How to Deal with Army Ants

From yesterday’s entry in the Worst-Case Scenario Daily Survival Calendar:

1 – Wear long pants and tuck your pants into your boots or socks.

2 – Watch where you step.

3 – If the ants climb on you, step out of the column or mass of ants. Jump and move up and down to dislodge the ants, and then pick the remaining ants from your clothing and body.

4 – If you are stung, treat the area as you would treat the sting of a bee or wasp. Stings can produce intense burning and local pain, swelling, and itching. Apply a cool compress to the sting area. Take an antibiotic if one is available.

Seems very reasonable to me, and I will keep it in mind if I’m ever wandering out somewhere and attacked by army ants because I have inadvertently wandered into their column or mass.

armyant.jpgAs I am wont to do, I will now bend my thought to the matter of how this can be applied to this struggle we find ourselves in, referred to at times as the Global War on Terror, the Third World War, the Fourth World War (my personal belief), and Bush’s Folly. Okay, I haven’t actually heard anyone call it “Bush’s Folly”, but that’s what they’re getting at.

The army ant problem, like the mountain lion problem I’ve mentioned in the past, is a little dependent upon the context of the encounter. If I am truly wandering out in the wilderness and happen upon the creatures in their natural habitat, it’s one thing. If the mountain lion or army ant colony has entered my “safe zone” or threatens me in my own natural environment, it’s something completely different.

In the first case, “dealing” with the army ants as directed by my calendar is a perfectly acceptable approach. However, if the colony has wandered into my backyard, different means are called for when “dealing” with army ants.

When confronted with this situation, there’s always the option of hunkering down and waiting it out. Army ants will eventually strip everything bare and move on. Hopefully, the stripping doesn’t include the flesh from your bones, as well as the flesh from the bones of your children and dog, but that’s a risk the “hunker down” approach brings with it.

You could also lure the army ants away from your property and loved ones by somehow managing to get them to enter your neighbor’s backyard instead, but that just isn’t nice. Even if your neighbors are aloof and smoke in their driveway next to your bedroom window at all hours of the night. Giving your problems to your neighbor can save you, but it’s not really the responsible, honorable approach. Even when the cigarette butts that your neighbor created while disturbing your slumber end up in your yard during the winter months courtesy of his snowblower.

Actually, maybe sending the army ants over to your neighbor is acceptable under the right circumstances. But, on the off-chance that you have no reason to unload your army ant colony on your chain-smoking neighbors, you’re sort of forced to “deal” with it by actually dealing with it.

You don’t “deal” with a colony of army ants by moving. You don’t “deal” with a colony of army ants by changing your lifestyle significantly* in order to prevent their return, though little alterations may improve the odds some. You certainly don’t “deal” with army ants by tossing more food out for them to devour in the hopes that it will placate them.

You’re basically left with options in the “burn them out” category. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you assault the colony with a flamethrower. It may mean insecticide. It may mean flooding them out. It might include a number of different approaches dependent upon the location of different sections of the colony. But in the end, you’re out to destroy most of them and drive the rest off in such a state that they cannot effectively threaten you (or even your neighbor) again.

If army ants are a chronic problem in your neck of the woods, I’d think you’d be best served by a mixture of passive defenses consisting primarily of not overtly inviting them to your backyard (by leaving piles of yummy garbage and ant treats stacked there, for instance) and by actively seeking out the source of the roving ants and keeping them knocked down (by spraying or burning colonies and mounds in the vicinity of your backyard, for instance). If you simply “deal” with one group of army ants and leave the thirty-seven army ant mounds you’ve seen in the open field behind your property alone, you’re probably going to be “dealing” with the problem again in short order.

And, by the way, you cannot just account for the queen ants. The worker and soldier ants must be “dealt” with, as well. New queens have a way of showing up more quickly than anyone ever expects.

According to my calendar, the source material for their army ant entry is Bill Gotwald. A quick google turned up this page. Two interesting things about army ants are noted that I was unaware of. First,

In parts of South America, army ants are welcome exterminators, providing free pest-control services without dangerous insecticides. Villagers are reputed to willingly vacate their homes in the wake of an army ant raid, returning afterward to completely insect-free houses.

To be honest, I live in the twenty-first century and I’d be willing to apply a few dangerous insecticides before vacating my home to let the predators clean it for me. But to each his own. In any event, army ants, unlike some groups that I hope you realize I’m really referring to, apparently do not attach any significance to particular territory. Try demolishing a particular type of holy building in some American urban area in 100 years to erect a parking ramp. Once consecrated, always consecrated. That’s part of the reason Spain will continue to experience ongoing problems with army ants, even though they pulled out of Iraq. Army ants aren’t like that.


Army ant colonies are known to harbor interlopers as well. A single colony can have more than 100 species of organisms living in its midst, including mites and other insects, many of which have yet to be identified.

That’s part of the problem with this sort of thing. Interlopers, some of which have yet to be identified. (Sort of a “known unknown”, you know.) Even if the army ant colony doesn’t directly support the work of the interlopers, these unidentified organisms can conceivably be very dangerous and make dealing with the colony more precarious.

Obviously, I’m only writing about things that support my position here. But I think that there’s a fair amount of truth to it.

If we decide to withdraw from the greater world around us, we might get by without “dealing” with the army ants. Maybe. But that isn’t really a proposition that anyone is comfortable with. And we’ll never be able to destroy all the army ants. But we can do our best to keep them from stripping the flesh from our bones.

* Of course, you would be wrong to ignore silly behaviors that encourage army ants to invade. Ant treats are certainly right out, and little things can certainly add up if you are diligent. But then, army ants aren’t likely to declare war upon you. Other creatures may do so regardless of your behavior. So don’t go out of your way to encourage enmity with the army ants, but be prepared for the chance that you may become a target no matter what you do to discourage the occurrence.


  1. What is the natural enemy of the army ant? 1.) Navy seals 2.) Bad picnic food 3.) The Anteater. If you said number 3, you guested it right! In an old ‘Animal Stories’ segment on the WLS AM radio station in Chicago, Old Uncle Larry explained to Little Snotnose Tommy, that a woman was very happy she bought an Anteater for a domestic pet. She solved two very important problems. 1.) She had an ant problem in her house/yard and 2.) Her ‘old man’ left her and the anteater that became very fond of her, had tongue movement of like 240 flicks a minute. There was no detail, but you get the idea. Not sure if she bought an African Anteater or an Austrailian Anteater, but I would get the one that understands English, mate!