Now I don’t know whether this is a national phenomenon or even a global one - maybe you good bloggers out there can inform me – but it certainly is a personally observed local one.
On the same day, at the same mysteriously appointed hour – perhaps when the soil reaches a certain temperature and the eggs hatch – every ant for miles around feels the need to boil upwards from its underground nest and swarm crazily on the surface of the human world.
And not just ordinary ants but the far superior and brutal looking flying ant too.
Basically the ordinary common-or-garden ant is just an ordinary GI Joe. Regulation uniform, hand me down rifle and one-size fits all combat training. On their own or in small numbers they’re so ineffectual as to be negligible. But when there are hundreds of them swirling over the patio like self stirring bug soup it’s time to wear industrial boots or risk the flesh being torn from your feet by a thousand clicking mandibles.
The flying ant by contrast is a force to be reckoned with on his own. Compared to the GI Joe he is a Stealth Bomber with a full payload and a bad attitude. He’s out to nobble whatever and whoever gets in his way. When you see a flying ant up close – and I’ve had one of the buggers insinuate itself into my mouth and bite the inside of my lip – you can really see the genetic connection between wasps and ants. They’re nasty, my friends, really nasty.
Anyway, yesterday, no matter where we went during the afternoon the ants were out. Darting through the air, swarming on the ground, mincing over cars, pinching their way up T-shirts and blouses and basically getting into every nook and cranny they could find. And if those nooks and crannies were human in origin all to the good. There was just no escape.
And much as I’m used to seeing this phenomenon by now (for it happens every year) it still has me scratching my head (in fact just plain scratching) and wondering: just what is the trigger? How do they all know to leave the nest at the same time – or rather how do all the nests know that this is the day to evacuate en masse? ‘Cos we drove to the next town and, just as in our garden a couple of miles away, the ants were erupting there too.
Is there some kind of insectoid Google that we humans don’t know about? Is there an arthropod graffiti network that tags small blades of grass with the date and time of the next ant rave?
When me and my family have enough trouble coordinating ourselves to get to work, school and nursery on time each morning I find this invertebrate efficiency deeply enviable.
However, it still doesn’t stop me pouring boiling water all over the little blighters.
Another cup of tea anyone?