Bugs of Malawi: A Mob of Ants in My Garden

Docile Ant, Malawi

The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Malawi Government.

Mountain Sunrise Over Lake Malawi | Erica Robbin

Nauka Makola! Good morning!

Welcome to the series about my volunteer experience serving overseas with the United States Peace Corps.

I departed for Malawi, Africa about a year and a half ago. All of us were evacuated out of our countries due to the COVID-19 situation, resulting in a departure from my site earlier than expected. However, I had an amazing time and will be sharing a bit about my journey.

Malawi is a small, beautiful, landlocked country with a rather large population relative to land size. Geographically defined by the Great Rift Valley and enormous Lake Malawi, it’s located in southeastern Africa. Known as the “Warm Heart of Africa,” people are warm, friendly, and very welcoming, striking up a conversation with enthusiasm and genuine interest.

Starting with just one small segment of a larger part of my life there, I’ll post a series of insects I came across, which I mentioned I wanted to do in my post Happy New Year! What I’m Looking Forward to in 2021.

Eventually I will write about other topics related to my experience living in Malawi. A bit more personal while reserving other aspects. Likely more in present tense as I didn’t have access to consistent electricity and internet at the time I drafted most of my posts.

I hope you enjoy the series!


My happy, peaceful garden

Being out in the garden is a place of solace for me. It’s satisfying to wake up and see on how much the vegetables have grown, getting my hands in the soil at each stage of the process, the earthen smell after a night’s rain.

I find it relaxing even on days when the water and electricity goes out and I have to ride my bike to the well, hauling about 3-4 jugs of water to ration out a little sustenance in anticipation of a hot, sunny day.

Rainy season in Malawi is an incredible blessing.

Onions, like this little sprouted seedling, need a lot of water.

Malawi Garden | Erica Robbin
Malawi Onion Sprout | Erica Robbin

As far as volume, rainy season is often similar to the desert monsoons of Arizona, releasing several inches over a very short period of time.

Massive flooding occurs in areas where the ground cannot absorb water fast enough.

Difference is, rainy season can also come as a steady pour most of the day, every day from November to April.

Woodchips Around Sweet Basil Plant | Erica Robbin
Basil seedling

As rains stop midmorning and the sun rays beam intensely over the country’s coordinates, about 933 miles south of the equator, the sandy soil turns fast draining. Drying up quickly like it never even rained that day. A hard crust forms. Cracks appear.

With intermittent access to water I had to take full advantage of the rain, collect it, and find ways to retain much needed moisture for the soil. Otherwise soil becomes like brick, smothering vitality from my plants as it prevents oxygen from reaching the roots.

Wood chips sprinkled over top of a good early morning water seems to be the best technique with the resources I have.

Unfortunately… wood attracts insects like termites.

All those brown piles, breakdown from the termites.

They do seem to aerate the ground though, so not too much of a problem, plus they don’t eat any of my plants.

Termite Mound in Garden | Erica Robbin

After taking up gardening a few years ago, I’ve always pictured myself like Snow White.

Friends with all the woodland creatures.

A mutual symbiotic relationship.

Everything good and dandy.

Except termites attract insects like ants.

All kinds of ants. Definitely not the cute, tiny sugar ants that parade around if you leave something sweet on the kitchen counter.

No, most of the ones I saw look like ginormous carpenter ants, others known as siafu, driver ants, or Dorylus, are quite powerful and can take down small livestock.

I found these three wandering around my garden. Some subtle differences, all registering as ants on my Picture Insect identifier app.

Termite VS Flying Ant Orkin | Erica Robbin
Orkin bug comparison chart

One day my site mate had just come over, was quietly reading a book on the porch, us enjoying the tranquility of the day.

Completely immersed in gardening tasks, I was on my hands and knees pulling weeds, which I find rather calming, when a swarm of what looked like ants came filing in. Lines and lines. A mob of ants from every direction, completely out of nowhere.

Suddenly I was thrashing around violently, trying to brush them off, screaming, “Oh my gosh! Ouch! OUCH!”

It was frightening! I’m usually not too disturbed by bugs in the garden, but what bothered me is that these ants are stealthy.

Before I knew it, thousands were surrounding me. They crawled in my shoes, socks, pants. Pinching my skin with their mandibles and wouldn’t shake off. They clung on angrily with all their might. I was the one that invaded their territory and they didn’t want me to forget it. I couldn’t get away fast enough and I still had so much work to do.

Stirred up by my presence, they made this buzzing sound.

After about 20 minutes of their purposeful mission, weaving in and out of the termite holes. They marched off. Leaving as promptly as they came, not one to be found. I was shaken up a bit, but it was peaceful in my garden once again.

Did You Know? Ant Facts for Kids | Erica Robbin
Did You Know? Ant facts for kids article from a Malawi newspaper clipping

Are you itching yet?

Malawi Village Landscape | Erica Robbin

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest form of appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

John F. Kennedy 

<span class="uppercase">Hello, I'm Erica </span>
Hello, I’m Erica

Recipe developer, book reviewer, and artist. Expect delicious recipes both traditional and new, book reviews of all sorts of genres, a variety of creative expression, life musings, and much more!



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