Friday, October 26, 2012

Ethiopia: The Colony

My kitchen here in Addis Ababa came complete with a small colony of tiny black ants, and I must say we are getting along just fine.  I had some resident ants in Pakistan too, but my Ethiopian ants are much more discreet.  They live in the cracks around my kitchen sink, and they know how to keep a low profile.

At the most I wash dishes once a day, and the rest of the time, dirty dishes are sitting in the sink. Usually, I fill the dishes with water, but there is almost always an exposed portion with some food residue on it. Such morsels never escape the notice of the colony, and in no time there's a little ant highway snaking across my kitchen counter.

As soon as I come near, however, the ants clear out. In only a few minutes, they're gone without a trace. From time to time, I do wash a few down the drain, but the others seem to understand that it's nothing personal.

It has been interesting to see the ants' preferences. In terms of fruits and vegetables, they had no interest in garlic, onions, cabbage, apples, peppers, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, or oranges. They were mildly interested in bananas, but what really got them hot and bothered was a surprise to me: These ants love some fennel!

Another interesting thing to me is how the ants went bonkers for honey but seem indifferent to white sugar. They also enjoy flour, bread, beans, and peanut butter.

As we all know, cooked food is more than the sum of its ingredients. The ants know this too. I saw a surprising example of this when I was making kimchi. The ants didn't give a hoot about any of the raw ingredients - salt, cabbage, assorted vegetables, chili, and fish sauce - but once I mixed them all together, the ants suddenly wanted a piece of the action. This particular kimchi contained so much chili it was barely fit for human consumption. The ants, however, had no problem taking the heat.

Another time, I made hummus, and the ants thought it was great. In the process of making it, however, I had splashed tahina in the sink, and I couldn't be bothered to clean it up before going to bed. The next morning, I expected every ant in the tri-state area to be rushing the scene. I couldn't have been more wrong, though. Instead of an orgiastic ant feast, the ants were all on the opposite side of the sink from the tahina. Some even went so far as to spell out "WTF?!?" with their bodies. Ha ha.  Message received, guys.

I've heard horror stories of ant take-overs before, where ants have run amuck and have even managed to defeat seals on airtight containers. Well, so far my ants seem to lack the motivation or know-how to cause such mischief, because I haven't had a breach yet. Maybe they can't be bothered to get creative because I'm already feeding them so well.

I think the ant conversations must sound something like this:

"Hey, Bob, I think I could squeeze under the lid of that plastic box full of sugar if I suck in my gut."

"Well, aren't you special. I'm gonna wait for the oatmeal bowl in the morning."

"I guess you've got a point. Can I bum a smoke?"

A perfect example of this lazy ant attitude is my bottle of local pineapple booze. If I ever leave a glass out with pineapple liquor residue in it, the ants go wild. Little ant bartenders mix drinks with just the right amount of flair; the little ant DJ plays a solid set while that one really drunk ant attempts to dance; and little ant couples make out in the little ant toilets.

When there is no glass of pineapple booze on offer, however, the club shuts down. Meanwhile, the bottle of booze is sitting right next to the sink. Sure the cap is on, but since the contents are so sugary, there is a ring of crystalization on the neck. I would have thought the sugar crystals would be worth the trek up the side of the bottle, but the ants apparently surveyed the situation and uttered a collective "meh".

Oh, well... their loss.


Anonymous said...

Hey Chris,
You are going to become an ant expert with all that analysis of the colony living at your place. It was very entertaining reading it.
Once in Mexico, even though I hate spiders, I had a small family of black widows living at the corners of my bedroom's window, they were around 3 or 4. For some strange reason I wouldn't kill them (I always kill spiders no matter what), until I found one of them on my bed in the morning when I was getting up! Many questions came to my mind: did she sleep with me? did she bite me and I am immune to the venom? did she crawl all over my body during the night? From that moment the black widows destiny's was written in blood. Hairspray helps against their speed and know.

Anonymous said...

Nice story Chris!