Black Garden Ants party on the banks of the Thames

Don't let the ants attack your picnicAs we got off the train with wicker picnic basket and rugs in hand I was feeling smug that I had remembered everything for our picnic. As we made our way with the rest of the crowd, across Henley Bridge, behind the Steward’s Enclosure and along the river bank, I went through my mental check list. Yes, I had the sun cream, the hats and sunglasses. I’d remembered the cream for any encounters with agitated wasps ready to sting.

Even as we happily laid the blankets on the river bank, in the meadow with the rowers gliding their way to the start line at Temple Island for the next race, I was quietly confident every angle of this lazy afternoon by the river was covered. I had made sure I avoided the pit fall of cans of fizzy drinks (as I’d recently seen a friend stung when a wasp had crawled inside her drink can, without her knowing)and gone for bottles with lids and cartons with straws – as wasps find these more difficult to get into. I had been careful to avoid bright flowery, floral patterns and had chosen outfits in muted tones for myself and the kids. The theory being the less we looked like flowers, the less attractive wasps would find us.

Henley Regatta on the banks of the ThamesI thought all was well, until our picnic was underway. We had happily polished off the main course, with a few crumbs and stray crisps decorating the blanket, and had started on the deserts when we noticed an invading army of determined black ants marching their way across the picnic blanket, heading directly for the wicker hamper.

Later I discovered that black or garden ants leave a pheromone trail from their nest to a food source, so that all the other worker ants can come along and join in the feast.
Much to my daughters disgust we also discovered that these ants have a taste for sweet foods. Whilst we had been transfixed by the ants marching to and from the picnic hamper no one had noticed what else they were up to, until my daughter wailed as she discovered the ants swarming across her plate and all over the remains of her jam sandwiches.

By this stage my husband had gingerly lifted the corner of the picnic blanket to discover a mound of finely powdered soil from which the ant army were invading. It was at this point that we grabbed our hamper, shook down the blanket and beat a hasty retreat to a nearby picnic bench (having checked it was ant free first!) leaving the remains of the jam sandwiches as a peace offering to the ants, as we had inadvertently sat on top of their nesting site.

So lesson learnt, for next year’s Regatta picnic I shall be fully prepared for marauding ants as well as agitated wasps.

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