Indian Ink
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Indian Ink

Is this how Covid-21 will arrive?

More and more species are starting to view live humans as food

My uninvited guest knew how to camouflage his presence

A few nights ago, I came awake at somewhere past midnight to the sensation of something biting me. I checked the bed and clothes. There was nothing to be seen. But there were rashes on my skin on the side of my body which was in contact with the bed. It felt like bed bugs except that we don’t have bugs at home. And I can’t have been exposed to them either, as I haven’t been anywhere for months due to Covid. Was it some other creature that was too small to be seen by the human eye? I dusted off the bedsheets and tried to go back to sleep. But the bites itched, and I felt I was getting bitten again. I spent the rest of the night, alternatively trying to sleep, and checking the bed for the culprits, to no avail.

Camouflaged warriors

The next morning, I changed all the bedclothes and forgot about the incident, until I again came awake at midnight on the following night. One look at the new set of rashes, and I knew I was not going to get any sleep that night either. The next morning, I again groggily scrutinized my bed and suddenly caught a slight movement out of the corner of my eye. It was on the red and white patterned bedsheet. I carefully examined the bedsheet, inch by inch, and finally saw a red ant.

Aside from a slight movement of its feet, the ant was motionless on the red part of the bedsheet. What made it hard to spot was its red coloring, which was merging into the bedsheets. Clever.

This 4 mm long creature and its mates were what had caused me all that misery. Red ants are also called fire ants as their bites really sting. I took another look at the bed, and around on the walls. They were no ants to be seen. My conclusion was the ants had taken up residence inside the mattress and decided I was their food source. I then clicked a picture of the ant and tried to brush it off my bed. Big mistake. It bit into my finger, and wouldn’t let go. So I regretfully gave it the warrior’s death that it seemed to crave.

Solar Warfare

I didn't fancy sharing my bed with any more man-eating ants. So I lugged the heavy mattress off the bed, dragged it out into the sun, and left it out there for the day.

This is a time-tested solution for pests in India. Sunny days get so hot the soles of your feet will be singed if you walk barefoot on the ground. If the ants inside that mattress stayed put, they would be cooked to death.

Killing them naturally, with the sun

When I checked that evening, there were a couple of ants sitting on top of the mattress, looking a bit aggrieved. I guessed the rest of the gang had migrated to cooler climes or probably dropped dead. But I wasn’t willing to bet on that. I would not be sleeping on that mattress until it had been roasted in the sun for a few more days.

Trespassers will be poisoned to death

In the meanwhile, I switched the bed from our unoccupied guest room to my bedroom. I used one of those white chalks on my bed’s four legs to make sure no ants got back on the bed. Though it looks and writes like the chalk used on blackboards, it’s actually an insecticide (deltamethrin and cypermethrin).

The change of mattress and the chalk tactics seemed to work because I finally got a good night’s sleep without having to double as the main course in an ant family’s dinner. The next morning, I laid out some clothes on the bed, and noticed another of the pesky creatures. It got away before I could nab it. I shook out the clothes and found yet another ant. Looks like the creatures had invaded my wardrobe too. I got bitten that night too, but there must have been just a couple of ants since there weren’t too many rashes.

Evolving from scavengers to maneaters

I have since been mulling over the change in ant behavior. Unlike bedbugs or lice, ants usually don’t feed on live humans. Instead, they are designed to be one of nature’s most efficient scavengers.

As a kid, I would marvel at how an ant by itself could pick up many times its own weight (like a dead cockroach) and carry it off to its nest.

Weightlifting champions (Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash)

Ants do venture into homes. The little pests attack any foodstuff left open, especially sweets. If your bottle of honey is not closed tight, chances are there will be dozens of dead ants floating in the bottle the next morning. I assume they drown because of the stickiness of honey. The traditional method to keep ants at bay is to focus on their weakness: ants don’t like to swim. That’s why every Indian kitchen will usually have a vessel standing in a pan of water.

Micro-moats can keep away the attacking hordes from your goodies

So why are the ants beginning to view live humans as food? My guess is humans took away their natural habitat. With dwindling food alternatives, ants naturally started looking for new food sources, and humans are it.

The danger is this could open the chance for the transmission of another virus from animals to humans. In short, ants could be the carrier of Covid 21, and there’s every probability that the next coronavirus could make Covid 19 look like a common cold virus.

So is there anything we can do about it? I think there is.

Plant trees.

Ant nest

That’s an ant nest I spotted on a nearby tree. If ants can find food to sustain themselves outdoors, they would mostly stay outdoors as that’s their natural habitat. They wouldn’t need to migrate indoors and look at humans as food.

Ants just want to be ants. Let them have their trees.

The way I see it, Mother Nature will eventually take the necessary corrective steps to protect herself. Because as far as she sees it, we are the virulent virus that’s wiping out the world. We have cut down the forests and the trees and all the natural habitats of the other species. To defend them, Mother Nature may be forced to pass a virus through ants that will wipe out the human race. In short, if we don’t stop destroying our world, it will probably turn around and destroy us.

Plant trees.

It may be our last chance to prevent the annihilation of the human species.

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