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Invading Ants Make Living Conditions No Picnic

I found an ant in my house a few years ago. I stepped on it. That might have been the end of it, except that my friend George found out about it. George, it seems, had just lost a doghouse to termites, and he had this thing about ant-like insects. He warned me that this was just the beginning, that I would soon be infested by ants if I did not take pre-emptive action.

I checked with several exterminators, and none of them seemed a bit concerned, but George was very insistent. He brought over his friends Dick and Don and Paul, and they all agreed that I needed to do something right away. George was so sure of himself, and anyway, he was a member of my church, so I thought I could trust him. Furthermore, he and his buddies were standing on my porch armed with tools, I couldn’t very well refuse them.

They had an unorthodox plan—they were going to drill some holes through my wall. The idea was that ants are outdoor creatures, and they know it. Given free choice, they will leave the house and go outdoors where they belong. I pointed out that after drilling there would be holes in my wall, letting in cold air and all kinds of creatures, but George and his friends were certain that only good things would come in and bad things would leave. Anyway, by the time I had decided not to let him drill, the holes were already there. George and his friends left.

Dick told me that there are always a few ants who don’t realize that they belong outdoors, I should just kill the ones that are in the house. “They are in the last throes of coming in,” he told me.

The ants now had freedom to come and go as they pleased. Pretty soon I had a lot of ants in my house. I called George and told him I had a problem, and he and his friends came over to look. Don said, “Freedom is messy.” Dick told me that there are always a few ants who don’t realize that they belong outdoors, I should just kill the ones that are in the house. “They are in the last throes of coming in,” he told me. Just for insurance, they drilled a few extra holes. Corpses began to build.

Soon a serious problem developed. It seems that there were red ants and black ants in my yard, and they did not get along. As they came into the house, they fought with each other, adding to the corpses, and neither of them liked me, so I was getting bitten all the time. Further, my children began to play with them, trapping them in little houses and pulling off their legs. They got a big kick out of that and took pictures of the crippled ants and showed their friends. I told them that this was wrong, but they said that George and Dick had told them that the normal rules about treating animals kindly did not apply to ants, so it was OK.

In addition to the growing supply of corpses, it was getting cold in my house. I thought about plugging up the holes, but George insisted that his plan was actually working. If I plugged up the holes, then all of the ants that were in my house would be trapped there, I needed to give them a way to get out. He said that my other friends who were telling me to plug the holes did not know what they were talking about, even John, who had won three commendations for his former extermination business. George hinted that John had lied about his accomplishments to get those awards. I pointed out that George had never even been in the extermination business, but he said he had learned a lot and anyway, once you start on a particular course of action, you shouldn’t change until it had had a chance to work.

It is now four years later. My house is a mess, and my legs are covered with bites. The red ants have taken over the dining room and the black ants have the living room. They keep raiding each other. I can’t go into either room. All of my friends say I should stop listening to George. George says he is very concerned about the situation. He says it is demoralizing to his workers to think that all their hole-drilling has been in vain, and if we give up now it will only embolden the ants to invade other houses. He has a new plan, he is confident this one will work: he wants to drill some more holes in my walls. What do you think I should do?

David Reingold is a professor of chemistry at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa.