Fireants

Growing up in Texas, I very quickly learned about fireants. The little buggers are everywhere. It sometimes seemed like fireants were present on any dry surface that was connected to the ground. Trees, buildings…you name it, there were fireants on it just waiting to sting the crap out of you.

The fireant is very aptly named. The sting of a single fireant is enough to make most people flinch and yelp. So when thousands of fireants are swarming up your leg with thoughts of murderous vengeance on their tiny minds, the pain is not unlike being on fire. With the exception that fireants don’t cause third-degree burns, the effects are the same, too: you run away screaming while trying to shed your pants. And, while you won’t get burned, you will get to experience the joy of itchy, inflamed bumps all over your skin for the next few days.

Fireants don’t sting just once, either. And they’re not into giving warnings. When a fireant decides to sting you, she devotes herself wholly to the endeavour. First, the ant digs in with its mandibles to gain leverage. Then it arches its back and, with all its strength, begins to thrust its poison-tipped stinger in and out of your vulnerable skin. It’ll keep on stinging until it gets killed or forcibly removed, and if it gets forcibly removed, it’ll do its best to find you and start stinging again.

They’re also wily. I suspect they communicate using telepathy, or possibly very small walkie-talkies. You may think it’s amusing to toss a rock at a fireant nest and watch the chaos from a safe distance, but, my friend, no distance is safe. While you’re being distracted by the spectacle of angry fireants swarming out of the nest, you’re more often than not being flanked by every fireant in the vicinity. Somehow, they all know that the nest just got nailed, and they all come running to punish you for your stupidity.

As a wee lad, I used to sacrifice spiders and, when I could catch them, frogs, to the fireants. Spiders and frogs don’t like fireants, no sir, not at all. Not even big spiders and big frogs. Hell, fireants will eat a cat or a dog or probably even a cow if it lingers long enough. They’re vicious, evil creatures spawned by Satan himself in the fiery depths of hell (or South America, depending on whom you ask).

The point of all of this is that, here in Oregon, we haven’t got fireants. Not because we’ve fought them off or anything, but because fireants have short legs and they don’t walk so fast, and Oregon is a long way from hell (or South America, if you believe THAT version). Even so, I was wary when I first noticed that my apartment has ants.

Not that it’s an infestation or anything. Usually there are just five or ten of them patrolling the border of Qubit’s food dish while two or three others rush inside to carry out daring cat food heists. They’re not fireants; they’re red, but not that unmistakable dark, Satanic red of the fireant. They don’t bother Qubit and they don’t bother me, so usually I leave them alone.

This morning, though, I noticed one of them crawling across the bathroom counter as I prepared to take my shower. I took the nearby lint roller and rolled it over her to see what she’d do.

First, she flailed her legs helplessly in the air, unsure of her predicament. Then, as she realized that her back was stuck fast to the lint roller, she performed a slow situp and gradually dragged the rest of her body off the sticky surface. Now she was on her feet, but still stuck to the lint roller. She began, tentatively, to make her way across the surface. At one point she got one of her antennae stuck, which appeared to be painful: she carefully peeled it off the surface and then rubbed it with her front legs for a while before continuing her arduous journey.

I hopped in the shower. When I got out a few minutes later, she had made it off the roller and was poking around the counter again. I smiled and congratulated her, then stuck her to the roller again. This time, she wasted no time in pulling herself up and setting out for the edge, and she carefully avoided getting her antennae stuck. It only took her a minute or so to reach the edge and peel herself off onto the counter again.

This time I let her go. I wouldn’t have, though, if she’d been a fireant.