Ant Armageddon — By Jennifer Shipp
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Ant Armageddon — By Jennifer Shipp

Dead Costa Rican Ants
A community of ants lying dead in the corner of our living room after laying seige to our food.

Lydian and I stayed in today while John went on an emergency trip to the abastacedor after flour. We had all decided that we were on the brink of starvation and needed cookies. Low on flour, John offered to go to the little convenience store nearby. Someone had to stay here because Bernie the Plumber was coming to put in our new instant-on hot water heater for our shower.

As mostly vegetarians who are picky about things like trans fats and refined sugars, Alajuela has so far posed some challenges. We have been to the Walmart which had very expensive soy milk and some super dried up, but relatively healthy bread, but little else of interest. We have been to the MegaSuper which was mostly disappointing as well except for the soy protein meat replacer. I was pleased to discover honey at the abastacedor located 20 minutes from our home because I can slather that on the dry bread to make it edible.

For breakfast this morning, Lydian had tortilla chips and a slice of our super-dry raisin bread. Our food selection is homogenous, to say the least. When I want a snack right now, I go get a glass of water instead.

I discovered that the ants had gotten into our cupboards this morning. As a result, my breakfast was oatmeal sans raisins because the ants had already claimed them by the time I had warmed my cereal. This was upsetting, to say the least. The raisins really meant a lot to me. I was going to load up my cereal with them to really amp up the fiber factor and make it filling.

Lydian expressed some interest in my meager helping of instant oatmeal which was obtained with much effort from our trip to Walmart several days ago. Without raisins, my half-a-cup of oatmeal turned into a quarter-cup after I poured some into a little mug for Lydian. She glared at me hungrily after she saw how little was in there for her.

The ants, needless to say, are a problem. Indeed, they are the Big News at our house. We talk about them all the time. There were tiny ants that started crawling all over everything when we first began to inhabit this place. They were on Lydian’s textbooks, crawling up my computer cord, living in my keyboard (presumably eating the crumbs that were in there under the keys), and trying especially to get to the honey whenever there is any sitting out. The ants were irritating, but also mildly entertaining. Despite their pervasiveness in our house, we could still control them. They didn’t bite us or exhibit other hateful behaviors. I didn’t want to just kill them, but when they started living in my computer I decided I needed to be more aggressive and start smishing them when one ran across the table.

But those tiny ants weren’t that bad. And neither were they that small. Another set of ants moved in two days ago that were about half the size of the “tiny” ants, but with a lot more attitude. These little guys would be crawling up the legs of the table minutes after we started to eat dinner. They meant business, huddling on and around little pieces of onion rings and bread crumbs before I could even get the broom out to sweep up the mess. When these ants took up residency in our Costa Rican house, we decided it was time to declare war…officially.

Yesterday we purchased some ant spray and John performed the ritual throughout our abode that resulted in mass destruction to the various colonies of ants that were living in different corners of our house.

Of all the life forms I’ve observed so far here in Costa Rica, the ants have probably made the most lasting impression so far. There is a long line of ants that stretch for about a quarter of a mile on our walk to and from the bus stop on the street outside our house. They march along carrying huge pieces of leaves above them meandering over and under various obstacles on their way to some valued resource that they’re using right now to build something that is probably of great importance to them. Ants have so much personality, really. It’s just shame we can’t coexist.

Before we left on our trip, we went to a Buddhist meditation in Boulder, Colorado and the woman speaking on that day talked about an ant that she and other nuns saw at a retreat recently. The ant was on the table and all the Buddhists were trying to give it what it wanted. They tried to give it water. They tried to give it food. It didn’t want either of those things, she said. “What did the ant want?” She asked the congregants. She hesitated momentarily before giving us the answer in the hopes that we would come up with it ourselves. Then, she told us, ”The tiny ant just wanted to be happy.”

Costa Rican ant spray
John waging war on the ants in Costa Rica using a can of toxic stuff that can kill a variety of Costa Rican bugs.

Hmmm… Really?

I wonder if ants can be happy. I feel bad destroying their communities if they can feel happiness, but on the other hand, they’re destroying my happiness by eating my raisins. If the ants invade my whole home do I fight back or leave? This is a religious question apparently and one that different religions would answer very differently. The Christians would say that the ants are the work of Satan while the Buddhists and Jains would say that I should not harm the ants but try to live peaceably with them. I’m not sure if the Muslim people would think about ants really. They respect their livestock and take care of their cows and sheep and such, but ants may or may not qualify for the same kind of treatment.

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Bruised Banana