Ant Season

It’s a battle of wills on my kitchen counter.

Photo by Linny Morris

This summer’s raison d’être for popcorn, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, includes a scene with a mass of swarming, man-eating ants. The ants, as bright red as Twizzlers, are enormous and, before the scene is over, have consumed a grown Nazi. Worse, they nearly make off with Indy’s famous fedora.

Parts of the movie were shot on the Big Island, in the rainforests of Puna. This is a source of pride for the Big Island Visitors Bureau, which put out a press release detailing the action-packed sequence. But in case potential tourists worry that swarms of flame-colored, two-inch-long ants call Puna home, the press release reassures, “Never mind that gigantic ants and vicious monkeys attack everyone, those were created in the fertile imaginations and computers of the special effects team, far from Hawaii.”

True, vicious monkeys are in short supply. And Island ants are much tinier than those shown in the film—they’re not likely to drag a 200-pound man into their ant hill. They might abscond with an apple banana, but not a whole bad guy. Still, we’ve got ants, and ants galore.

In my apartment, ants are seasonal, unwelcome house-guests. Each summer, like tiny ambassadors from Planet Ant, they stream in parades up our concrete building, jimmy the windows on our apartment and gallivant around on the kitchen counters. What can possibly be so exciting about my kitchen that they’re willing to walk sideways up to the 16th floor?

Illustration by Jing Jing Tsong

That’s my problem with ants: I do not understand their motivations. They don’t gross me out the same way roaches do. Roaches are unsanitary, crude little thugs who waggle their antennae at you. I recoil from a roach, but a stream of ants, well, I just want to know what they’re up to. Where are you going, little guys, and why? 

I can empathize when they seem interested in my sink (water supply), a jar of honey (quick energy from sugar) or maybe the savory protein found in a morsel of bacon. But I can’t fathom why they are so interested in my laptop. Are they trying to check their e-mail?

To determine what kind of ants I am playing host to, I consulted the Web site of the Hawaii Ant Group, ( dedicated “to the better understanding of ants and their impacts in Hawaii.” The site has a checklist of hundreds of Hawaii-based species (collect them all!). Several are even environmental threats: the Argentine ant, bigheaded ant, little fire ant and longlegged ant.

Armed with my new knowledge, I checked back with the tiny villagers on my countertop. None of them are doing the tango, seem particularly pompous, are self-immolating or have gams insured for a million.

They’re just basic ants.

So I sprayed them with basic orange oil. It’s supposedly safe around “people, food and pets,” though I’ve certainly tried taking out other hits on the ants’ lives: puck-shaped ant baits, pesticide-laden chalk. A friend recommended a deadly brew of boric acid and sugar water. I’m not above the Mick Jagger method of pest eradication, either—“Under My Thumb.”
I spray them, the ants come back. I squish them, the ants come back. My will exhausted, I finally learn to live with them.

Then with the first cooler nights of fall, they disappear into the darkness, leaving me alone with my fruit basket.
Until next summer.