February 10, 2013

Some Like it Hot

The following is a guest post by Barbara Bruhwiler.

In Johannesburg, not only flying ants but also their wingless brethren are a nuisance.

As in other countries, our ants love to keep aphids as pets, and these little suckers ruin your plants. Not good. Ants also love to raid your kitchen and your cat food. Not good either. They build their nests underneath the skirting in your living room. You guessed it, not good.

But the ants in Joburg are also true South Africans: they like it hot.

That’s something I discovered one sunny morning. I couldn't hear the familiar sound of the irrigation system and did what you usually do in Joburg when things aren't working: I checked the fuse box in case the power went out. But everything there seemed ok. When I checked the irrigation system control box, however, it was perfectly clear that it was completely dead. No digits flashing, no green lights, not even red lights, nothing.

Then I did what I also usually do in these situations: I tried not to scream from frustration.

Because getting stuff around the house fixed is always a mission in South Africa. I ended up spending the better of the next two days tramping from shop to shop until I finally found someone who assured me he could get my irrigation system going again. He opened the control box to try and fix the problem, but instead of reaching for a screwdriver, he just muttered “Ants.” And showed me the inside of the box: It was completely black, obviously blown up.

It turns out that we had been quite lucky to escape without a fire in or around our house.

You would think these teeny-weeny little ants can't possibly do much harm, but they can, and do.

As the nice guy who sold me a new control box explained to me, ants like to stay in dry and warm places. These boxes are perfect for them, because they have a power connection and are therefore quite warm, and they are protected by a nice plastic cover that is nevertheless easy to be entered if you are an ant. While making themselves at home in my sheltered control box, the ant colony damaged its electrical “content” and caused a short-circuit fault that ultimately made the whole thing burn on the inside.

So irrigation systems are a perfect place for an ants’ nest – until they blow up, of course. As is your doorbell. And your intercom. And your pool pump. And your fuse box. And even your electricity meter. [Note by editor: I shudder to think how I would have explained that to Eskom to keep them from turning off our power - "But Sir, it was the ants' fault..."].

I love animals, I really do. Ever since my teenage years I have been donating to save wildlife and nature reserves. But I draw the line at tiny crawlies wanting to share my living space and even damaging it in the process.

I declared war.



First I went for the “natural” remedies that have been passed down for centuries, apparently, like lavender (ants are not supposed to like the scent) or baby powder (ants are not supposed to be able to traverse it). But it seems that our ants are hardy ants and not to be deterred by any of it these wimpy measures. 

So I stocked up on the lethal stuff and I'm happy to tell you it works. I recommend Doom “Multi-Insects” (broadband), Bygon “3-in-1-action” (for crevices and holes), Effekto AnTrap “Ant Bait” (for kitchen and anywhere else you don’t want to spray), and ant powder for the garden.

[Note by editor: You can also try to hire a pest control service, such as Rentokil, for complete peace of mind (but a rather steep price. Good luck battling your South African ants!]


Barbara Bruhwiler lives in Johannesburg with her husband and two children. She is an internationally successful author of five books. One of them is the Expat-Living.infoGuide to Johannesburg, a handy reference guide full of practical, useful information and advice for expats moving to or living in Joburg.