Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I, For One, Welcome Our Insect Overlords

If you dislike ants (or long pointless posts, for that matter), it might behoove you to skip this post and come back tomorrow. For those of you who care for such things, read on!

It may not look like much, but I've been waiting for this package for a while.

What treasures could possibly lurk in such an innocuous package, you say.

I'm glad you asked. Look a little closer:

That's right, our harvester ants are here! Excuse me while I do a little "now we can finally use the ant farm Jack got for his birthday happy dance!"

These poor little dudes though. Based on the date on the address label, I'm guessing they've been trapped in their tiny mailing tube for at least six days. And I'm also guessing that my DC-area metal mailbox may qualify as a place that is subject to "EXTREME HEAT." And does "OPEN IMMEDIATELY" mean that it's okay to wait for your son to get off the school bus in two hours, or if you do that, does that make you even more of a monster than you were for ordering ants in a tube to begin with?

They don't look nearly as happy here as they do on the box:

At least they arrived alive and I didn't have to email the ant people at their ironic address of (See their adorable little water dish? On a related note, I'm looking for an ant sitter for when we go on vacation later this summer.)

There was all kinds of pre-ant preparation I would have known about had I read farther than "order your ants" in the Owner's Guide. There was supposed to be "sugar cement" preparation and "evaporation" and "prevention of tunnel collapse" and things of that nature.

I figured that after a week and 2 hours in their tube, the ants wouldn't care much if the sugar cement hadn't totally hardened. So we forged ahead and did an abbreviated version of ant habitat preparation.

Ant habitat preparation includes using little red "tunnel starter" sticks to, well, start their tunnels. And then the water part of the sugar cement you added evaporates and you take the tunnel starters out and the ants have a place to start their tunnels.

Or, if you are Team Stimey, you will jam the tunnel starters in the sand, put the ant farm in the sun for five minutes, get impatient, and bring it back inside to release the ants. If you are Team Stimey, you will probably leave the tunnel starters in the ant farm. Remember this. It will be important later.

Sweet freedom!

Those little guys moved faster than I expected them to. My whole family was gathered around the ant farm and there was suddenly a lot of screaming—some of it delighted, all of it by me.

The Owner's Guide had said, "Watch as these curious creatures quickly investigate their new home." They weren't kidding. They're fast.

Then all of a sudden, I realized the error of not taking the tunnel starters out. The ants were making a break for it. (The Owner's Guide's only advice for catching escapee ants? "...pick up the ants with the tweezers and put them back in the habitat." I've never picked up an ant with tweezers, but I don't imagine that it's easy.)

Even sweeter freedom!

There was more shrieking (by me). I started yelling, "They're going to get away! They're going to get away!" and pointed at one ant in particular who seemed poised for jailbreak on the very top of one of the tunnel starters.

Fortunately cooler heads prevailed, in the form of Alex, who calmly explained, "Where's he going to go? He can't fly, you know."

Oh. Right. Crisis averted.

We eventually got the lid on and watched the ants, who were very thirsty after their long trip. They did an awful lot of drinking. Then they organized and filled their water dish with sand.

It was crazy weird. Maybe that's why the Owner's Guide said I should take the water dish out after they were done drinking. I can't help but wonder if the ants regret cutting off their water source.

But because they're ants and their brains are smaller than the grains of sand they were carrying around, I'm guessing no. But even with those tiny brains, their group mind was amazing to watch. They're already building tunnels and creating their own little queen-less society. (Apparently federal regulations prohibit the mailing of queens.) Their little exercise in a doomed civilization due to their inability to reproduce is a little sad, I have to say.

But look at all the learning that commenced:

I'm hoping that my kids learn something different about ants than I learned when I had an ant farm a few years ago. I mostly learned about how ants dispose of their dead. (They carry them to a little burial site and stack 'em all up together.) I'm sorry to say that I wasn't a very good ant mom back then. I hope I've learned some lessons, because these 25 or so small insects are incredibly fascinating. I hope to keep them around for awhile.

I promise not to make this the summer of the ant. This won't be like the gerbils.



  1. Okay, I have mentioned in the last few days how much I hate ants. But those are the ones that come into my house after it rains for a few days.

    I imagine ants in an ant farm would be fascinating. I wouldn't mind watching them at all - as long as they didn't escape and make a bee line for my sugar bowl!

  2. Stimey, you are a brave, brave mom.

  3. Ant sitter? You've got one!

    Friend H

  4. huh, never experienced ants like that, I guess I'll learn something too every time you post. No bugs are allowed in our house, Bubba has a deathly fear of them. Lot's of swatting and screaming if a fly even comes in. *sigh*

  5. You are a better mother than me. I would be VERY unlikely to purposely bring bugs into my house, even if my children loved them.

  6. wow. I can't stand ants. Maybe being an ant sitter would be a cure for that....

  7. Sorry, but we have a no bugs rule in the house. I have no interest in ants. A worm farm though, I would LOVE. Good luck to you.

  8. I'll watch them. Do you want to bring them to me or should I pick them up?

    ~C in MT

  9. If we get an ant farm, can you come over and coach us in true Stimey style?

  10. Okay, these ants are the most fascinating damn things I have ever seen. Please go out and buy the GeoSafari Ant Zone right now. It is awesome. All three of my kids love it. As do I.

    No ant escapes yet, but Jack did try to aid and abet in one today.

    For you ant haters, think of how gratifying it would be for you to control their little worlds.

    Tech Savvy Mama, I will totally give you a tutorial. We could compare ant farms.

    L, a worm farm is the craziest, most ridiculous, grossest thing I have ever heard. Worm farm. Puh-lease. (Don't you know that they would plot to get out and then they would wait for you in your bed?)

    H, you're hired.

    C in MT, you're my backup.

  11. I think my boys would love ants, but we have hermit crabs and that's really all I can handle.

    Bettejo, maybe you could send the ones that come in your house to Stimey.


Thanks for commenting! May you be visited by unicorns and kittens.