They are marching through Annapolis' City Hall, trampling important documents and picking up crumbs. But the ants that have invaded the city's halls of power can roam free - at least as long as Mayor Ellen O. Moyer is at the helm.
The city's staff quickly learned that the new mayor's love for animals applies to all creatures great and small.
Very, very small.
When a secretary in her office proposed hiring an exterminator to get rid of the tiny black ants, Moyer wouldn't hear of it.
"They are teeny-weeny little ants," Moyer said. "I said, 'You can't exterminate those innocent little guys.' What are they doing? They don't hurt anyone."
Moyer, who took office in December, and her staff tried to lure the ants with a bag of sugar, hoping to capture them and release them elsewhere. When that didn't work, the staff bought her a toy ant farm for her birthday.
"Antville," as she calls it, has a miniature town center with a tiny City Hall. Moyer feeds sugar to the ants that are relocated from offices to the ant farm.
Employees have learned how to please their boss while ridding themselves of the ants that stroll freely across their desks and even their computer keyboards. It's OK to flick and brush, but never stomp or squish.
"In the mayor's office we know: 'Thou shalt not kill ants,'" said city administrator David Stahl. "Kill ants? With this mayor? You've got to be kidding."
Moyer is known for her love of animals. She says she still cries when she thinks about a certain plot twist in Bambi. In her Eastport neighborhood, she feeds stray cats and has them fixed, and she has established a nonprofit organization with which she hopes to open an animal rescue farm.
She helps turtles cross the road. She was late for a campaign function in the summer because she was helping a lost dog find its way home.
Wearing fur coats around Moyer is also taboo, her staff has learned. Public information officer Jan Hardesty - who has five fur coats - will walk out of City Hall without a coat rather than embarrass Moyer by wearing fur around her.
Hardesty said she has learned to live with the ants that have invaded her office, a former conference and lunch room that boasts the highest insect population. On a recent morning, she pointed to the ants that scale piles of papers on her desk.
"If I have to have roommates, it sure beats interns," Hardesty said.
"They walk in formation. You'd swear they were trained at the Naval Academy," she said. "They are hard-working, they are industrious, they stay trim."
But Hardesty said she has to watch out for hitchhikers when delivering important documents. On a recent trip to the State House, she had to brush ants from a stack of papers along the way.
Some on staff are even taking home Moyer's attitude toward bugs.
Sharon Cyrus, a secretary in the mayor's office, found herself thinking about the mayor recently when she discovered a large and noisy cricket in her house.
"I usually take great pleasure in squashing them," Cyrus said. "But I thought of her and instead tossed it outside."
One question remains: Does Moyer's no-squash rule also apply to cockroaches?
Although Moyer denies the presence of roaches, planning employees across the street say they are grappling with a 2-inch-long variety of the insects. Traps are set, but employees seldom stomp the roaches. That has more to do with the roaches than with the mayor.
"They are gross and disgusting," said senior planner Jacqueline Rouse. "Nobody would want that on their shoe."