Ants prefer human leg to fabulous desktop goo

July 07, 2002|By Dave Barry | Dave Barry,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Summer is a lazy, relaxed, carefree time of year, when our thoughts turn to the possibility that our flesh will be stripped from our bones by millions of razor-sharp mandibles.

At least my thoughts do, ever since a gang of ants started a colony somewhere in my office, which is located in my home in South Florida. (In fact, for tax purposes, this office occupies 248 percent of my home's square footage).

Here's the situation: I'll be sitting in my usual work position, in which I put my feet up on my desk. I leave my legs on the floor, because I have detachable feet.

No, seriously, my legs are firmly attached to my feet, which are propped up on my desk while I ponder the kind of question that, in my role as a leading opinion-maker, I am often called upon to answer, such as: Which is a funnier animal name, "wolverine" or "weasel"?

(Answer: "Yak.")

While I am pondering this, I will suddenly realize that something is crawling along my leg -- a tiny, six-legged organism that has flourished on the Earth, and particularly South Florida, for millions of years: the Bee Gees.

No, seriously, it's an ant. Immediately I leap to my feet, whapping at the ant in a violent manner. Sometimes the ant has penetrated deep into what medical doctors refer to as the Undershorts Region, which means that I am in danger of whapping myself right into the alto section of the choir, if you know what I mean.

Eventually, I am able, using tiny tweezers with rubber tips, to gently capture the ant and return it, unharmed, to its snug ant home. (Not really. I kill the ant. But I don't want to say so, because when I wrote a column about killing a giant flying insect in my kitchen, I got a lot of irate mail from wildlife lovers, comparing me unfavorably to Hitler.) Then I go back to work, but within 10 minutes, there's another ant on me, and I am once again on my feet, whapping at my groin.

This has gone on for several weeks now, and eventually the obvious question arose in my mind: Wouldn't the Groin Whappers be an excellent name for a rock band? But also I am wondering: Why are these ants so interested in my body? I mean, we can assume they're looking for food, right? Well, right next to my body is one of the world's most abundant sources of ant nourishment: My desk. My desk has never been cleaned, and consequently is covered with a thick layer of a substance known to chemists as "snack goo" -- a congealed mixture of chocolate, salt, onion dip, pepperoni grease, General Chang's chicken extra spicy, coffee, beer, and the fine residue of an estimated 14 trillion Cheez-Its.

My desk could feed a standard ant colony for well into the next century, so the logical question is: Who was General Chang? And isn't it kind of a weird honor to associate a military leader with a member of the poultry family not generally known for its courage? Would you want to be a soldier following General Chang into battle with the phrase "General Chang's chicken" resonating in your mind?

But the other logical question is: Why, with the National Snack Goo Reserve sitting right there, are these ants walking around on me? Obviously, they intend to eat me. And while I have been able to hold them off so far via whapping, it is only a matter of time before they figure out that they can win if they attack en masse (French for "in a big bunch of ants").

Ants are capable of this kind of behavior. Back in seventh grade English class, I read a story called "Leiningen versus the Ants," about a guy in Brazil who owns a plantation that gets attacked by a gigantic mass of ravenous, vicious ants that eat everything in their path, kind of like college students, except the ants leave less of a mess.

What I remember vividly about this story is that, when Leiningen tries to thwart the ants by flooding a moat around the plantation, the ants use twigs and leaves to build a bridge, thus displaying far more intelligence than any guest I have ever seen on Maury Povich. My concern is that if the ants in my office are even half that smart, it's only a matter of time before they get organized. The police will find my skeleton in my office chair, stripped clean, feet up on the desk, with no clue as to who perpetrated the crime except for the cryptic three-letter animal name I have typed, in my last moments, on the computer screen:

Yak.

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