23 July 2009

The microwave doesn't kill ants

Someone at HowStuffWorks.com was reading my mind when they posted this question and answer. To paraphrase: How come the microwave didn't kill the ant on my plate?

Ants in the kitchen are a big problem here and it's impossible to avoid them. They are harmless, except for the fact that they're walking all over your food if it's left on the counter unattended for two minutes. I'm always able to clean any ants off before consumption. But it's true that if you're hoping to kill ants on your food by zapping them, it won't work. Here's why:
Small black ants are only about 2 millimeters long, and they also have a certain amount of intelligence along with built-in temperature sensors. Their intelligence and their small size gives them the ability to survive in a microwave oven.

You may have noticed that your microwave oven does not heat evenly. This is especially true if there is no spinning carousel in the oven (or if you turn the carousel off). The microwave energy in the oven has hot spots and cold spots.

So the ant is walking around, and its intelligence allows it to sense the hot spots and avoid them. Its small size means that if it makes a small mistake, heat dissipates very quickly. That gives her a little extra time to explore for a cooler spot. And the sandwich also created some “shadows” – areas where it absorbed a lot of the microwave energy – giving the ant even more protection.

If you were to constrain the ant so it could not move around, the probability of death is much higher.
Who knew they were so clever and sensitive?

Eventually you learn to live with the ants. You have no other option. You get to the point where as long as they're not biting you and they're sticking to the kitchen where the food is, as opposed to crawling on you while you sleep, you may as well live with them in harmony. There's not enough RAID on Earth to kill all the kitchen ants in Burundi. (Rest assured, a huge amount of our food lives in the refrigerator, which the ants cannot penetrate.)

2 comments:

Deidre said...

What scares me the most is not necessarily the ants - but when they form an army and you can see them parading around the kitchen and out the yard and back again in full force! it totally freaks me out.

Stephanie said...

It's funny how tolerances and sensitivities change over time just by living with something you can't change. An army of little kitchen ants used to freak me out. But we had a brief invasion of actual army ants that changed my whole perspective. These little guys are harmless in comparison. http://whereintheworld-stephanie.blogspot.com/2009/07/les-fourmis-militaires.html

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