On Long Island, we’re surrounded by so many great ways to celebrate spring. Some people plant seeds or attend a baseball game. Others enjoy a picnic at the park or fly a kite at the beach.
I call the exterminator.
It might not sound like a fun tradition, but every year around March 20, I spot an ant or two walking across my kitchen floor. That ant is called a scout. His job is to leave its nest and look for food. If he finds a source, he returns home and then brings back his family and friends. If I don’t call the exterminator at the first sighting, the insects take over my kitchen.More ExpresswayReader essaysReader essaysGet published in NewsdayCartoonDavies' latest cartoon: At the employment office
But this year was somewhat different. As I sat down to eat lunch in my dining room on March 20, an ant crawled along my placemat and onto my hand. It was unusual because the ants have always stayed out of that room. But I had a hunch. I dashed into the kitchen and opened the cabinet that held my placemats, and there was a welcoming committee waiting. Yes, a hundred ants or more scurried around the pots and pans.
Horrified, I drove to the hardware store in a frenzy and bought ant spray and ant traps for the kitchen, plus granular bait to scatter around the perimeter of the house. This was an emergency — no time to wait for the exterminator.
Though I set out the traps, sprayed the Raid and scattered the granules outdoors, I knew it wouldn’t put an end to these pests. So I emptied the drawers and cabinets of kitchen tools, silverware and pots and pans. Within a short time, I did find only dead ants in the cabinets. I swept them up and put them in the trash. Knowing that ants possess a highly refined sense of smell, I bought a slice of pizza for dinner — and ate it in my car. That night, I dreamed that I was covered in maple syrup and the ants made a feast of me.
The next morning, I walked into the kitchen and fear coursed through my veins. The ants were back — on the floor, in a drawer, on a light switch, even in the dishwasher. I called the exterminator and pleaded with him to come as soon as possible. He sprayed the kitchen — and the pests retreated.
But a week later, the ants were back.
Now I had serious questions: What was different about these ants? Why wouldn’t they go away? Was it some kind of a superspecies? I was thrust into the role of ant detective.
I Googled information about ant colonies and was astounded to see images of complex mazes and underground pathways. Long Beach is merely a barrier island, so is that what it looks like in the sandy soil under my house? I discovered that ants have been around for 100 million years or more. Though there are 7 billion humans on Earth, there are 10 quadrillion ants. Some nests can extend 15 feet below ground. Did I really believe I could conquer this type of beast? Ants have been known to fight to the death. Was I willing to go that far?
Something outside my kitchen window offered a clue to my infestation. A bulldozer had dug up the concrete patio of the house next door, just 10 feet from my property. Did the workers disturb ant nests? If so, I needed a solution fast.
Briefly, I considered renting an excavator to empty the entire contents of my yard and my neighbor’s yard, then replace it with clean, ant-less soil. But that sounded so complicated. I even thought about asking a real estate agent to put my house on the market. But instead, I’m going to wait it out. There’s a limit on how long these ants can last — and now I’m counting the days until the first frost.
Reader Kathy Levine lives in Long Beach.