12 March, 2007

I am a mass murderer of epic proportion...

...yet no one cares. Why? because my victims are Red Imported Fire Ants.

That's right! If I were placing little poison pellets disguised as pastries for animals that vaguely resemble people's pets, a general uproar would ensue. We are, after all, talking about a chemical compound that triggers an agonizing death.

If, however, I spread these poison pellets around a fire ant mound, no one cares. The fire ant lobby has not been very successful at recruiting supermodels to bare it all on behalf of fire ants in the middle of media watering holes.

I first encountered the critter in question back in Raleigh, when one of them wandered into my sandal and, less than impressed with my hospitality, left a parting gift that developed into an infection requiring treatment with antibiotics. (Obviously I'm talking about fire ants, not supermodels.) Now they've decided that my backyard is an ideal location to set up shop. Perhaps, like the mafia, they imagine that leaving a mark is tantamount to permanent intimidation. Or, they may have mistaken for an invitation that pile of leaves that I left in the back yard to rot into fertilizer. Either way, my wife informed me one day that we had more mounds in the back yard than I care to count. It's as if they decided this was a perfect stop along the fire ant highway to Disneyland.

I've been bitten only a handful of times since that first encounter, which makes me lucky. One of my colleagues was working in his back yard last year, and before he knew it the ants had swarmed over his forearm. He showed us the marks left over from their assault. Another colleague remarked that this is why he never goes into his back yard anymore.

I have no intention of ending up like that this year, nor do I want my wife or children to endure that either. Nor do I wish to stay out of my back yard, which is quite a nice place to spend time actually, fire ants aside. That one bite several years ago was bad enough, and subsequent bites failed to sweeten the memory. Hence my campaign against the ants.

The mounds are starting to look deserted. Most of the granules that I poured around them have disappeared. Apparently the bugs went after those baits like a bunch of bozos. We continue to monitor the situation, but saw a lot less fire ant activity today. My wife claims to have spotted actual corpses.

Kidding aside, I do wonder if I should feel bad in some way, knowing that I'm the cause of so many deaths. God gives all life, including to fire ants. Yet I feel no compulsion to mourn their passing. After all, no one mourns the bacteria and viruses with which my body has been locked in mortal combat lo these last few months—not entirely successfully, I add with some discouragement. Fire ants, possess a marvelous genetic and social complexity by comparison, and scientists think that they spray their poison on their babies as an antibiotic. They're almost as fascinating as bees. (Almost.)

Nevertheless, they fail to rank much higher than single-celled organisms on anyone's scale of caring, except a few biologists here and there who specialize in them. I don't believe that even Peter Singer has roused himself to speak on their behalf. (Don't know who Prof. Singer is or what he advocates? Follow the link.)

A former colleague of mine observed a vegetarian diet because he usually doesn't know the source of the meat. If he knew that the cow had been raised humanely on a friend's farm, with pasture to roam, etc., he allowed himself to indulge in the meat. His point was that the cow (or chicken, or pig) deserved some sort of dignified treatment, all the way through the slaughterhouse I reckon. I can admire that.

I wonder where he'd stand on the fire ants grown in my back yard. Ants are delicacies in some parts of the world, and a high proportion of graduate students are willing to eat anything. The more exotic it is, the better. Seriously! Another of my former colleagues once baked a cricket pizza, and pronounced it delicious. Yes, with real crickets.

What's with the face? Okay, I made that face, too, but there isn't that much genetic difference between a cricket and a crawfish, and most people consider crawfish delicacies, even people who don't come from the deep south. For that matter, you can buy chocolate-covered ants of the ordinary variety in some stores. Crickets, ants, fire ants, they're all the same. Talk about an opportunity for a profitable business venture! The market would be graduate students who are interested in exotic foods but want to make sure that the fire ants on that dish in front of them have been treated well, all the way up to the, uh, slaughterhouse, or whatever. Unfortunately, I've poisoned my herd, so I'll have to wait until next year to get in on the action, but you read it here first! Make sure you advertise your fire ants as organic and low in carbohydrates. You can get the Whole Foods and the Atkins diet crowds both in one fell swoop that way.

You know it's a good weblog entry when you conclude by bringing the Whole Foods and Atkins Diet crowds together. I don't think anyone's managed to unite those two groups before now.

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