The Ants Are Marching at DVC

Abraham Allison, a second-year computer science and graphic design student, was catching up on schoolwork last summer semester in one of Diablo Valley College’s study rooms when he felt a sharp pinch on his upper leg. Surprised, he looked down to find a small black ant crawling on his leg.

“It was the most terrifying experience of my life,” said Allison with a laugh. “I’ll never forget it.”

Beyond the humor – and itchiness – of the matter, Allison said these days he often finds himself staring at the increasing clusters of ants in his classes. And for him and other students, the insects have actually started to impact their learning.

“The ant traps are everywhere. I get easily distracted, seeing all the ants,” Allison said. “I just stop and stare at them. So during class I’m watching a trail of ants when I am supposed to be listening to this lecture.

“It’s very disruptive to my learning,” he said.

Ant invaders are nothing out of the ordinary at the start of the fall semester at DVC. James Buchanan, the school’s director of maintenance and operations, said the hot summer weather typically drives ants to seek refuge within the air-conditioned campus buildings.

But in August, with the return of students – and the food they brought with them – armies of ants stormed in with a vengeance.

For Buchanan, a typical work day around this time of year includes answering multiple calls of ant reports around campus and delivering Terro liquid ant baits to the scene. He urged students and staff to keep food items well sealed and to clean up any leftover crumbs or trash that could draw in the tiny foragers.

In the meantime, students aren’t the only ones feeling under siege. English professor Keith Mikolavich said he was heartbroken after he briefly left his office – and in it, his lunch –  only to discover upon his return that it had been infiltrated by a horde of ants.

“I had this beautiful piece of salmon, it was wrapped in seran and it got attacked,” Mikolavich said. “It was awful because that was my protein for the day and it was really good salmon. I hate to say it, but it was traumatizing.”

Beyond getting his food stolen, Mikolavich said he was worried about the ants distracting his students, so he brought in ant baits.

“We should be able to live amongst them peaceably, but we also don’t need them to interrupt our teaching and conferencing,” he said.

Allison also wanted to acknowledge the benefit of the invader species, whose members turn over and aerate soil to redistribute nutrients throughout the ground.

“Ants do help so much,” he said. But these days, Allison is creating a distance between himself and them.

“I watch out for ants. If I see them getting near me, I move away,” said Allison as he gently swatted at the “phantom ants” on his thighs.

“I don’t let them crawl on me again.”