When carpenter ants are on the march, it seems only big bucks can stop them


September 11, 1994|By Rick Horowitz

I figure the candy basket was the last straw. When the ant came marching out of the candy basket, we knew we had ourselves a situation. Ants in your pants is one thing; ants on your floors and your walls and your counters is something else again. Big ants. Bold ants. Ants with attitude. And more of them all the time.

Which is how we've lately come under the spell of: the Antman.

The Antman is sitting at the kitchen table, explaining it all. He's already toured the house, poking into corners, shining his flashlight into the dark places. It didn't take him long.

"You've got carpenter ants," he said. We knew that. There was a leak upstairs somewhere; carpenter ants crave moisture. Then he shook his head and made sad, clucking noises. We weren't expecting that.

"Infestation" is such an ugly word.

The Antman had a suggestion. "Get yourself a roofer who knows about flashing," he said. Perfect -- we don't have enough trouble with ants all over the place, now we need a guy on our roof in a trench coat and. . .

This is different, the Antman explained. This has something to do with sheet metal and waterproofing and things. Of course. But first, about the ants.

The Antman is sitting at the kitchen table, spelling it out. The Antman knows more about carpenter ants than any human being should -- queens and kings, majors and minors, nests and eggs and swarms. And what's even better, he wants to share all this information with You the Homeowner. He even says that once: "You the Homeowner." It is to laugh -- if we understand him even a bit, the carpenter ants now own this little dream house.

Is possession nine-tenths of the law? They've got it -- they're everywhere. Besides, they outnumber us by 20,000 or so. That's typical colony, the Antman says.

The Antman is pointing at our pepper mill. "Let's say each of these peppercorns is a carpenter ant," he says. Let's not.

The Antman wants us to understand. So he's got carpenter ant samples in plastic ice cubes. (Great for parties . . .) He's got vials of ant-produced wood dust.

He's got pictures. Honest to God, he's got a photo album with him, and he's walking us through every last picture like he's just come back from vacation, only this year he took the wife and kids to Ant World. "Here's a roof beam -- see how they burrowed right through that thing? And this one. . ."

The purpose of this entire exercise: to decide on the proper counterattack. The Antman spells out the different methods. He starts with the quick-and-easy (and cheap) methods, but he's shaking his head and making that clucking noise again -- look at the low success rates. Nothing, he says -- he's being honest here, we appreciate that -- nothing has a 100-percent success rate against carpenter ants. They've been around for 200 million years; he says they're survivors.

Now the Antman is proposing a year-long campaign, with an 80 percent to 90 percent success rate. There's the initial visit -- tiny holes (!) drilled into every wall in the house and killer dust blown in behind them -- and then booster treatments every month to keep the pressure on. Carpenter ants are like people, the Antman says; they don't do well under stress.

Neither do we -- it's multibucks for our multibugs, but the thought of the floors collapsing under us is no thrill either. No guarantees, the Antman says, but whose method is most likely to get rid of the things? We're sure he's right. Still. . .

"Remember," one of the Antman's documents says, "once your carpenter ants are gone, monthly maintenance treatments are the only thing that can keep them away. Once you stop treating, yes, they can return."

A monthly check, forever.

I may never use pepper again.

G; RICK HOROWITZ is a syndicated columnist from Milwaukee.

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