Not The Argentines!

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It's not just human beings that know to come in out of the cold, wet rain. Michael Ellis is now hosting a particular troublesome pack of house guests.

This past weekend my home was attacked by thousands of tiny invaders. I know I was not alone in this. Often after the first significant rains of the season, ants enter human dwellings. And it is not just any species that happens to be in your neighborhood heading to your kitchen, but they are most likely Argentine ants. If this were a movie there would be a scream right now – Oh my god!!! Not the Argentines!

I want to reassure those folks who’d like to blame their roommates or spouses, that the invasion usually has nothing to do with bad housekeeping. These ants basically strive for and thrive in the same perfect Goldilocks conditions that you and I enjoy – 75 degrees and dry.

Ants are the dominant insects on the Earth; there are 14,000 different species. Get used to them. Argentine ants were first identified in New Orleans around the turn of the last century and they have been on a serious march ever since. Researchers discovered a few years ago a mega-colony, and I do mean mega, that ranges from San Diego to San Francisco, 560 miles, and may contain one trillion ants. But circling the Mediterranean Sea, there is an even larger one at 3700 miles long. The original range in South America was limited to lowlands along the Parana River but clearly these ants have what it takes to thrive. They have colonized six continents, 15 countries and many oceanic islands. Argentine ants are in the top 100 nasty critters that have spread unchecked throughout our planet.

All researchers agree that the extraordinary success of the Argentine ants is due to reduced aggression and therefore cooperation, rather than hostility, among the members of the super-colony. Biopesticides and a tidy kitchen will certainly help but it won’t halt the initial invasion but at least you can feel like you are doing something. These ants are only 1/16 of an inch long and can squeeze through quite narrow cracks. The only way to stop them is to totally seal up your house.

Good luck with that.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist living in Santa Rosa.