The Ant and the Chickpea

I have to tell you about the ants. The other day, I sat on our back stoop using my favorite Thai granite mortar and pestle (like this) to pound a few dried chickpeas into powder (which is a pain in the ARSE…. but that’s another topic). A couple of chickpeas went flying, but I knew the ants would take care of my mess.

I was right. Lo and behold, Jerry witnessed this scene not long after I had finished my task. The bold creature attacked the object at hand (er, foot) and inched the broken pea all the way across our patio to its colony with umpteen thousands of other such ants in a mound approximately 5 feet long, 2 1/2 feet wide and, in places, 5 inches tall. This mound sits between a flowerbed and a tomato garden.

It’s been suggested we remove the ants, and we tried when we first moved in. Jerry even hit the poor buggers with a rototiller, which did nothing. A day later, the ants were back in action, scouring the yard for seeds and other tasty items to hoard back home at the colony. They’d lived in our yard long before we bought the place, and they had no plans to vacate.

So I started reading up on our neighbors in the Formicidae family and discovered our yard plays host to a colony of harvester ants, native to the Southwest and declining in numbers (thanks to an invasion of red imported fire ants). The harvester ant is food for the endangered horned lizard, and wildlife buffs are worried about the drop in both populations. Thus, at least one source recommends leaving your harvester ant colony intact if possible.

While it’s true, our little buddies can inflict an excruciating sting—which I have suffered a few times—they leave us alone unless we do something stupid and thoroughly disturb their habitat. Then, they attack individually (not en masse, as red imported fire ants do).

So we’ve left the ants to their own desires and devices. They live their lives, we live ours, and the arrangement seems to work just fine. Our plants are thriving, producing flowers, seemingly unaffected by the ant colony nearby. And since we’ve stopped trying to rid our yard of harvesters, they’ve stopped stinging us. We’ve achieved something of a harmonious relationship. And I can always count on the ants to clean up the remnants of my backyard cooking.

***Now, a note on Costa Rica. I know many of you want to see stories, and you will. I’ve been busy—which is no excuse (a good friend frequently says, “Everybody is busy,” and she’s absolutely right.) Perhaps a more legitimate excuse is that I shot the trip on film. Yep, I took the antiquated Nikon FM2 out of the closet and photographed the whole trip as in the days of old. So. I will have stories for you. But you know what film means—developing, scanning and hours of delay. As my dad used to say, “Hold your horses.” And we’ll get to Costa Rica soon.

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