Formica

I woke to freshly brewed “proper” coffee and the question “Where’s the baby powder?”
Post-dream disorientation took me back 25+ years: babies, nappies, feeding, changing… let me go back to sleep, please. But now we keep baby powder for the ants.

The ants have found their way into the kitchen. 20130702-115541.jpg

This isn’t actually my kitchen, the kitchen ants are not photogenic, these ones are to be found on the path outside, every day running back an forth along an invisible scented line.

They are quite small, well of course ants are, but to me they appear smaller then the UK ants. Pheidole megacephala – big-headed brown house ant. Like the English ants it is a member of the Formica family (nothing to do with laminate worktops) but the Bermudan ants seem to have two-segment waists while UK ones have single segment middles (petioles).

Until today I had no idea there are so many different ants:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ants_of_Great_Britain

The “bigheads” were first found in Mauritius and its a long way to Bermuda so I guess they travel well; in fact it is listed in the top 100 most invasive species. There are two types of worker ants in this species: Soldier ants with the biggest heads, about 4mm long, and Minor worker ants that are half the size and whose heads are relatively smaller. I think the ones in my photo above must be minor workers as none of them seem to have large heads. They feed on dead insects – I have been advised that they will congregate around dead cockroaches but that I should first trace the line of ants back to their nest before moving the cockroach and then spray the nest.

20130702-115646.jpg

Wellcome Images

I am told you can still buy DDT in Bermuda; banned in US in 1970s and UK in 1984, but still manufactured in India and still used to fumigate homes in some places in the world.
For the medical audience, it works by opening sodium channels in neurons, which for the ants means spasms and death. The toxic effects on humans include endocrine effects, it is an anti-androgen, and direct effects on the genes, hence is a carcinogen. The DDT story is as much political as it is science and the ban is as controversial as its continued use in some countries. Paul Mueller, a Swiss biochemist, received a Nobel prize in 1948 for his work on DDT and it did prevent millions of deaths from Malaria.

The following have all been recommended to me to get rid of ants:

Mint leaves…. apparently they dont like the smell
Cayenne pepper….the capsaicin in cayenne pepper is an irritant to ants
Baby powder….the cornstarch in baby powder is irritant
Cornmeal …makes ants explode: they take the grains home, eat them and then presumably drink some water so grains expand inside the ant, and then they go pop – but might take an awful lot of cornstarch to feed a whole colony
Cinnamon ….but some people dont like the smell any more than the ants
Bay leaves … not very tidy
Vodka. …. 3:1 ratio of vodka to water, sprayed liberally, but might give visitors the wrong impression
Washing-up liquid and water mix ….works for a while but then they come back when it has dried

We have settled on baby powder, as you have surmised from my wake-up call. I have no idea where the houseproud urges came from as I never had them in UK, but I am resisting the inclination to hoover it all up as soon as the ants take a break. The smell brings back some of the nicer memories of having children, it is relatively cheap and so far I haven’t heard any suggestion that it is carcinogenic….

Update on that: baby powder does contain talc which a recent meta-analysis suggests is linked to ovarian cancer

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2343974/Women-regularly-use-talcum-powder-increase-risk-ovarian-cancer-24.html#

(Daily Mail version)

http://cancerpreventionresearch.aacrjournals.org/content/early/2013/06/12/1940-6207.CAPR-13-0037.abstract

(Academic link)

OK so keep it well away from “intimate personal hygiene”, probably still safe for ant prevention.

I mentioned cockroaches earlier, the Periplaneta americana.

 

After fruitless search for one to photograph I have resorted to that well-known w…pedia for a picture. They eat anything that is not alive and are common in basements – guess who isn’t going to unpack the cardboard boxes when it is time to return to UK! I havent actually seen a living one out here yet, I am assured it is only a matter of time, and I rather wish it would happen so I can get over it as the apprehension at meeting one in the bathroom at night grows with every night I escape unscathed. I like the friendly name given to them here: Palmetto bugs.

On my search just now I did find this:

20130702-115705.jpg

It think it is a June Bug (Lygyrus cuniculus ) which apparently fly drunkenly at night in June (obviously), but it doesnt look exactly like the one in my field guide book so I might be wrong. Any suggestions?

There are many prettier and less annoying insects and bugs, butterflies, millipedes and snails, but none of these are threatening my kitchen so not priority no1.

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4 thoughts on “Formica

      1. pinkbikepinksand Post author

        Now the landlord wants to show prospective purchasers around and, having followed your advice, we not only have baby powder sprinkled around every doorway and window but also footprints of sandy powder all over the home ….

        Like

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