The ant is an insect about which I have mixed feelings. It's a truly fascinating creature – hours can happily be passed watching a colony going about its work in the garden. The little ladies climb mountains with massive loads in their jaws, navigate hostile terrain with stolid perseverance, and live a social life many human groups might well envy. They also provide our resident woodpeckers with a ready takeaway meal. It's a comical sight to see a bird designed for perching vertically on a tree trunk standing on the ground looking like a drunk leaning into a strong wind, hoovering up insects between the cracks in the drive or around the path stones that lead to the vegetable patch.
Speaking of which brings us to the nub of the rub – as ants raise aphids like a herd of cows, are the runner beans more infested than they would otherwise be? Is this to be accepted, given the pests ants also deal with and the manner in which they aerate the soil?
A bit of tolerance may well be the order of the day, that is until a turned forkful unleashes an army of furious, mandible-gnashers who make a beeline, actually an antline, up the gardening trouser leg and bite me in the fleshy part of the calf.
It then takes some extra forbearance to step back and instead of unleashing an angry torrent of boiling water, seek another method of reducing the population. One method that works well near the border of the property is to stir up the nest with a stick and walk away. In less time that it takes to boil the kettle, the colony will have collected its eggs and set out on the great trek – hopefully under the fence and into the adjacent field.
Given the ants' ability to form massive armies acting like a single entity, such as those that can form rafts to cross streams, it is to be hoped that this highly successful genus have good memories. It is estimated that the biomass of all the ants in the world matches that of humans. If ever they come up with the notion that instead of a boat, they could form themselves into the physical likeness of a human, we could be in trouble. Just imagine two metres and 15 stone of armed antennae-wavers meeting you on the lawn and unwilling to parley over a territorial division. Those little pots of ant poison would be sneered at and the kettle swept aside.