A small number of the carpenter ants I killed one evening inside our bedroom.
We were gone for three weeks and came home to find a neat little pile of sawdust on our bedroom window sill. Carpenter ants, I realized, had decided to share our home with us. Normally, I go out of my way to avoid randomly killing insects, spiders and other invertebrates, but these had broken the cardinal rule: my house is off-limits. The battle had begun. As I am writing this a five days later, I am hearing ants fall from the window sill where I had removed the casing and sprayed a harmless to humans, but deadly to ants, treatment. The ants are falling on a sticky glue-trap where they writhe and die. Some can make it off to face my vacuum, others are stuck and quickly succumb.
This is a serious problem as carpenter ants can wreak havoc on wooden structures, and almost all homes have substantial wood in them. The fact that I have killed literally hundreds of ants may make me feel better, but the colony could number in the thousands and may, one night, simply carry my wife and I off to feed their young.
Home invasion by animals has been a constant battle ever since humans moved into structures. Often, we think of the larger vertebrates such as mice, rats, squirrels, bats and skunks when we consider creatures we don’t want to share our living space with, but the list is much larger when you consider invertebrates, the subject of this column.
When I think of insects, spiders, silverfish and such, I have really considered that mostly a problem of the southern states. My daughter and her husband met while selling pest control in Georgia and it is a popular and never-ending job for college kids. Even though the South has many more species to deal with and better growing conditions, Idaho is not immune from invertebrate invasions. For instance, according to the latest (2021) termite infestation probability zones (TIP zones) Idaho is located zone 3, slight to moderate probability, downgraded from an earlier map that had Idaho in zone 2, moderate to severe.
Many years ago, I was sleeping fitfully in my apartment in San Salvador, El Salvador, only to awaken with a start to find a large cockroach tapdancing on my forehead. I freaked out, grabbed the huge beast and fastball pitched it against the wall. After leaving El Salvador, I haven’t seen many cockroaches, but Idaho is home to four species: German, American, Oriental and brown-striped cockroaches. Ironically, none of these is native to the United States, even the largest, the American cockroach, which is a native of China. Cockroaches are secretive, nocturnal and seldom seen. In fact, the conventional wisdom is that if you are seeing cockroaches during the day, you have a serious problem. They are mostly transported from infested areas to uninfested areas in cardboard shipping boxes.
Cockroaches are bad news in the health department. They are not careful what they walk on and pick up lots of bacteria and viruses that they then spread to exposed foods while we are sleeping.
Silverfish are another secretive invader. These small bristle-covered insects are also known as carpet sharks, fishmoths and paramites. Besides just being creepy, silverfish are destructive, having a sweet-tooth for starchy things like paper, cloth, cardboard, book bindings, upholstery, flour, oatmeal, and more. One telltale sign of silverfish is tiny “pepper flakes” of excrement on counters and tables.
Ants of several varieties may find our homes to their liking. Thankfully, we don’t have fire ants, but sugar and garden ants are common, and as out latest experience has proven, carpenter ants are always a serious threat. I have seen large fallen logs completely hollowed out by carpenter ants and I don’t want that to happen to my home.
Are there ways to control these home invasions? I will delve into that next time.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho