The Science of Smell…and Ants

With this lovely spring weather, a full month earlier than normal, has come spring showers…and ants.

If you have ever checked out my other blog The Deadly Nightshade then you will know that I truly do my best to be organic. A couple of years ago, after a particularly daunting invasion on several fronts of ants, we folded and hired a service.

I hated every visit.

I don’t want to have to spray chemicals to get the darn creatures to go away. I don’t want to live in a house full of chemicals and I don’t want to kill other creatures who don’t bother me and haven’t done anything wrong other than be in the wrong place at the wrong time…so I started researching natural ant deterrents.

One of them happened to be spearmint. And this turned into a lesson on the science of smell and how smell affects ants.

I explained to Emily that ants know where to go for food, for shelter, for water, and more – simply by the chemical trail left by others. And I told her that we would be experimenting with what happens to an ant when that chemical trail is interrupted, or worse, overwhelmed by another more repelling scent.

We have a tile floor in our kitchen and right about that time, here came an ant. I grabbed a bottle of spearmint essential oil and a q-tip. I moistened the q-tip with the oil and traced it along the perimeter of the tile square.

Instant results. The ant stopped an inch away from the border and literally jumped back.

This continued for a while as the ant tested out the boundary of his spearmint oil prison. And then I began to dial it down to a smaller and smaller box. Here you can tell by the sheen on the tile that he is now in a two by four inch space…

The effects of the oil don’t last forever and we were able to get a second ant into the tile as well…

We even drew circles around each of them, confounding their efforts to escape or at least meet up with each other. It was an interesting experiment and was a nice lead-in to discussing an ant colony, and what a typical ant’s life cycle is like. You know, one that hasn’t been surrounded by spearmint oil and poked at by curious humans!

Meanwhile, I’ll be planting mint around my foundation outside of our kitchen. I’m hoping it will be enough of a deterrent that we won’t have to resort to awful chemicals again. At least I should have plenty of mint for my tea!

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