When the army ants come, get out! That’s the word on the street. I heard it when we first came to Costa Rica in 1989, and I still hear it today.
Last Tuesday I came home from Dance-Fit class at Su Espacio, and Don was in the carport working on the car. His greeting: “You just missed the army ants!”
“They came and went? So fast? I’ve only been gone for an hour. How big?”
“Huh? No, how big was the column?”
“Yeah, but how wide? Two inches? Six? How wide?”
“Ayyyyy! O.K. honey, what happened? Did they march through the house?”
“Well, yeah. They just seemed to come out of nowhere, and the next thing I knew, the floor was solid black. The whole mass moved like a unit, up and over the door, across the floor and out the back door. There are a few stragglers on the back patio. I’ve never seen anything like it! They cleaned the floor pretty well though; no bugs.”
The stragglers on the back patio were running back and forth in a two inch column. That’s when I remembered: solid! In 1992, my kids and I were visiting Nonnie in Nosara., and we rented the house next door. Our first night there, my daughter, then nine years old, starting screaming from her room, shouting: “Get them off me! Get them off me!” Thinking she was having a nightmare, I rushed in, flipped on the light and the entire floor was black. Yep. Solid with ants. They weren’t just large black ants, though. As I took a closer look, there were smaller red ants in the mix, and they appeared to be fighting. This was not our war! I grabbed Chelsea, threw her in the shower and got the ants off her. I was thankful she didn’t have too many bites, all things considered. We were huddled in the shower together, planning our escape. My son, Tyler, (11), was already outside with a friend of mine, Phil, who was shouting: “Run! Get over here and I’ll hose you off. Let’s get outta here!”
So, we ran in the night to Nonnie’s house and hung out until morning. We went back after breakfast and all the ants were gone. I didn’t see any leftover casualties either. The army ants haul everything off to the bivouac. Yes, they ‘bivouac’, not nest. They make temporary dwellings out of their own bodies. I learned that recently from reading about army ants: http://www.costaricajourneys.com/army-ant/ I found out about the different sizes: drones (small, no mandibles), soldiers (large body, gigantic head, big hooked mandibles), and the enormous queen. They are mostly blind, communicating by pheromones. The good news is they don’t attack humans, although they will bite if threatened. Chelsea and I can attest to that!
So, if you step around the column, you can use your macro lens and take pictures of them. They run pretty fast, though, so you have to hold still and keep snapping, hoping for a lucky shot.
Thursday I came home from Dance-Fit, grabbed my laptop, and headed for my writing perch on the back patio. I wriggled onto my high bar-stool, logged on, and prepared to blog. I felt a sting on my ankle, looked down, and there was a lone soldier biting me while his buddies swarmed the deck. “Hey, wait a minute. You guys were here on Tuesday. You’re at the wrong house! Enough already. Everybody else left. What’s wrong with you? Go. Go find your platoon.”
I snatched up my stuff, herded the dog back into the house, and started scratching like crazy where Mr. Army Ant bit me.
I sprayed Baygon on the threshold, closed the door, and went about my business inside. Every fifteen minutes or so, I peeked out the window to see if the coast was clear. I much prefer to work outside. I could have gotten away with sitting at the high table; my feet don’t reach the ground, but I knew Toby, the dog, would lay on the ground beside me and possibly be carried off to the bivouac. I didn’t want his curious snout to get bitten either, so we stayed in – waiting.
The column neither grew nor dwindled. Whatever the mission was, it lasted all day and into the night. This morning the coast was clear. The patio was clean, and I sent a memo: no army ants until next year! I don’t want to be trapped inside by insects for a while. Twice in one week is plenty.
Be on the look-out. If you see them coming, head for the hills. No, not the hills, they like hills. Head for Happy Hour. It’s 5:00 somewhere!