the entry point and within a day, the ants had new marching orders to eat outside. Not a single scout remained indoors. I gradually moved the little dish farther and farther from our wall and the ant trail followed.
For the entire seven years we lived in that spot, the ants seemed happy with this arrangement — unless I let the supply dry up for too long or an opossum took out the ant food in one gulp. This was also Southern California where it never rained and barely poured (see: Albert Hammond) and using a system of natural barriers tends to work better in a dry climate. Your tools don’t get washed away.
Finding balance between human and non-human needs isn’t always successful — and the living situation might preclude having any control whatsoever over the environment. If you search “natural ant deterrent,” for example, you’ll come upon numerous accounts of exasperated people trying to do the same. It’s not hard to find the least toxic methods and avoid the noxious sprays. A commonly used remedy is diatomaceous earth as a barrier, or a borax mix that will ultimately kill the colony if the ants take the bait. It’s much harder, however, to find ways to live alongside the animals who don’t abide by our self-imposed boundaries.
But, for the record — for the future trolls I’ll encounter in online discussions — yeah, it’s tough and maybe a bit too unconventional to try for peaceful resolution when our pathetic Bambi-loving houses are overrun by rats and bugs. And sometimes the best intentions really don’t work, and other means have to be considered for the health and well-being of all. But, making the assumption that everyone resorts first to annihilation doesn’t get you off the hook for your hatred of coyotes, ‘coons and pidgins [sic]. You’ll have to work a lot harder to convince me that lethal control is the best, first or only response in this shared universe of species intermingling and multiple options.
Video by the above-referenced Albert Hammond: