bee stories miscellaneous musings

Why I hate ants

I grew up in rural Pennsylvania in a tiny town nestled below the Allegheny Mountains. I loved the place—the woods, the farmland, the mountains. And my grandfather was really cool. He could pare the skin off an apple in one long piece that spiraled off his knife like a corkscrew, and he could say the alphabet backwards faster than anyone else could say it forwards. We hiked and fished . . . and he taught me how to triangulate a bee tree before I could tie my shoe.

One of my favorite pastimes was playing with ants. I played with them by the hour. I dipped the stem end of a black walnut leaf into the birdbath and used it to “paint” mazes on the flagstone walkway. The lines of water made barriers the ants wouldn’t cross. I could make the ants work harder—and walk further—than they wanted to. I was in charge.

I loved everything about those summer days—the way the walnut stem oozed stickiness, the way the flagstones smelled of earthworms, the way long-legged bugs made footprints on the water. Thing is, I didn’t call the little black creatures “ants.” Like everyone else in town, I called them antimires . . . or something like that. I don’t actually know how to spell it, but it sounded like “Aunty Myers.” I never doubted the name.

When I was old enough to go to school, my parents moved to the city in hopes I would get a better education. “City” is a relative term, of course. To folks in town, the city was a place with a stop sign and more than one diner.

Turns out, I didn’t like school all that much except for lunch and recess, but I made the best of it. One autumn day we were on the playground when I spotted an ant hill. Elated, I called to my new friends. “Antimires!” I said pointing. “Come on, let’s dig ‘em up!”

I dropped to my knees and began to paw through the dry-as-dust soil. My fingers bled on these raucous occasions, but I never cared. Soon a voice behind me demanded, “Antimires? What’s that?”

“You know,” I said, continuing to excavate.

“Antimires?” she said again. Something about her voice didn’t sound exactly friendly, and when I looked up I saw a small group gathering around us. Then more kids arrived. And more. Soon they started to chant. “Antimires! Antimires!”

“It’s fun,” I defended weakly. “Look, they got eggs!”

I heard someone in the group say something about ants, and it slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y, dawned on me that it was the word they objected to, not the activity.

As the chanting grew louder, heat spread over my skin—like viscous burning molasses it stuck to me, tortured me. My throat felt like I’d swallowed a bramble. My ears burned until the chanting shattered into silence. I wanted to run but my legs were rubber. I wanted to disappear, but all I could do was cry.

Long story short, I never forgave the ants for the humiliation I suffered that day. I haven’t played with ants for decades. I feed them to my chickens. I stomp on them with malice aforethought. That ants are Hymenopterans, just like honey bees, is an annoying fact I just have to deal with.

The odd thing is that the word “antimire” isn’t the only regionalism that stuck with me. Although I’ve spent a lifetime ridding myself of quaint mountain expressions, every now and then I utter something that marks me as a child of the hills. Still, “antimire” is the only one that really hurt.

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking. If I could find a walnut leaf, a flagstone, and a birdbath, maybe I could start over. Maybe I could renew the old friendship and spend the rest of my life peaceably co-existing with the antimires. Seriously, I wonder if I could . . .

"Look, they got eggs!" Photo courtesy of Alex Wild.


P.S. If you like antimires–or even if you don’t–be sure to check out more insect photos at Alex Wild Photography.


  • Rusty,
    Nobody can take the hills from under your feet. They flow through you, give you strength and make you what you are. Never apologize for antimires. The other kids were wrong and would cower in fear of what you can confront, what your grandfather taught you.

  • Yes, Rusty, I believe you need to restart your relationship with the “antimires.” Don’t let the cruel behavior of your childhood keep you from enjoying and appreciating the amazing creatures called ants.

    I never realized they were in the same “family” as honey bees (thanks for that). That really makes sense though, because like the honey bees, they are very hard workers who can do unbelievable feats. Even the Bible recognizes their work ethic and gives them praise for it (Proverbs 6:6-8, 30:25).

    • Thanks, Tom. By the way, antimires are in the same order (not family) as bees. I realize you are probably just using the word casually, which is fine, but technically “order” is a larger classification than “family.” Picky, picky, I know. The order Hymenoptera includes ants, wasps, bees, and sawflies.

  • I didn’t mind ants until they took over my 10-frame top feeder. I am not at all certain that it was the bees who ate the sugar water. It was probably the ants, the ones who started running with their eggs when I took the feeder off today. They were making themselves quite at home. 🙁

  • Hi to everyone, I have a vote for ants here. Anyone who keeps dogs and/or cats as family members and these animals roam freely about your yard and home then I believe that ants are a blessing. Apparently they eat flea eggs and flea larvae. This means that you can stop using chemical stuff for flea eradication on your animal(s). Always good news for bee people right? Sorry Rusty that horrible kids spoilt your childhood game. I hope it didn’t make it difficult for you to teach your own children about the auntymyers. Lindy

  • I don’t like ants for a different reason…. Argentinian ants are all over the site and hives where my hive and other hives are located.

    We have tried many things to keep them out of the hives but they are insidious.. We are using tanglefoot now and everything gets caught in that including bees and a lot of debris that blows around the site. I know, you say they are just trying to provide food for their colony but they invade the hive and are very hard to get rid of – so what is a girl to do?

    Any suggestions are welcome!

  • I was born and raised in Erie County. Our Dad came from the Franklin/Oil City area and was a true fountain of natural information that he imparted to us as we grew up. In reading this, I felt transported back home again.

    We learned how industrious those little ants were until death, never wavering from their task regardless of what challenges they found in their way.
    Now I live down south where there are fire ants. I stepped into a nest while pruning rose bushes, and I have the scars still. When you get bit even by one, you feel like that patch of flesh in on fire from the bone out. Ouch!!!

    It was a very scary time because I’m diabetic, and foot injuries like that can be life threatening, but it’s healing over time.

    Praise and Thank God!!!

  • I would totally encourage you to renew your connection with the ants and forget about those means kids and what happenned that day. To me I had never heard the term antimires but it sounded really cute and friendly. Too bad you couldn’t feed those mean kids to the chickens instead!

    I grew up watching ants for hours, mesmerized and amazed…I even would train them to come out at certain times by feeding them bits of sweet coconut. I even was able to tell some particular ones apart and would name them based on their personalities. I recall some of my family would be concerned how could I be watching these ants for hours and not be interested in other kids activities but the ant world and behaivior was fascinating to me. They taught me so much. Today through your site I also learned that ants are in the same order as bees!

    Well I like bees too but I never had chance to observe hives but I have always wanted to have beehives. Today also for first time on an impulse bought honey in a comb that I found in a store…it just had some amazing energy to it so I decided to try it. Being an avid tea drinker I first put it in tea. Wrong thing to do, I had tea with a wax film floating on top. Then I tried it straight wax and honey and all and it tasted amazing! What fragrance and aroma and vitality! Then I decided to check internet just to make sure its okay to be eating the wax! And by now I’ve had about 3 pieces of warm toast with spread of honey comb and am so happy. It’s real food!

    • Karen,

      That is a really cool story. I’m so glad you tried the honey comb and I’m so happy that you like it. Another convert!

    • Lee,

      So good to know! I should have looked it up. My relatives out there were Dutch and German. I feel vindicated!

  • What a great story! I felt sad that you were humiliated as a child for something so innocent & charming. I had some similar humiliations as a child so I truly felt sad reading that part. I’m so happy to read your story & know that you’re cycling through those parts of your life so that you can get back to your joyous roots & childhood & hopefully know that cruel things like that from other children/people really have nothing to do with who we are. I appreciated reading it because it reminds me of some of the things I’ve cycled around with! You’ve got a way with words & an absolutely wonderful blog. I read it all the time & learn from you constantly! THANKS!

  • Rusty. my dad was from Trenton Pa. My granddad had a farm in Sarver Pa. Was located NE of Pittsburgh Pa. What part of Pa were you from?

  • I read your article on essential oils and the control of varroa mites 7/12/2009. Can you please give me the recipe (quantities of each) for the for the vegetable oil and sugar patties that contain wintergreen and tea tree oils?

  • Hi Rusty,

    Looking for advice again. Opened up a newly installed nuc yesterday to find large black ants feeding on what looked liked honey bee body parts (just a few). Ive heard Borax sprinkled around the base of the hive works to control them, but I’ve also heard Borax will kill bees as well. I’ve also heard that I can sprinkle cinnamon on the top of the inner cover to control the ants. My hives are up on stands made from cinder blocks and wood beam stringers, and therefore “oil moats” at each base of the hive stand wouldn’t work. I would greatly appreciate any advice. It’s my daughters hive and it’s a bit weaker than mine, and of course she erupted into tears when she pulled the cover and discovered the ants. She is very attached to her “girls” already : )

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