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The ant wars

April 19, 2021

This was something new this year.

One Sunday a little while ago, I got up and there were ants all over the kitchen counter between the fridge and the stove. Good grief. It’s not as if it was warm enough at that point that I’d been leaving the door wide open. Where the hell had they suddenly come from? Had they made a nest inside some tiny crack in the kitchen and laid dormant all autumn and winter? Whatever. A pain.

Cleared everything (including the ants) off the counter and gave it a good wash. For lunch that day I had beans on toast. Made the mistake of leaving the wooden spoon I’d used to stir the beans on the counter. When I went back into the kitchen a bit later the spoon was covered in ants. Gah. Cleared everything off the counter again and sprinkled diatomaceous earth around the edges. (The ants are supposed to carry it back to the nest on their feet and die off.) Next morning, ants all over the counter again. Despite my past life as a toxics campaigner, went “nuclear” (as it were) at the store and bought ant traps, which I have to admit pretty quickly brought the numbers down.

Some time after that I noticed there were ants all over the hummingbird feeder outside the kitchen window. And a few dead ants floating inside it. Made up a new batch of nectar and got the feeder down to give it a good wash. When I opened it up I was treated to the really rather disgusting sight of hundreds of dead ants. Ugh.

Washed it, refilled it and took it outside to hang in a different location near the door. (That’ll fool ’em, I thought.)

Next time I went outside there were ants all over the feeder. Man, how good is their sense of smell? Flicked them all off, moved feeder back to window. Next time I looked, ants all over the feeder. Argh.

Went on the community bulletin board on Facebook and made a post: “My hummingbird feeder has turned into the place ants go to drown themselves. This has never happened before. Any suggestions?”

One wag immediately replied with a suggestion to attach tiny nooses at the bottom to give the ants options. A more helpful suggestion was to put nectar in the “cup” at the top of the feeder so the ants will focus on that and leave the hummingbird nectar alone. Did that. Checked later. Yes, the ants seemed to be focussed on the nectar at the top. Went to bed. Got up. Ants all over the feeder trying to squeeze through the holes. Argh. Flicked them all off, went back to Facebook. Overnight there were other suggestions: coat the wire in olive oil or (by a number of people) coat the wire with Vaseline. Went to the pharmacy and bought some Vaseline. Came home, coated the wire. Oh, ha, ha, I thought as I watched them marching up and down the wire over the Vaseline. Was there some sort of industrial, anti-ant Vaseline that I’d failed to notice in the shop?

Another suggestion: Place a saucer or bowl of food under the feeder for the ants, so they’ll leave the feeder alone. That’s when I had a 20+ year flashback to my days working on toxics and safe(r) alternatives to commercial cleaning projects: Mix Borax with icing sugar. Did so. Put a small bowl under the feeder. Yes, the ants did seem to like it. Went shopping. Came home. Ants all over the feeder. Fuck! Short of going outside every five minutes to blow or flick them all off, how the hell was I supposed to solve this problem? There isn’t yet enough natural nectar available. The hummingbirds need feeders for a while longer.

Late Saturday night I had an inspiration. Went to the hardware store yesterday. Came back, made a fresh batch of nectar, washed the feeder out again and put my plan to work.

YES!!!!! Two strips of double-sided tape around the top of the feeder. I thought I was going to wake up this morning to find dozens of dead or dying ants stuck to the tape. (Wasn’t sure how I was going to scrape them off.) But they’re smart buggers. Either the tape emits some warning smell or, after placing one leg delicately on it, they quickly pull back. Never mind. There were no ants trapped on the tape this morning nor any optimistically marching down over the Vaseline. No ants at all. Message received. The nectar café is closed as far as ants are concerned. Job fucking done.

From → Blog

One Comment
  1. Donna permalink

    Well! What a great idea! I meant to ask you what finally worked. I’ve tried the vaseline and oil “tricks” and of course they didn’t work. Someone suggested using fishing line to attach the hanger to the hook….apparently, ants don’t climb on thin lines…well, it sort of worked and mostly the ants stay off the feeder but it’s not 100% consistent. Your idea looks much better…will have to give it a try!

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