Every year around this time, as my house doors open, we begin to subsist on the fresh air of spring through our window screens, and the kids feast on watermelon and popsicles daily (attracting many a tiny six-legged invader), I wonder: Is it true that stepping on ants attracts more ants? Because, as the primary kitchen cleaner in my house, I am by default the Chief Ant Killer.
Every spring when I begin smashing ants on sight I wonder if the old adage that the critters somehow know one of their brethren has fallen is true. I heard this potential myth somewhere along the road of life and never checked it out. Can these tiny-brained pests actually figure out when one of their pals has kicked the bucket?
To my surprise, yes they can. (Ants run a complex organisation.) According to Accurate Pest Control, “Ants are brilliant creatures. They usually send out groups for investigations. When you squash an ant, the fluids release pheromones, which will signal danger to the ants in the vicinity. When the investigation group comes across the dead, they return to the hive and relay vital information.”
What information, exactly? Well, that someone they know is dead, and — get this — they need to get their carcass to a cemetery — stat. Not a graveyard with tombstones and flowers; the critter kind called a midden, which is what the website Misfit Animals describes as “an ant’s dumpster and burial ground.”
Wait, so ant colonies have undertakers? Again, yes. (We told you — complex.) Ants participate in a biological process known as necrophoresis, a “sanitation behaviour” by which social insects such as ants, bees, wasps, and termites transport the corpses of their colony to another location to prevent illness or infection from spreading throughout the colony. If you’ve ever looked closely at an anthill, you may have noticed this insect pallbearer activity.
Which is why, when you squash an ant and walk away, you’re basically lighting a metaphorical flare signal that shouts to all your victim’s friends and family, “Hey! Dead ant over here. Come and get him!”
So don’t do that. Instead, if and (let’s face it) when you do squish an ant on sight, be sure to remove the scent, so the dearly departed won’t be able to communicate their demise to their crew. The Spruce recommends using either vinegar, a paste made of baking soda and water, cinnamon, or, if outside, drawing a thick line around the ant presence with chalk. (I prefer disposing of the body with a quick spritz of vinegar and water, followed by a thorough wipe with a paper towel, to remove the evidence.)
If you’ve got more than a few visitors to deal with, try one of these methods we’ve written about before to rid yourself of an ant infestation.
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