Sunday, January 29, 2012

The (Army) Ants Go Marching...

Well, it's that time of year again. The cool, misty, rainy mornings, the red mud, the muggy afternoons, the massive thunderstorms in the evenings, the power's out, the road is washed out, and the army ants are marching through Ciyanjano. These smallish army ants called red driver ants (locally called "mpashi") come out in huge lines during the rainy season eating everything in their path. They usually come in a line 4-7 ants across. On the outside of the line are a few soldiers here and there to keep an eye on the smaller guys. They don't have a permanent nest like other ants, they race from place to place, eating. They race very quickly. So this time of year it very often happens that you will stop and unlock a gate or answer a cell call and suddenly you find that your feet are covered with ants. The little ones bite. It stings a little but the pain is very much increased by the large numbers that quickly attack you if you stand near one of their marching lines. The big ones have a scissor-like mandible that actually cuts a small chunk of meat out of your skin. When you get a half a dozen on your feet you're likely to screech. But they rarely bite your feet. They'd rather quickly run up your trousers into your tender regions and then bite in unison. It's this time of year you'll see us stripping off our trousers in the middle of the front yard. The Zambians laugh. Until they're busy stripping too. Should have looked down before they stopped to laugh. The question is - should you wear thick socks and tuck your jeans into them to keep the ants out? Except if can often be 80 degrees and raining. Too hot for jeans and thick socks. So I prefer to wear flip-flops and shorts. It means I can pick the ants off before they get too high up the thighs. I know that in the villages people sometime welcome these pests, as they come though people's houses and eat all the lice, cockroaches, bedbugs, mice, rats and ticks. Just don't let 'em get into your henhouse or pig sty. They can skeletonize a whole pig overnight. So if you see me running through the yard shaking my trousers and shouting, be sure to look down before you stop and laugh at my antics or you might be joining me quickly.

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