Red invasion

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What are all these red dots doing on my bathroom floor? Didn’t I just clean the bathroom? Why are they moving around? Suddenly it hits me and a nightmare from another lifetime flashes through my memory: It’s spring in Iceland which means the dreaded red invasion has arrived.

One of the good things about the cool Icelandic climate is the lack of bugs. There are no mosquitoes (except near lake Mývatn, which is home to midges - mosquitoe-like blood-sucking winged creatures - and the lake is actually named after them), no hairy spiders, no cockroaches; just the average house fly, harmless beetles, dull little butterflies and the occasional bumble bee.

But Bryobia praetosa thrives in Iceland’s cool climate. It is a tiny reddish acarina, eight-legged creature called rodamaur (“red ant”) in Icelandic. It survives by sucking juice out of plants and loves crawling on house walls. It crawls out of the garden, up the wall, through every little crack in the window frame and finally into the house.

The red ant invades the house to have metamorphosis or to lay eggs and invites all its friends to join the party. Though it is easy to squash one it would take all day to chase every singe one. And for every red ant you kill, hundreds more spring to life. You can vacuum your floor, but the next day it is sprinkled with red dots again. You can have your garden poisoned, which puts the creatures out, but new ants crawl out of their eggs after awhile. The red ants always return. It is a battle doomed from the start.

My childhood home was on the ground floor in an apartment complex and for some reason the red ants in our garden were particularly fierce. I vividly remember my first encounter with them. I was about seven and I had noticed red dots moving around on my bedroom wall. I figured out that if I squashed them with my finger and let it slide down the wall I could decorate it with red stripes. At that point I was quite happy with my tiny reddish visitors… but my mother was not as happy when she saw my wall’s new look.

The red invasion seemed to grow every year. In 2000, my final spring in my childhood home, the ants were everywhere. The windowsill had taken a form of a bulky red mass – that moved. The wall beneath it was more red than white. If I was wearing white socks the soles of the feet would become red by the end of the day. Every morning my pillowcase was spotted with squashed ants and I could feel the survivors moving around in my hair. They even invaded my sleep and gave me nightmares.

I was so relieved to move out of that apartment, away from the country and away from the red ants. Now, back in Iceland, I unwisely decided to live on the ground floor again. I had totally forgotten about the threat of the red invasion; I had erased the horrible ants from my memory.

But here they are, alive and well, crawling around on my bathroom floor and swimming in my bathtub.

Fortunately, I’m moving out in two months. My boyfriend and I bought a lovely three-bedroom apartment in a nice neighborhood located centrally in Reykjavík. It is, however, situated on the ground floor in an apartment complex. The master bedroom faces the lawn. When we went to look at the apartment my first question was: “Do you have problems with red ants in spring?”

The answer was “no.” Apparently the whole garden has been dug up and a layer of gravel put underneath the grass and along the walls to prevent dampness and to keep the red ants away.

I truly hope that really did do the trick and that I won’t have to fear red invasions in my new home.

ESA – eyglo@icelandreview.com 

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.