All Creatures Great and Small

Ants

I will be posting info on how to control all pests on a daily basis and will be posting them in alphabetical order. The first pest is ants and this is long.

 

ANTS

(Hymenoptera)

There are several things you can do to prevent ants from entering your home. The first step is exclusion.  Go around the outside of your home and inspect it very carefully from an ant’s point of view. Ants can sense cool air and aromatic odors emanating from your home and will try to gain access. Check around the house at ground level and look for cracks in the foundation, voids around pipes, areas under stucco, peepholes in bricks and similar areas that ants can use to gain entrance. All these areas need to be sealed, caulked, screened or otherwise altered to prevent ants from using them to get into your home. Check around your windows and doors to make sure they close tightly.  If the doors aren’t tight, you may have to install door sweeps on them.  Check your bushes, shrubs and trees to make sure you don’t have any branches touching the roof.  Don’t stack firewood, bricks or anything else next to your house or ants and other insects may find a good place to nest.   If you have bushes or shrubs next to your house, periodically inspect them for aphids, scales and similar bugs as ants are attracted to the honeydew they produce.  The ants will get on the plants and eventually find their way into your home.  Don’t put flagstone or flat boards on the ground too close to your home or some species of ants will nest under them.  On the other hand, mound-making ants will generally stay outside.  They rarely leave their complicated and efficient homelike in the mound to enter homes.  If you don’t want the ants making mounds in your yard, you can flood the nests with club soda or with white vinegar or food-grade DE. If you use the DE, mix 4 tablespoons per gallon of water. You can also use 1 gallon of orange juice diluted with 2 gallons of water and a dash of soap. If you prefer, you can also spread dry instant grits on the mound. The ants will eat it and not be able to digest it and die.

You can repel ants with a wide variety of products, including cinnamon, baking soda, Comet Cleanser, cedar oil, medicated baby powder, Tide, talcum powder, chalk, coffee grounds, borax, garlic, broken egg shells, bone meal, black or red pepper, peppermint, paprika, chili powder and mint leaves.

If you have ants going into your hummingbird feeder, you can put duct tape, sticky side out, on the wire holding the feeder, to deter them.

If the ants have a preferred food in your home, such as apple sauce, peanut butter, canned cat food, Karo Syrup, jelly or similar products, you can mix in small amounts of boric acid or borax or aspartame.  Mix about 2% of any of these products in the food.  Make sure you keep these baits away from children and pets.  If the ants are dying near the baits, you are making it too strong and need to make a fresh batch with less boric acid or borax.

Here is a recipe for effective, homemade ant baits/traps that use borax. It attracts ants looking for either moisture or food. You will need: 3 c. water, 1 c. sugar, 1 tsp. borax or 2 tsp. food-grade DE, 6 small screw-top jars with lids, such as jelly jars covered with masking tape, which will enable the ants to climb up the side. Mix the sugar, water and borax (or food-grade DE) in a bowl. Loosely half-fill the jars with cotton balls or pieces of sponge or wadded paper towels. Pour up to ½ cup of the sugary mixture over the cotton balls, saturating them. Make several small holes in the lid. Screw the lids on the jars tightly.

If you smoke, always wear plastic gloves when making ant baits or they will sense the tobacco smoke on the baits and not go to it.  Ants do not like cigarette or cigar smoke.  A good commercial bait is Terro Bait.  It is inexpensive and very effective for many ants.  It is made from boric acid and is much better than the baits the pest industry uses.

“Sugar” ants

This is a generic term used for most of the ants you find running around in your kitchen and bathroom.  There are a variety of species included in this tag, including odorous house ants, pavement ants, acrobat ants, ghost ants and others.  Most of them can be controlled using the baiting methods described above.

Here are several other species that may become pests in homes or businesses.

 

Argentine ants (Dolichoderinae – Linepithema humile)

Argentine ants are small and all the workers are the same size (monomorphic) and brown in color.  They are one of the most successful ants species on the planet.  They have huge colonies and when they move into an urban area, they displace any native ant species. Unlike other ants who fight when they encounter other colonies of their same species, Argentine ants will merge and form super-colonies, and in some cases, mega-colonies.  There is one mega-colony of Argentine ants in Europe that extends over 3,700 miles and encompasses parts of Spain, Portugal, France and Italy.  This mega-colony is estimated to contain hundreds of billions of ants.  Argentine ants came to the United States in 1891, landing in New Orleans.  Since then they have spread to several other states.  They were first found in California in 1905 near Ontario.  Three years later they were found in Alameda, East Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Azusa and Upland.  The Argentine ant is now found in almost all urban areas of California where it is a major household pest.  Besides California and Louisiana, there are records of these ants in Utah, New Mexico, South Dakota, Arkansas, Illinois, Florida, Alabama and Hawaii.

Outdoors I recommend using a very good cedar product called Greenbug for Outdoors.  Cedar will repel most ants including Argentine ants.  Spray this around your foundation every couple of days for awhile.  After a couple of weeks, spray it once a week. Soon you can do it every two or three weeks.  It doesn’t have the residual power of a pesticide, but it isn’t dangerous either.  You can also use aromatic cedar mulch which will control them for several months.  Also, remove all mulch (other than aromatic cedar mulch) from around the foundation of the building. Seal all cracks and crevices.  Do not let any branches touch the building. If you find the nests outdoors, flood them with orange juice in soapy water

Argentine ant workers have a sweet tooth, so indoors you can use sweet baits.  Mix honey or light Karo Syrup with boric acid or borax.  However, queens also have high protein requirements so you may want to make some peanut butter or fish meal baits with boric acid or borax.  Keep all of these baits away from children and pets.

Populations indoors are usually smaller and less active.  Find the  most active areas and sprinkle the areas with baking soda, Comet, Tide laundry soap, talcum powder or food grade diatomaceous earth.  You should also place any of these materials in any cracks and crevices, wall voids and electrical outlets. If you see trails of ants, you can spray them with bleach or vinegar. Never spray pesticides on the ants as all you will do is kill a few and the rest will go to other areas of the house.

 

Carpenter ants (Formicinae – Camponotus spp.)

Carpenter ants are large and are black, reddish-brown, red and black or light brown in color, depending on the species.  There are several different size workers in a colony (polymorphic).The thorax is evenly convex when viewed from the side.  That differs them from field ants who are also large but have an indented thorax.  Field ants are rarely household pests.

Carpenter ants are found throughout the United States.  Most species are active in the late afternoons and at night.  They will nest under the slabs of homes and enter through expansion joints or around plumbing.  They are also found in crawl spaces under homes that have them.  They will be most common in areas where there is nearby moisture.  If there is damp wood available, they will make galleries to make their nests.  The galleries will follow the grain of the wood.  If left alone, they can hollow out and destroy structural wood.  They don’t eat the wood, they just carve out areas and create wood segments (frass).  If they are in the house, they will forage for any foods available, including pet foods, candies, syrups, sugar and other sweet products.  They will also feed on any fruits they encounter and will root through the garbage looking for grease, fat or meat scraps.  You can use a bait made from two tablespoons of honey or jelly mixed with a teaspoon of boric acid and place it where the ants are foraging (keep out of the reach of children and pets).  You can also put out open packets of Equal (aspartame), which they will take.

 

To prevent carpenter ants from entering your home, you should remove or repair all damaged wood that has a moisture problem.  Make sure your gutters are clean so water doesn’t back up and damage the siding or the roof and that no branches are touching the house. Store all firewood off the ground and away from the house.  Remove all dead stumps and logs.  I also recommend dusting your crawl space, if you have one, with food-grade diatomaceous earth.  This can be done with a power duster.

 

Crazy ants (Formicinae – Paratrechina longicornis)

Crazy ants are black or brown, appear thin and have very long legs. They run around erratically, giving them the name. All the workers are the same size (Monomorphic).  They live in a variety of habitats, including areas that are very dry to areas that are wet.  They will nest under wood, in tree cavities, in or under any debris left on the ground for a long time and even in potted plants.

They feed on a variety of foods, including sweets and even other insects.  They particularly like house flies when they can catch them.  They will also feed on the honeydew secretion from aphids and scales.

Baits should consist of sweets or proteins mixed with about boric acid.  They love garbage, so make sure garbage storage areas are as clean as possible.  It will help to put food grade diatomaceous earth around the house under any bushes or shrubs.  If you can find the nest, spray it with a good natural pesticide such as Greenbug for Outdoors.

 

Harvester ants (Myrmicinae – Pogonomyrmex spp.)

This group of ants are commonly called “Harvester ants”.  They are comparatively large, 3/16” – 1/2” long, red to dark brown in color and they have a pair of spines on their thorax.  They have a stinger and will use it if disturbed.  Harvester ants have workers in two sizes (bimorphic). They make large mounds covered in gravel which retains heat and helps incubate the eggs in the nest below.  These ants feed on seeds, which they gather and store for the winter.  They spend almost all of their time gathering food for the winter.  While harvester ants are considered to be aggressive, in reality they are only very defensive.

During mating season, usually in late July or early August, swarmers from a harvester ant colony will fly high in the air. Most of the swarmers are males who would like to mate with the few accompanying females.  Large swarms will occasionally fly over urban areas where they are not usually found and then land on the tall buildings in the area in order to rest.  Occasionally they will come down chimneys or elevator shafts, much to the consternation of the inhabitants of the building.  The good news is that the swarming harvester ants are not able to sting. The bad news is that there are a lot of them and they tend to congregate in large numbers and will be a nuisance. The best product to use to control harvester ants is Niban Bait, a commercial grain-like bait that is made from boric acid.

 

Fire ants (Myrmicinae – Solenopsis invicta)

The imported fire ants can be very dangerous.  They have several different size workers (polymorphic) and reddish-brown to black in color.  They have severe stings that can cause blisters and allergic responses to the venom as well as anaphylactic shock.  Over 30,000 people a year in this country seek medical attention from the sting of these ants.

Fire ants have successfully invaded many southern states. They have been found in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Arizona, New Mexico, Mississippi, California, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma. Their mounds can be 2 feet in diameter and a foot and a half high.  A single colony can contain close to a quarter million ants.

Fire ants will eat both plant and animal products including rodents and some reptiles.  They will feed on a wide variety of plants, including strawberries, potatoes and corn.  Queens in the colony will need proteins, so when you mix baits for these ants you have to make sure they are protein-based.  These ants are attracted to magnetic fields and will get in transformers, air conditioners and other electrical equipment.  One good thing about fire ants is that they like to feed on ticks.  If you have fire ants in your yard, you won’t have ticks.  They will also feed on fleas, cockroaches and several species of flies.

When you control these ants, make sure you dust any electrical equipment outside with food-grade diatomaceous earth, Comet cleaner or talcum powder. This will keep the ants out of these area.  For a bait, you can mix boric acid or aspartame with sugar, jelly, honey or pet food.  You can flood their nests with one gallon of orange juice mixed with two gallons of water and a cup of dish soap.  You can also pour a couple of 2-litre bottles of Coca Cola down the mounds.

 

Pharaoh ants (Myrmicinae – Monomorium pharaonis)

This species is commonly called “pharaoh ants”. They were first described in Egypt in 1758, hence their common name. They are very small, yellowish ants that are monomorphic.  They are found in many areas of the United States. They will nest in any small, dark voids such as old boxes, empty bags, stacked newspapers,wall voids, under flooring, and/or especially near hot water pipes or heating

systems and even an unused salt shaker.  Outdoors they will nest under objects on the ground, in potted plants, in stacked firewood or piles of bricks.  They are primarily nocturnal and mainly come out to feed at night.

They have very large colonies, often exceeding a quarter of a million ants and a couple of hundred queens.  They do not swarm to reproduce as most ants do, but use a system called “budding.”  This is where reproductives just crawl off and mate nearby.  Colonies of pharaoh ants usually contain many nests and it is essential to control all of them or you will never get rid of them.  Never use synthetic pesticides in trying to control these ants as all you will do is cause them to split up and you will make the problem worse.  Place baits such as half and half fruit juice and aspartame in soda straws. Cut the straws into one inch segments and put the segments where you have seen the pharaoh ants foraging.  You can even tape them to the underside of tables. You can change the baits periodically by mixing peanut oil, sweet syrup, jelly or honey with boric acid.  Place the straw filled baits as close to the nests as possible.  You can also put strained liver baby food, honey or peanut butter mixed with boric acid or borax in small cups.  Treat any cracks and crevices around the outside of the home with Greenbug for Outdoors.

Pharaoh ants are a major pest in hospitals where they have been associated with over 20 disease causing pathogenic organisms and they often enter isolation wards, operating rooms and patient rooms where they feed on blood and blood products and then contaminate sterile areas.

They are not native to the western U. S. and are brought in on commerce.  They normally infest  apartment complexes, hospitals and large commercial buildings.

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I have been in the pest management industry for over 40 years. In that time I have used almost every pesticide available to control so-called “pests”. With this experience, I have learned over the years that the pesticides we use are far more dangerous than the pests we are trying to control. As a result, it has become a passion for me to improve the quality of life for humans and the planet, by assisting people to not only become more educated and aware of their environment – but also by learning to manage their home and business with a sustainable and healthier approach to tending to unwanted infestations of bugs. Please enjoy my blog posts, check out my publications, utilize my services, or simply stay in touch if you have a bug question…

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Ants

  1. Thank you for your post about ants. We live in SoCal, and the heat drives the tiny black ants indoors. And all over the kitchen especially. We cannot leave any food out or within an hour it is swarming with ants. I have seen them enter the kitchen through the electrical outlets above the countertop. I have found them inside the dishwasher, in the drawers, in the bathroom, in every room, and literally everywhere except inside the refrigerator (I hope). These critters BITE! The entire complex is infested with them, and they are all over the area; everyone is having issues. The exterminator doesn’t help the situation. I think they live in the walls and the cracks in the foundation because if we get heavy rain, they come in. If it’s hot, they come in. I spray them (when I see them) with vinegar, but we can’t use a residual because we have an elderly cat and of course we have to be careful what we use on surfaces that may get contact with food. I hate the idea of pepper or borax or any of the other dry substances setting on our counters and along the baseboards. Is there a way to get rid of them for good? or is that hopeless?

    Posted by Dori | August 5, 2018, 9:32 am
    • The ants you probably have are Argentine ants. Argentine ants are small, monomorphic and brown in color. They are one of the most successful ants species on the planet. They have huge colonies and when they move into an urban area, they displace any native ant species. Unlike other ants who fight when they encounter other colonies of their same species, Argentine ants will merge and form super-colonies, and in some cases, mega-colonies. There is one mega-colony of Argentine ants in Europe that extends over 3,700 miles and encompasses parts of Spain, Portugal, France and Italy. This mega-colony is estimated to contain hundreds of billions of ants. They came to the United States in 1891, landing in New Orleans. Since then they have spread to several other states. They were first found in California in 1905 near Ontario. Three years later they were found in Alameda, East Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Azusa and Upland. The Argentine ant is now found in almost all urban areas of California where it is a major household pest

      They have many queens in a colony and each one is capable of producing 60 eggs per day. Argentine ants are capable of transporting the causative organisms of dysentery, typhoid fever and tuberculosis because of the filthy places they may crawl through.

      Nests are often found in urban habitats and it does not live in arid areas. They are very persistent house pests. Outside it will nest in exposed soil and under stones as well as in rotten wood, refuse piles, bird nests, bee hives and in dead trees. They do not swarm as many other ants do, but the winged reproductives mate in the nest. Outside they will feed on a variety of foods, including certain plants, buds of fruit trees and even ripened fruit such as figs. They also feed on the honeydew secretions of aphids, scales and mealybugs. In a home they will eat almost anything edible, including sweets, meats, pastries, fruit, dairy products, eggs, animal fats and vegetable oils. They are particularly fond of sweets. They will crawl over everything in a house, including appliances, furniture, shelves and clothing. The good news is that they do not sting. However, they can bite.

      Outdoors I recommend using a very good cedar product called Greenbug. Cedar will repel most ants including Argentine ants. Spray this around your foundation every couple of days for awhile. After a couple of weeks, spray it once a week. Soon you can do it every two or three weeks. It doesn’t have the residual power of a pesticide, but it isn’t dangerous either. You can also use aromatic cedar mulch which will control them for several months. Also; Remove all mulch (other than aromatic cedar mulch) from around the foundation of the building. Seal all cracks and crevices. Do not let any branches touch the building. If you find the nests outdoors, flood them with orange juice in soapy water.

      Argentine ant workers have a sweet tooth, so indoors you can use sweet baits. Mix two tablespoons of honey or light Karo Syrup with a packet of Equal (aspartame) or a teaspoon of boric acid or borax. However, queens also have high protein requirements so you may want to make some peanut butter or fish meal baits with boric acid or borax at the same ratio. Keep all of these baits away from children and pets.

      Populations indoors are usually smaller and less active. Find the most active areas and sprinkle the areas with baking soda, Comet, Tide laundry soap, talcum powder or food grade diatomaceous earth. You should also place any of these materials in any cracks and crevices, wall voids and electrical outlets. If you see trails of ants, you can spray them with bleach or vinegar. Never spray pesticides on the ants as all you will do is kill a few and the rest will go to other areas of the house.

      If the infestation is severe, you may want to treat the perimeter of your house with Termidor, which is labeled for Argentine ants. Termidor is a General Use pesticide that is available to the public. You can get it online. Mix the material as specified on the label, put it in a one-gallon sprayer and spray around the foundation of your house. Don’t spray more than six inches from the foundation as you don’t want to kill beneficial insects in your yard.

      I hope this is helpful.

      Posted by askthebugman | August 5, 2018, 10:29 am

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