thoughts on storing food
October 13, 2006
I am not normally too closely involved in the details of the household food storage arrangements, but having been left on my own for a few days I have been made aware that the number one priority in this part of the world is to secure any non-refrigerated food, and in fact any non-refrigerated parts of the house against the depredations of other members of the Animal Kingdom. The main culrpits, as far as food is concerned, are the ants. We have more species of ants here than post-Saddam fatalities in Iraq. Some would fit on a pin head; others are the size of small ponies.There are apparently so many ants in the world that their combined weight is greater than that of all humans. What I discovered is that keeping food safe rests on one rock-solid biological principle: ants cannot swim. Put a stretch of water, even just an inch or two, between you and an ant and you are safe. I had often wondered why every market here sold things shaped like small rice bowls. I assumed they were for incense or some other material needed in making offerings to the spirits. In fact they are used to put at the base of any item of furniture, such as food cupboards, you wish to protect from ants. Ants approach them, lured by the smell of fried fish in the cupboard but on encountering the obstacle it’s like ‘hey guys, what’s this stuff?’ ‘ugh, it’s wet’ ‘don’t let’s mess with this, guys’ and they beat an ignominious retreat. All you need is to remember to top the little bowls up every few days, otherwise the ants, seeing that the area is no longer flooded, will be in in their millions. People who, unlike us, are extravagant enough to have a dining table put them under the legs of that, too. Knowing simple things like this would have saved the disaster that befell a recent visitor from Europe who left some chocolate in her suitcase. On opening it, she found her underclothes swarming with Oecophylla smaragdina, a feisty little creature with a particularly disagreeable bite. She was dumbfounded. ‘But I locked the suitcase’, she said ‘how could the ants know there was chocolate inside?’
ant on the hunt for chocolate
Ants not only have powers of perception that would make Uri Geller jealous, they also have no idea when their attentions are unwelcome. The worst is when you either unknowingly stand in the way of one of their columns of soldiers or, non-existent heaven forbid, unintentionally put your foot in their nest. The most abundant are some ginger-coloured fellows commonly called fire ants. I wasn’t sure why, as I had never seen any of them actually lighting a fire, until I leaned against a tree where they had nested. The Thais try to get their own back by eating ants’ eggs but this just seems to encourage them to lay even more eggs. According to one source “An ant brain has about 250 000 brain cells. A human brain has 10,000 million so a colony of 40,000 ants has collectively the same size brain as a human. An ant’s brain may have the same processing power as a Macintosh II computer.” There are probably ant physicists busily calculating surface tension, buoyancy and displacement ratios as we speak.