This morning there was an ant in the bath. I think she came in because she was thirsty. She was skittering around the drain where there was a thin sliver of water from the dripping tap. It's been a very dry year and we've had hundreds of ants invading our home and garden. But we've had fewer spiders, thank goodness. In wetter years we've had to deal with more than a few massive rain spiders. This is not a bundle of laughs, I can assure you.
Ants are fascinating really. They form complex societies (sometimes even keeping slaves), they build intricate structures, communicate with chemicals, carry many times their own weight, and some even farm fungus and aphids. Some can even build living bridges and life rafts. Ants are as old as the dinosaurs, have conquered almost every habitat on the planet, and number in the quadrillions. Some even think that ant colonies might be considered an early form of civilization.
The ant in the bath this morning was a banded sugar ant. She was about a centimeter in length, with six fairly long legs. The thing with bigger ants is that their fascinating three-segmented, large mandibled anatomies are so much easier to see and marvel at. We don't get many sugar ants where I live, more often we get those little black garden ants making a nuisance of themselves whenever we leave the dishes a few minutes too long, or drop a crumb or two on the kitchen floor. Because they're so small, you can't really appreciate the little ones as much. They just look like little smudges.
I will confess, I usually murder these little black things when I see them, often with a firm press of my thumb, and sometimes in great numbers in a cloud of insecticide (when they invade en masse). I am paranoid that they will get into our food, you see, and my caveman food-protecting instincts kick in. But I am a bit more circumspect with sugar ants. With them, as with spiders, I usually use a shoe heel or a protective wad of toilet paper.
But I couldn't quite bring myself to kill this one. And I'm not entirely sure why. Part of me felt sorry for her. It's been a dry, hard year for all of us. Part of me was also enthralled at her struggle to get out of the bath tub. (If I left her for long enough, would she die of sheer tress and frustration – or from hunger?) And yet another part of me was considering where she came from in the first place – where there is one ant, there's usually a colony. And I suppose if I'm honest, some of me was a bit too apathetic to grab a wad of toilet paper in order to smoosh her and put an end to the whole business. I could have opened the tap, I suppose, to wash her down the drain, I could have hit her with a squirt of Doom, I could also have helped her out by giving her something to climb.
But I did none of these things. I just couldn't decide whether to help her or to kill her.
In the end, I left her there to try and find her own way out. Why should her life or death be my decision? Why should I have to be the one to agonize over what to do. Far easier to ignore her plight and walk away.
So I did.
She's dead now.
I'll wash her little corpse down the drain before I bath tonight.