We have new pets: ants.
Usually our pet ants are feral ants that come in through cracks around the kitchen window. This causes Darling Husband to launch into his yearly prepared speech entitled, “Don’t leave any food on the kitchen counters.” Oh, and heaven help us if the ants are found in the playroom which is where Boy10 likes to eat yogurt in the morning. If there are ants in the playroom the yearly prepared speech becomes the yearly prepared rant, “No food in the play room! I mean it!” (Anybody want a peanut?)
But our new ants are not feral ants. There are pet mail order ants from Russia. My friend, Pam, bought Boy10 an ant farm for Christmas but we had to wait for the weather to warm up to get our mail order ants.
Our ant farm is an Uncle Milton ant farm with NASA engineered green space gel. Really—it has NASA engineered green space gel. A number of years ago scientists wanted to study the effects of zero gravity on ants so they sent a regular sand ant farm up into space. All of the astronauts were pretty excited about the ant farm and said they’d always wanted one when they were a kid, but their moms wouldn’t let them keep bugs in the house. The astronauts promised and promised the scientists that they’d feed and walk the ants every day. But, of course, they didn’t.
All the ants died, the astronauts had to come back down to earth, and the scientists had to figure out how to send ants into space without having to rely on unreliable astronauts. So they invented green space gel for the next batch of space-bound ants. The ants can both tunnel in this special NASA engineered green space gel as well as eat and drink it.
It started off well enough. The ants arrived in the mail and, as instructed, we put the tube of ants in the fridge (not freezer) for 15 minutes to slow them down. They’re harvester ants and are easily excitable and will bite you if they feel threatened. And they always feel threatened. But if you put them in the fridge they get so depressed at the cold that they’ll just lie there like little lumps when you pour them into the ant farm.
We dumped the depressed ants in the farm and after an hour or so, they thawed and began merrily digging tunnels. All was going well.
But two days later, they stopped digging. They clumped together in a creepy ant-ball and wouldn’t do anything. I left them that way for a couple of days thinking they might be tired from all their work and were taking an extended nap, but it was starting to get pretty depressing, for me and the ants. I’m thinking, “Why did they have to be mail order ants from Russia? They’re always getting depressed.”
I thought they needed a pick-me-up, so I doused a cotton ball with some vodka and popped it into the ant farm. Ok, ok. It wasn’t really vodka. It was water, because maybe they weren’t smart enough to eat their NASA engineered green space gel and were getting thirsty. I also gave them a bit of an orange.
They ran to the orange and ate it and then they all clumped together on top of the wet cotton ball and refused to move.
I gave them more food and water.
Too much water. Some of the water had dribbled into their tunnels and the floors of the tunnels had a little layer of water. Just enough that the ants couldn’t go in there without getting their feet wet. I considered boots, but not at 6 feet per ant. But what was even worse, was that the wet gel became very soft. If I tilted the ant farm, the gel would smoosh to the side. There was no way the ants could tunnel in it. It would be like trying to tunnel in pudding. In fact, there was one smothered ant in a collapsed bit of the ruined NASA engineered green space gel. The boys were a bit disturbed by the whole thing and so was I.
Something had to be done. We headed to a store to buy a new ant farm. But there were problems. First, it couldn’t be a gel farm obviously. It would have be a sand farm. Second, how would we transfer the ants from one farm to the other? See how the ant farm is big and round? The opening at the top is as big and round as the entire farm. You pop off the lid like a manhole cover.
This picture was within half an hour of getting the ants while they were still thawing.
The sand ant farms had teeny-tiny skinny rectangular openings. There was no way I could pick up 20 alarmed, snarling harvester ants and push them into a teeny-tiny skinny rectangular opening. They’d just leap away and bite my arm.
In the end, we didn’t buy a new farm. I decided to move the ants into some sort of big round-mouthed jar, clean out the gel, refill it with dirt, and then dump the ants back in.
It started off well enough. I put the ant farm and an empty jar in the bathtub, to contain any escapees. I used tweezers to pick up the cotton ball with the clump of ants on it and, bracing myself with horrified shrieking sounds, I quickly dropped the cotton ball into the jar.
Why the shrieking? Because it was horrifying. Holding a soggy cotton ball covered with a clump of angry red ants is creepy. It just is. One of them tried to run up the tweezers and fling itself onto me and rip out my throat.
And, much to my great dismay, I didn’t get all the ants. As soon as I had opened the lid, the ants got all excited and started dashing around the farm. So while I got a bunch of the slower ones who were still on the cotton ball, there were still a good half of them dashing about the farm. And now they were fighting mad.
From their point of view, their brother ants had just been abducted, most likely by aliens. I witnessed a few today-we-celebrate-our-independence-day speeches and determined come-back-with-your-shield-or-on-it instructions from the ants to each other as they prepared for death in their mighty battle against the alien.
Unbeknownst to the ants, I was most certainly more afraid of them than they were of me. While I had absolutely no intention of biting them, they were sharpening their fangs in preparation to bite me. Not a fair fight at all.
Darling Husband came in to see what all the hullabaloo was about and I told him I had no idea what to do with the ants that were running around inside the farm.
Without a lot of fanfare, Darling Husband picked up the ant farm and carefully, so as not to let the gel pour out, tapped the ant farm against the jar until all of the angry ants had been tumbled into the jar.
I scooped the gel out of the farm and put in some dirt. We dumped all the ants back into the farm and they quite merrily set about making tunnels again. It’s been about two weeks since then and the ants are still busily tunneling in their dirt farm.
Moral of the story: take care of your pets. If only those astronauts had fed and walked their ants no one would have had to invent that goofy NASA engineered green space gel that doesn’t work and I wouldn’t have had to wrangle with angry ants or write blogs about it.