Sunday, 12 September 2010

Bachac attack

Photo courtesy Santiwah blog

Anyone who's been reading this blog for a while knows that I live in a forested valley teeming with wildlife that often gets much too close for comfort. Vipers, hairy spiders the size of dessert plates, centipedes, bats, foul-mouthed frogs, quarrelsome manicou families - we live intimately will them all. I've never mentioned bachacs, though, because they've never posed a problem.

I like walking outside at night, and sometimes I open the front gate and stroll in the street for awhile, enjoying my favorite time of the day. It's a quiet street but I don't go very far, just to the end of our wall and back. About a month ago, as I strolled along the grass verge, I saw something strange: a dark, foot-wide swath stretching across the paving. Closer inspection revealed it to be thousands upon thousands of bachacs going about their business.

The bachac is Trinidad's leaf cutter ant. It's about half inch long, medium brown, with a hard body and mandibles that can give you a painful pinch but not take the piece of flesh off like its cousin the tac-tac. Bachacs are a common sight, bustling along in single file, each carrying a shorn piece of leaf back to the underground colony where they grow their fungus gardens. Never, ever, have I seen anything approaching the numbers of them that I saw crossing the street that night, those going away from our wall carrying their cut leaf sections on high, those going toward the wall carrying no load. My eyes swept the wall. There they were, a wide band of them, moving up the wall like a dark insect wave and disappearing down the other side into in our yard.

Photo courtesy Maniac Muslim forum

There's something very unsettling about the sight of millions of insects, apparently moving with one mind, coming at you. When we lived higher up the valley, a four-inch wide column of large jungle ants marched down the mountain, crossed the neighbour's lawn, entered our yard through the chain link fence and began to swarm the laundry room which was separated from the house by a narrow passageway. It took a lot of wild scrunching of ants and dispersal of cans of insecticide before they got the idea that they weren't welcome. Watching this bachac invasion didn't come close to that hysterical experience, but it was still somewhat unnerving.

I couldn't imagine which plant they were decimating but I wasn't left in suspense for long. Over the next week or so we noticed that a line of variegated crotons planted on the inside of the wall was beginning to look a bit sparse. Days later, they were naked twiggy sticks shorn of every leaf. That was when my mother took herself off to the garden store and brought home a small plastic bag of bachac bait. She scattered it around the base of the wall. The next night the bachacs were still there, crossing the road in a thick swath. When I checked on the second night there wasn't a single bachac to be seen. The poison had done its work.

As always, when we tamper with nature I feel a twinge of conscience. I even feel it when I kill poisonous snakes in the yard. But it had to be done. My mother's vegetable garden has been devastated by the heavy rains; now that we're entering the petit carême, the short dry season in the middle of the rainy half of the year, she's putting her yard back into gear: ochroes, dasheen, sweet potatoes, patchoi, peppers, lettuce and tomatoes are all going into the dirt. With food prices going through the roof right now there's no way she'll allow the bachacs to reap what she's busy sowing every day, pottering around in her big ridiculous straw hat, holey jeans and the bright green Crocs I got her in the hope that she'd stop ruining all her good shoes in the yard.


Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

I don't blame your mother for one second, it's so frustrating to grow something only for it to be eaten by bugs.

Liane Spicer said...

Debs, I checked the street again last night... Not a backac in sight. I don't even want to know what's in that backac bait. It's obviously quite lethal as it destroys the entire colony.

Flowerpot said...

That does sound lethal! Amazing pictures Liane.

Liane Spicer said...

Flowerpot, the photos aren't mine; I took them from the net as my cellphone camera does not quite manage macro shots. Will amend the post to add photo credits.

Anonymous said...

I think the only people who love bachacs are mommy bachacs and Caribbean Chemicals :)

Liane Spicer said...

Mommy bachacs! Bwahahahah!

Don't know what CaribChem put in that bait but those bachacs are SO gone...! :D

Anonymous said...

Let me know how the war ends ;)

Lane Mathias said...

hairy spiders the size of dessert plates

You are a brave, brave woman.

ps I love the image of your mother in her gardening gear:-)

Anonymous said...

Well Liane, it's quite wonderful to see that no matter what piece of literature that you present, i can still find humour within it's confines. I must say that you should expect me to stop by any odd day this week,you do, very well know how i adore seeing your mother adorn her gorgeous shoes with earthen material as you sit inside eating her big fat juicy garden produced tomatoes while shaking your head in dismay.
PS. I must agree though that the mechanical way in which bachacs and ants move within there colonies is indeed just a tad bit heebeejibeesing.
Anyway, it's good to speak to you after all these years away at militay camp in Iraq. Just last week, at an Irish Pub in Amsterdam (you know what i was doing *wink*) i saw a lady resembling you with your beautiful siluetted shape (hahaha i can't spell siluette!)
Good-bye for now i'm off to have my evening tea.
Yours truly
Your old Finnish teacher

Liane Spicer said...

Know something? If it writes like a chicken, sounds like a chicken, acts like a chicken...

Liane Spicer said...

Lane, I have to admit the hairy spiders test my fortitude. One day I'll post a candid photo of my mom in her garden. She's a scream!