The Exterminator: Friday Office Poem

The Exterminator

Under the coffee cabinet
Where the wallboard ends

There is a seam where the
Ants return every spring

The exterminator says
It’s really a water problem

An unseen leak, a source
Of rot and ruin underneath

He washes his hands
When he is done

He is looking for another job
Without the murder part

He mentions the owls
Who eat the mice

Who eat the poison
He leaves out

He dreams of those
Unknowing owls

Most weeks there isn’t
Much to do

He checks the traps
And fills the bait stations

After, he sits in his truck
As long as he can call it work

His heart has not hardened
Like they told him it had to

Instead at night he looks up
Ants on the internet

The fungus farmer ants and
The parasite ants that find them

These guests seem lazy
They gorge on fungus

From their hosts
And eat their young

But when the raiders come
To take the fungus farm

The guests are soldiers
And so strong

Their venom bedevils invaders
And raider turns on raider

They are called mercenaries
Like it is just a job

A job you take home
And never leave

He turns the key in the cab
Clicks for the next customer

From the company that
Hires him when they are hired.

Where is the silent stream
Under the office park

That brings the ants back
Every spring?

How many years will I
Work in this office

Wait, watch, witness
Their silent return?

NOTE

The fungus-farming ants Sericomyrmex amabilis of Central and South America are often plagued by the parasitic Megalomyrmex symmetochus (left), which live among them for years, living off their food and mutilating their virgin queens. But new observations put an odd twist in this parasitic tale. A large population of nonfertile Megalomyrmex workers, whose function had been unclear, patrols their host’s territory to defend against an even more menacing invader: the predatory Gnamptogenys hartmani (right). Scientists staged a series of face-offs among the three ant species in the lab, as they report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In Sericomyrmex nests with no parasites, two introduced Gnamptogenys ants obliterated roughly 70% of the colony. But in parasitized nests, the Megalomyrmex ants dispensed an alkaloid venom that not only killed the Gnamptogenys raiders, but also turned them against one another. The scientists compare Megalomyrmex to the mercenaries who protected a medieval city during conflicts but drained its resources in times of peace.

‘Mercenary’ Ant is Both Scourge and Savior,” Kelly Servick

Also Read: Night From The Night Cleaner: Friday Office Poem

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