Here in this island world there is fierce competition for food and space. This reality is seen in the vegetation with bright colours that attract, defenses that repel. Most plants and trees have some form of defense such as thorns or slippery trunks or leaves, sometimes even spikes that appear to be almost projectile. Beautiful tall palm trees are laden with edible coconuts so many feet off the ground that they are inaccessible to humans unless they are capable of climbing to those heights, sure footed and agile as if their four limbs were made for the ascent. To watch this feat by a native son is inspiring; it is a treacherous climb accomplished with only hands and fingers, feet and toes.
Most of the island animals have defenses of their own kind, be it sound, claws, or poisonous venom. Many of the insect varieties demonstrate organized systems of cooperation to detect prey, surround and capture and deliver it to their home base.
I have always been aware of the competence and skills of ants in this regard but have never experienced such persistence demonstrated by the smallest of these until I came here and watched tiny ants collaborate to surround and carry away a large dead beetle.
A week ago I was treated to a much larger demonstration of the skills of another species of these insects, one I can only describe as An Invasion of tiny, dark, little beasts coming in from the baseboards of the walls to a spill of coconut oil in the bathroom, answering the call of, no doubt, their preliminary scouts. They were the stinging, biting kind which are called Fire Ants.
I tried to dissuade them with spraying of disinfectant and of alcohol and some of them died but more of them came. Finally I resorted to using a chemical spray, but very cautiously so as not to leave any residue dangerous to my 2 small dogs. The battle went on for hours, the ants mostly winning, me mostly losing. They would disappear for a while but would return even though they were not so numerous. By ten that night I had made some progress in causing the enemy to retreat and so went to bed, hoping they were not just regrouping and rearming.
In the morning I approached the bathroom and kitchen with silent steps. The coast seemed clear but no, furtive movement in one of the tile grout lines caught my attention and sadly there they were again, not a huge multitude, but there nevertheless. For another hour, I armed the defenses, wondering if I would ever get to make my morning coffee and be able to sit down and enjoy peacefully writing in my journal.
Finally that moment of sheer relief happened. “THEY” were gone, but only for now, I knew.
As I struggled with the ant invasion I also struggled with my values about interdependence, ecosystem maintenance, and my right to kill while defending myself.
There was, however, a gift. It was the realization that I was able to cope alone and survive without other resources, such as a company of anteaters that takes emergency calls. And once again, I had the experience of seeing comedy in my life and myself as principal buffoon as I sprayed, cursed, moaned in helplessness, defeated by an army of miniscule warriors.