I don’t know if she didn’t want anyone to know she reads my blog *gasp* or if she didn’t want anyone to know she asked the question. But anyhoodle, someone wants to know if cat food really keeps fire ants from biting. She was commenting on this post.
Well, yes and no. It only stops ants if they are dead. There is no taming of a fire ant. Also, cat food alone won’t kill fire ants, otherwise we’d have very few cats.
Let me explain why ant baits alone don’t really work.
First of all, you have to understand ants, specifically fire ants. Their colonies are like little medieval kingdoms, well, more like queendoms. The queen does two things, eat and reproduce. The rest of the ants are workers, and most of them are sterile. After they are born, they become little Stepford workers doing their assigned jobs with abject devotion. The worker ants have a caste system, which is also much like a medieval queendom.
Trivia note: The suffix "dom" means domain and comes from the Old English "doom"
At the bottom of the caste are the construction ants. They are all sterile so it really doesn’t matter if they are male or female. Their job is to make new tunnels and rooms for the ever expanding queendom, since the queen lays a couple of thousand eggs every day.
Over them is the highly trained army of biters. At the first sign of trouble for the queendom, they swarm out of the mound, climbing and biting the enemy in order to protect the queen and her realm. They have bionic jaws which will not open once they have latched onto the enemy.
Over the biters are the scouts. They scour the countryside looking for food, both for the nourishment of the entire realm, but also to find delicacies for the queen. Finding such a delicacy permits them to have a coveted audience with the queen where they present their prize.
Over the biters are the nannies. They are assigned to an egg from the moment it is laid. They nurse it through the larval stage, feeding it, cleaning up after it, carrying it out of harms way if the mound is threatened, until it becomes a fully formed ant who goes off and leaves the nanny sitting all alone in her rocking chair for the rest of her life.
Over the nannies is the job supervisor who walks around with a clipboard looking important. Once an ant becomes an adult, it is inspected by the job supervisor who assigns it a place in the caste and determines whether it will be sterilized or retain its gender. The most attractive and virile males are allowed to retain their gender and they are assigned to the queen’s harem where they remain until she needs them. The other males and females are run through the radiation chamber where they are instantly sterilized.
The virile males live in luxury while they wait to meet their queen. They always meet the queen in a totally dark room because once they see her, they are so repulsed by her corpulent stretch-mark scarred body that they instantly become sterile, making radiation unnecessary, and then they join the rest of the construction ants digging tunnels the rest of their miserable lives.
Over the supervisor are the queen’s attendants. These lords and ladies-in-waiting stay in the queen’s chamber and take care of her. The queen is a lot like Henry VIII or Marlon Brando in that she eats so much that she can barely move from bed to throne. Her attendants help her move from place to place, they are her midwives, they are her birth coaches, and most importantly, they are her food testers.
Now that you understand how the caste works, let me explain why ant baits don’t work. You see, the instructions on most baits say to sprinkle it around the mound and when the ants find it, they will take it to the queen who will eat it, die, and without her the colony will die. But it doesn’t work that way.
Haven’t you ever noticed that you sprinkle the bait around the mound, and the next day, it’s still there? Or that some of it is gone and the mound has moved a few feet?
That’s because real ants aren’t like the ants you see on animated movies and cartoons. They don’t walk on their back legs and carry the bait in their arms. No, they carry the bait in their jaws, and sometimes one gets greedy and eats some of the bait before he picks it up to carry back to the queen, or sometimes he just bites the bait too hard as he carries it back. Either way, he dies before making it back to the queen. Then the other ants gather around and try to figure out what happened.
“Hey Joe,” they say, prodding him with their toe, “Git on up Joe, you oughten be sleepin’ now.” (Ants aren’t big on using correct grammar.)
“I jes’ saw ‘im a minute ago, an he ‘as doin’ jes’ fine,” says one.
“He jus' up an’ died,” says another.
Then along comes old Pete. “He wuz pizoned! Pizoned I tell ya. I seed it afore and I knowd it the minute I seed him.”
“Whadda we do now?” the others ask old Pete.
“Drop everythin', and don’t go near ‘im. This here’s dead man’s hill. God save the queen!”
So they all drop the bait they are carrying and make a mad dash to the queen to report what happened.
“Close tunnel number one!” she declares, “and move operations to the furthermost ramparts of the queendom!”
With the biters leading the way, they make their way to the queen’s country estate at the far end of the dom, and it becomes the new queendom. The attendants pick up the queen and begin the arduous process of carrying her rotund body through the tunnels and the nannies follow carrying the eggs and larvae. The workers create a new tunnel to the surface with a magnificent new mound, and life continues within the queendom.
However, I discovered the cat food treatment quite by accident. The cat, whose name is Buddy The Cat, will not finish eating all the cat food in his bowl, no matter how much or how little I put in it. And within minutes of him sauntering away from the bowl, ants have found the cat food and have swarmed all over it so I can’t even pick up the bowl.
What happens is that a scout found the cat eating the food, grabbed a piece of it, and ran to the queendom, leaving a scent trail behind him so he could find his way back. He begs an audience with the queen in order to present the delicious treat. But first, the queen picks an attendant to taste it. Eyes averted, the attendants squirm nervously while she scans the room, mentally calculating who is the most expendable. No one wants to be the queen’s food tester as there is a 50/50 chance the food is poison, but whoever is picked puts on a brave front and takes a big bite.
If the attendant dies, the queen screams “Off with his head!” pointing at the scout who brought the offending morsel.
And another attendant rushes over to the scout and bites off his head. Ants are cannibals you know.
Then the queen says “Bring a bite to me too, I’m eating for 2-thousand you know.”
Cannibals I tell ya!
When they have finished feasting on the scout, some workers are called down to haul the poisoned attendant down to the basement where he is laid to rest with the rest of his kinsmen.
But, if the seconds tick by and the food tester attendant is unaffected, the queen demands that the new found food be brought to her. She takes a small bite, smiles, and gobbles it all down, belches loudly, and then says:
“That was lip smackin’ good! How much is there?”
“There’s a plumb mountain of it milady!” says the scout.
“Enough for the entire kingdom?” asks the queen.
“Yes, milady,” says the scout.
“Get all the workers and gather the bounty,” says the queen, “we’ll have a feast tonight!”
And within minutes, the entire bowl of cat food is covered with ants.
After this happened a few times, I surrounded the cat food with a circle of ant bait, thinking the ants wouldn’t cross the bait line and I could come back and get the bowl. My bait of choice is Amdro, but that’s only because that is all I could find at the store.
But the next morning, ALL of the bait was gone, as well as all of the cat food.
There was no moving to the country estate and forming a new queendom, no dead ant bodies with pieces of bait next to them, just an empty mound.
The ants, gathered in their feasting room, raised a toast to the queen and had no sooner finished saying “God save the Queen” when she fell forward into her pile of cat food and ant bait and then they too keeled over where they were sitting or standing, some struggling to get nearer their queen before they gasped their last breath.
There will probably be more ants, as there are eggs and larvae deep within the many nurseries of the doomed dom, and some will survive even without the care of a nanny. The newborn queens will battle within the nurseries and the survivor will lead her fledgling minions, stepping over the decaying bodies of the old queen and her realm of ants still gathered around the feast table, traveling to new lands where the scouts will once again forage for delicacies to feed the queen. And I’ll be ready.
Until next time, may you have blessings and doomed antdoms in your realm,