(Page Updated: 30 December 2016)
I woke up last night again with ants forming a trail across my shoulder to get to some Lay’s potato chip remnants that must have been on my shirt and the bed. Seems whenever I watch a movie in bed and have the mandatory 20 baht bag of Lay’s, I wake up with ant bites all over. This has happened four times now and it doesn’t matter how careful I am about eating the chips – the crumbs are still falling somehow.
I am fascinated by the ants. I think it’s because I see humans as the ants of the world. I like watching us to see how we’re dealing with adversity. I watch the ants to see – do they deal with it in the same way or differently? Do they have anything to teach us? So far, the answer is definitely no. But, that doesn’t mean they’re not fascinating to me…
Thais’ ignore the ants. If I wasn’t around, my girlfriend wouldn’t even see them. They don’t bother her. I know this because when we first were dating and she stayed in her own room every time I went to her room there would be parades of ants leading to and from whatever food she had left on her plate on the floor. I watched to see – would she flip out over it like me? Nope. Not a concern at all. If ants aren’t biting her – she could care less what they’re doing. They could take over the apartment and she’d walk around them.
This morning as I got bit by an “Annoying Red Biter” – a smaller one, I realized… there are a lot of different types of ants in Thailand. I know about 7 kinds. I’m sure there are more. Here’s a little about each of the seven I’m aware of so you’ll know… some do damage, some not at all. Some are actually smart!
Sugar Ants or Sweet Ants
These I see at restaurants in the northeast a lot. They are almost microscopic they’re so small. They are a light tan color and no bigger than two heads of a pin. Actually smaller. Hmm, they are small like two periods of a sentence written here. They are very slow and maybe don’t appear to be moving at all they’re so slow. Or, they’re camped out grubbing on some sugar, chocolate, or jelly (jam) of some sort. If you start to kill them they do nothing different that what they were doing before. You can wipe out the entire colony in ten minutes as they keep sending ants right into the bloodbath from the home-base. They haven’t learned that dead ants around them might mean they too might meet the same fate. These are really dumb ants. They are virtually harmless – they don’t bite. At least that’s what the restaurant owner at Choke Dees near Tung C. Muang Park in Ubon told me.
Psycho Black Hyper-Speed Ants
These are psychotic little black ants that are maybe twice the size of the sugar ants described above. They are erratic little cusses that seem to be doing nothing in particular. They run about ‘willy-nilly‘ as my mom and grandmother used to say about us kids when we were little. Willy nilly is running around without any kind of purpose in a random fashion that bugs people. These ants are they same. They run around in short bursts of speed in random directions with no apparent goal. The only time they stop for any length of time is when they’ve come upon a fly or cockroach to eat. They then pool together and drag their food across door thresholds, up and down steps, up walls, etc. It’s so weird to see three ants pulling on one roach antennae like kids doing a tug of war contest. It appears that every ant is pulling a different direction. Sometimes the roach spins in circles until they get coordinated.
These appear to be ridiculously dim ants. If you attempt to squash them they turn into turbo psycho black hyper-speed ants and run in the most bizarre random patterns that your mind cannot duplicate. You cannot guess where they are headed next because their evolution has made them smarter than human beings in this limited area. However, it doesn’t take one long to realize that if you fake like you’re gonna squash one he stops for an instant to decide which way to run from your descending finger. At that point you can squash him. If you happen to squash one of them all the sudden six will appear from thin air and they’ll all be running these crazy patterns that mess with your mind and make you anxious and frantic like you need to kill them all immediately. If you do succeed in killing those six, twenty more will come. And so on. These ants also don’t understand the elementary fact that dead ants around them means they might also end up dead. Eventually you’ll kill a hundred or so before ants stop coming to see what’s up.
Geckos love to stand outside the hole in the floor leading to a nest of these dumb ants because they can eat smorgasbord style until they’re full. They just keep coming out and getting eaten, never smartening up.
These ants do not bite but just by virtue of being so fast they can quickly cover your leg and make you nuts because they are running scatterbrained all over you and giving you the creepy crawlies.
This is the ant I find in bed with me in the middle of the night. The only reason I know it’s in bed with me is that it’s biting from the time it feels warm skin beneath it. They bite immediately – like a centipede – for no apparent reason except they think because we’re warm, we are food. These ants are similar to the fire ants of Florida and the rest of the USA – the ones that migrated from South America so many years back. They are reddish brown, thick, and shiny. They have pincers if you look closely at their mouths. They inject a burning poison when they bite that is similar to a centipede’s sting – though on a much smaller scale. These are larger than the Psycho Black Hyper-Speed ants mostly in thickness, but they’re also longer by maybe half a body length.
These ants love food that people like. I think it’s the fat, though they eat just about anything. Chicken, Lay’s chips, banana cupcakes from Tesco… all appear to be favorites. I don’t think they like fruit and veggies. Oh, I’ve seen about a hundred thousand of them cover a nest of chicken eggs – forcing the hen away as they devoured scraps of chicken placenta left from the recent hatchlings. These are the ants that will always be in your garbage if you leave the bag outside for ten minutes.
Their bites hurt initially and then the pain disappears for a few hours. Then, usually at night for some weird reason, the spot they bit will start to itch intensely, driving some people to insanity if they have more than ten bites or so. Usually small red bumps will form. Later, in a day or so the red bumps will get a white dot on the top – this is, I think, your white blood cells that went in to fight the poison. Eventually your body wins and the red bumps go away. Some, like me – scratch them off. I have seen some Thai kids with horrible scars all over their legs where I think these ants got them repeatedly and the kids must be allergic to them or something. You’ve likely seen Thai people with horrible bug bite scars on their legs too if you’ve been here any length of time.
These ants are slow moving and fairly smart. If they see friends dying around them they’ll stop sending in others to be slaughtered.
Large Black Biters
These are like the regular black ants you might see in your country. Large, about twice as big as the Red Devil and not moving erratically. They appear to be on a mission of some sort. They don’t attack people at first opportunity like Red Devils but if you start killing them they’ll latch onto your skin and bite. They don’t hurt as much as the Red Devils, but after ten bites or so you’ll get aggravated and exterminate them all. These are fairly smart ants that run and hide when their friends start dying. I don’t see these ants very often.
Large Red 180’s
I call them 180’s because this is what their ant IQ appears to be. I look at the Red Devils as having a 100 IQ – normal in the ant kingdom. They understand death around them means death to themselves and they scat. The Psycho Black Hyper-Speed ants come in at around 80 IQ. The Sugar Ants don’t have an IQ – they are dumb like mud. The Large Black Biters are at 100 also as they demonstrate some basic intelligence regarding fearing death.
Why are these large red ants called 180’s? To me these are the smartest and coolest ants in Thailand. In fact, these ants rival mice in their intelligence. They can usually be seen outside walking along a fence or tree. They prefer outdoors – as I do. That’s smart to start with. Outdoors is where ants belong – on the ground and climbing trees. I’ve not seen these ants indoors here in Thailand – ever. They understand humans live indoors and don’t want ants living with them. Again, smart.
These ants if you look at them closely have heads and eyes. Yes I know, all ants do. But you can differentiate their heads and eyes. Not only that, but they will LOOK AT YOU and check you out if you get a finger or nose close enough. They’ll stop their marching and look up at you. If they can grab on to your nose they will so don’t get too close. You’ll be able to make eye-contact with these ants, which is a natural sign of intelligence. Isn’t it? I think so. It’s a sign of something. These ants have a personality. At least in my mind they do.
I like to give these ants tests. I do little experiments with them because I want to see what they do when faced with hardship. If they are marching in a procession across a fence in the back I will throw up a barrier to where they need to go and see how long it takes them to come up with another plan. They are fast. They check things out before walking over or through them. They are cautious about walking through tubes and other things laid in their paths. In the end they come up with a variety of ways to get around the barrier. They’ll go over it, around it and through it. They are very smart for the ant kingdom.
If I kill one and watch the rest. They go over to it, verify it’s dead and start telling everyone there was a friend killed over there. The entire march stops and the ants congregate until someone decides the new path to take. They alter the path so nobody else gets whacked. These are SMART ants. They don’t stop unless there is a bloodbath and you kill fifty ants or more. Then they’ll find a new path altogether – far away from the old one.
These ants will bite in self-defense. They are territorial. Meaning… if you play with their nest they will quickly cover your arm with two or three hundred of them and bite you all at once. They don’t hurt much, not even as much as the Annoying Red Biters which are much smaller.
Their nest is the coolest thing about these ants. I have no understanding how they do it as it seems impossible. They like certain leafy trees for their nests. Somehow, and I’ve seen them do it but it still doesn’t make sense, they bend the leaves together into a sort of sphere… but not really round. Let’s say into a pocket sort of. They then seal the ends of the leaves with spit or something that is like glue. When they’re finished there is a pocket of leaves – hollow on the inside. This is where the eggs are stored. The nests are covered on the outside with ants that look at you as you approach. They try to grab onto you so don’t get too close. Inside the nest are developing ant egg larvae. These larvae are edible. In fact, here is a short video of me eating some at a restaurant in Isaan a long time ago. A woman came selling the ant eggs in a bag. I bought 10 baht worth. I mixed them with some soup as I wasn’t sure what I was in for. They weren’t bad. A little acidic flavor is all I can really say about the taste. It wasn’t offensive, but not worth 10 baht a handful either.
Thai people collect the nests of these ants since they can sell the eggs for 10 baht a handful. At least to farangs that don’t have a clue how much to pay for them they can. If you’re wondering how these ants get an IQ rating of 180 if they are dumb enough to let humans harvest their eggs for consumption it’s because the scales are different. An ant IQ of 180 means a human IQ of about 50. See? lol. Anyway – these are the coolest ants and if you get a chance stick your face down within a couple inches and watch them watching you watching them.
Annoying Red Biters
These are red ants that are smaller than the Red Devils and that bite, though they don’t hurt near as much as the Red Devils. It’s amazing that an ant of this size can hurt at all but if you try an experiment where you put one on the back of your hand and watch him bite and try not to kill him as he sinks into your skin you’ll have quite an appreciation for the amount of pain this tiny little thing can cause you. Multiply that by ten or a hundred like when you get them on your towel you’re drying off with after a shower – like I have before and you’ll understand why they’re annoying. Get one or two on your privates – like I have – and again, you’ll have a real appreciation, understanding, and some learning will have taken place. You’ll likely never again pick up a towel after a shower without checking for these pests. Guys, try to explain to your spouse or partner that the swollen red bump on your privates was caused by an ant. No fun.
These ants are dumb but not profoundly dumb. I’m assigning them an IQ of 90. They do alter their course if some are killed. They choose a new course, but it’s so close to the old path that the entire population could almost be wiped out. I say almost because these are slow ants that have secret hiding places for their nest. I’ve never seen where a nest is for these ants. They appear to live everywhere and call nowhere home. You can never get rid of all of these ants as they are on the walls, floor, doors, in the beds, on the tables, in the restroom… they are everywhere. They are prolific and hardy because there appears to be no actual nest that you can wipe out. These are ANNOYING because they are always around.
Little Black Bastards
The small black thick ones that bite are the worst you’ll likely encounter in Thailand as they like to come in the house. These ants hurt more than the Red Devils, hence they are called Little Black Bastards. These are about the same size as the Red Devils, but maybe a bit smaller even. They are deep black and shiny. They have a large head and pincers to bite with. They move slowly which is good as they usually can’t cover you before you notice being bit. I’ve not had many encounters with these here in Thailand but I do remember being bitten and wondering – was it that ANT that just bit down on me or a crab? It was seriously much more painful than any other ant I’ve ever been bit by. These ants are not to be messed with. Kill them and kill them fast. Kill them completely. Kill them until the last one. Kill them until you are satisfied there are none in your house. Just kill them, whatever you do, kill them.
Big Red Hellfires
These are found in the jungle mostly, I’ve not seen any inside homes. These are massive red biting ants that burn more than the Red Devils and hurt more than the Black Bastards. These are ants from Hell. Thai people call them fire ants. I’ve only seen these a couple times out in the wild, but my Thai friend has been bitten by them. They HURT!
Those are the 7 types of ants I know about here in Thailand. Are there more? Probably hundreds more. Thailand is really a great place if you love wildlife. Stop looking at the nightlife and look at the wildlife!