Living Sanibel: Crying uncle with ants
While there may well be a species that goes by the common name, sugar ant, I find little reason to search for it. Having now lived on Sanibel for more than 25 years, I have quietly resigned myself to the fact that whatever name we give them, the tiny, sometimes minuscule ants that invade my kitchen are, like the fire ant, unconquerable. Like thousands of residents and visitors before me, I have tried just about everything in a vain attempt to stop their tireless invasion of my house, and all to no avail.
There are at least a dozen species of these tiny intrusive ants from which to choose. Some, like crazy ants (Paratrechina longicornis) are easy to identify from their ridiculous behavior. Crazy ants are so named because these little black ants scurry around so frantically that they appear to be out of their minds. The other group of ants, the sugar ants as they are commonly called, could be a host of small, sugar and food scrap loving species that, unless an entomologist is around to correctly ID them, are all but impossible to identify.
Getting rid of them in your house or condo could be the subject of an entire book. Various treatments include fumigation, whole cloves, caulking up everything, boric acid, various ant poisons, red pepper powder, diatomaceous earth, to simply burning your house down and walking away smiling. At this stage in my sugar ant battle, I admit defeat. The ants have won. I have come around to a more Buddhist philosophy toward them and, unless they become so problematic that I have to resort to insecticide bombs, I have learned to live with them. They don’t bite and they don’t harbor any diseases and let’s face it, they just want some measly crumbs and a place to call home.
Once again the sheer number of species prevents any possible identification of a single species of carpenter ants on the island. In the United States alone there are more than 20 different species of ants that are commonly called carpenter ants. The most common of this species is Camponotus pennsylvanicus, or common black carpenter ant.
In the wild, carpenter ants are an important link in the breaking down of dead falls and decaying wood. They carve extensive tunnels and chambers into rotting trees and may take as long as six years to establish a mature colony. They are heavily preyed upon by pileated woodpeckers, rats, mice, lizards, juvenile alligators, possums, armadillos and scores of other insects. The larvae are especially sought after and in the interior of Florida, they are a favorite food for black bears.
Carpenter ants can cause considerable damage to homes. This can be readily prevented by not allowing any moisture to collect in the home or by caulking up any cracks or entrances into the walls of the house. Generally speaking carpenter ants do not pose anywhere near the risk of termites to a homeowner. Some species, especially when disturbed, can deliver a powerful bite.
This is an excerpt from The Living Gulf Coast – A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.