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Jul 04
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Killing Ants – Exploring Compassion

photo credit: Budzlife via photopin cc

photo credit: Budzlife via photopin cc

COLUMN: In Everyday Life

by Michelle Welch, Phoenix, Arizona

One morning last summer I went into my kitchen and found it was covered in ants. They were everywhere – all over the floor, on the walls, on the countertops, in my vegetable basket, in the cats’ food bowls. I immediately shut the cats up in a back room and fumigated the rest of the house with bug spray, telling myself what I always do when I kill bugs: If it was a cricket, I’d just catch it and put it outside, but it’s ants, and there’s never just one ant. They won’t leave until their food source is exhausted. That’s what ants do. I’m as careful as I can be not to step on ants when I’m outside, but when they’re in my house all bets are off.

The next morning I went into my fumigated kitchen to make breakfast. I opened the salt canister and found one small dead ant, curled up on a blanket of white. It had obviously crawled into the canister to escape the fumes. At that moment my heart broke, imagining the poor thing fleeing for shelter, not knowing it had already been exposed to a lethal dose of bug spray. I felt terrible.

This launched me into a familiar dilemma, one that hits me every time I reach for the bug spray to get rid of an ant infestation, silence that cricket outside my window who’s keeping me awake all night, or – once – putting an end to the wasps who had built their nest above my front door. I feel bad about killing the ants. If I feel so bad, I shouldn’t kill them, right? But I have to kill them. It’s never just one ant. I need to get sleep at night or I can’t function during the day. And wasps in the house are something no one wants. I cling to my logic in a desperate attempt to escape the terrible feeling of having caused the death of a living thing.

But after spending some time feeling terrible, and scooping the dead ant out of the salt, I realized that I don’t have to turn to logic to avoid those feelings. I also don’t have to torture myself with unrealistic (and probably unwise) resolutions to never kill another bug again, just to make myself feel better. I killed something and I feel bad. That’s as it should be. The irony of life on this planet is that every living thing must kill and consume other living things in order to survive. It’s sad and it’s painful and there’s no way around it. Avoiding the pain through logic or resolutions won’t change that fact. There’s nothing to do but accept it. All I can do is feel bad for the ant in the salt canister. And then make breakfast.

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10 responses to “ Killing Ants – Exploring Compassion ”
  1. Darcy Vista
    Jul 14, 2014

    I have an ant infestation every spring in my 320-square foot basement apartment. A little internet research taught me many non lethal ways to control ants (cinnamon, mint, chili pepper, citrus, chalk, garlic, etc etc). A little trial and error is needed. When I see swarms of them, I sweep them up with a soft brush and put them outside. Yes, it’s time consuming, and invariably a few die in this process, but I believe that intentionally killing them breaks my refuge vow. Feeling bad is not all you can do–it’s just the first step. I don’t think It’s useless to regret killing ants even if you suspect you’ll do it again one day. (The fact is that you know better, or you wouldn’t feel bad about it. ) You could also apologize before the Three Jewels, make prayers for the rebirth of the ones you’ve killed, and resolve to try harder to protect the lives of sentient beings. Yes, all beings end up killing other beings in order to survive, even vegetarians, but is your own survival is being threatened here?

  2. Lucie Benzerdjeb
    Jul 9, 2014

    What a great discussion, I love it. I think it is good to avoid killing and use poison, when it is possible. But there might come up situations where it is not possible. And then we have to take that in. We try our best.

  3. Abbey Pleviak
    Jul 8, 2014

    Diatomaceous Earth works fairly well. If you put it in the area where they are coming in or on the shelf with the food they are attracted to (they love my honey jars!), it kills those who tread upon it. Since ants leave each other scent trails, they quickly learn from each other’s messages to no longer go that way. Doing this has significantly decreased the amount of ants in my house and also the number of them that I kill.

    Yes, it is painful. I agree. There is so much needless killing going on every day in this world. I think it is brave to allow yourself to be in touch with the pain that goes along with it.

    Thanks so much for this article and following posts — this has been on my mind a lot lately, too!

  4. Last summer i had ants in my kitchen, around the garbage, sink, cat food. I put down chile powder,baking soda, peppermint oil. Those really didn’t work. This year i decided to feed them close to their nest. I put out sugar, melon rind and fruit. They love potato, cucumber, and avocado. This is actually working. They are not coming in the house.

  5. I think this was a wise posting abou the need to “fix” and try to feel better, so it’s ironic that all the answers are about “fixing” or preventing and barely reflect on the somber FACT you are pointing out that we (unavoidably at times) kill. Are the above people all vegetarian? Toxic bug spray or no, even if you find other better ways to avoid needless killing, your original sentiment feels true and poignant to me. Good job Michelle.

  6. This is going to seem a lot less exciting than the conclusions drawn above about acceptance, but… The lesson we learned from our ant infestation after going through the agony of mass murder was to set clear boundaries ahead of time, out of compassion for ourselves, the ants, and the larger situation–so we don’t put ourselves in a position later on where we have to become mass murderers and supporters of toxic death. We googled around and found that there are a number of very effective ant-deterrents. Since our ant-friends were all coming in through a single door in our 3rd floor apartment, a periodic sprinkling of cinnamon sufficed as a 100% fix to the problem of ants getting in. It is incredibly good to watch the ants heed the warning and turn around on the door-sill.

  7. I’ve found that here in the northeast U.S. ants come in the house in the spring, looking for food and water. If I keep the area around the sink dry, and leave no crumbs or other food out where they can access it, they go away pretty quickly, looking elsewhere for sustenance. Bug spray is not only bad for bugs, it’s bad for people and pets too. I’m not saying I never kill any bugs – sometimes I do. I’m just saying that I think ants can be managed without toxic spray.

  8. I encounter this problem frequently as a housepainter. It’s pretty awful to suddenly get multiple stings when you’re on a high ladder with a bucket in your hand. Somebody told me that Trungpa said, ‘you have the right to defend yourself.’ They killed the wasps.
    However, you can move nests when it’s cold (early in the morning), then spray bleach on the spot, so they can’t find their scent.

  9. Also I am in country side. I avoided a lot of dilemma like that making sure all food is in container (metal or glass one for the mice, they make hole in plastic ones !!) The vegetables or potatoes are hanged. Not leaving food on the table at night.

    No food, no insects …

  10. Errol Korn
    Jul 4, 2014

    I had a similar problem a few years ago with Yellow Jackets. They had created a nest in my external house wall near the front door and were stinging everyone who wanted to come in. Not a great or sustainable situation.
    I eventually got a local bee keeper and general insect problem person to find the nest, vacuum up the yellow jackets, and take them out to the woods for release. No insect deaths.
    I then repaired all problems in my brickwork which is how the problem started in the first place.
    There might be a similar cure for ant and roach problems.

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