How To Get Rid of Ants: The Ultimate Guide
With their swarming behavior and insatiable appetite for food, ants can be quite the household nuisance. One moment, you may see one crawling in a corner, minding its own business, and the next thing you know, there are hundreds of ants making tracks to your sugar bowl!
We at U.S. Pest have had one dinner party too many ruined by these creatures, which is why we’re here today to continue our “Ultimate Guide” series with an installment on how to get rid of ants. After a refresher on their unique behaviors and why they matter, we’ll dive into how to prevent an ant infestation and how to control them.
Ants have a colonial hierarchy, and that’s a large part of why they’re so bothersome. As you probably remember from grade school, in an ant colony, there’s a single queen ant that lays the eggs and never leaves the colony. In order to ensure the queen can continue laying eggs, there’s an enormous group of worker ants whose sole function is to bring her food. They do this by sending out scouts that venture around, looking for nutrients. If they find some, they take a piece, and bring it back to the colony while laying a trail of pheromones leading back to the food. Once that ant gets back home, hundreds (if not thousands) of worker ants pick up on the signal, and flock to the food source.
Understanding this behavior helps us effectively combat ant infestations. Obviously, if you don’t provide ants with a food source, then you won’t get a swarm. However, that’s easier said than done, and we’ll cover more on that in a moment. This incredibly sophisticated hierarchical behaviour is also part of what makes killing a colony so difficult.
— U.S. Pest (@USPestTN) July 26, 2017
Tougher Than They Look
While it’s easy to mow ants down with sprays, hoses, or shoes, an ant problem runs much deeper than the trail marching through your kitchen. Remember, the queen is the one laying the eggs, and she never leaves the nest. So while killing the local swarm will certainly deprive her of resources in the short-term, the queen is already restocking her army for another day. Worker ants are disposable, so while you may win the battle, the queen’s still winning the war.
Clean As A Whistle
Prevention, rather than mitigation, is the best strategy against ants. Because of their foraging strategy, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get a swarm of ants in your home first thing. Rather, a few scouts will explore your house, and if you see them you’ll have a chance to prevent an infestation by eliminating as many ants as possible and removing the source of their intrigue. You won’t be able to kill every stray ant that wanders into your home, which is why you should take extreme care to keep your house clean and as free of food-debris as possible.
Because ants, like all insects, have adapted to harsh conditions with minimal resources, this is more difficult than it sounds. Just a few crumbs or granules of sugar is all it takes to trigger a massive response by the colony. Even worse, some ants can scrape by off “invisible residue” left on the outside of containers. If your jam jar is a bit sticky on the side, that’s probably because there’s a sugary film on the container that ants will love. Ants also love the tasty morsels left on cat food and dog food bowls apparently “licked clean” by the furry members of your family. And of course, they can also get into food packaging, trashcans, and recycle bins.
That’s why we recommend maintaining a rigorous standard of food hygiene. Invest in airtight, reusable containers, like tupperware or mason jars, to block off scents and ensure that ants can’t get into your stored food. We also recommend keeping your food in places that are hard for ants to access, like your refrigerator (when appropriate). Remember to secure yourtrash and take it outside regularly!
No matter how careful you are and how clean your home, you’ll probably have to deal with an ant infestation at some point in time. First, it’s important to identify which species you’re up against, so you can understand what they’re feeding off and therefore what to eliminate. You can check out our handy pest identifier to help you in this matter.
For instance, if you find tiny, black ants in your home, they’re probably looking for bits of meat and sugar/starch. You can simply kill them on site, but if possible try to follow them back to the colony to find the root of your problem. If you find an anthill, you can pour boiling water into it, but it won’t solve your problem and will likely send a majority of the colony elsewhere. You’re better off knowing their location and letting them be while contacting a professional, who will be better equipped to effectively destroy the colony.
Some types of ants are far more problematic than others. Carpenter ants, as an example, nestle into the framework of your home and eat the wood out of it. Since they usually favor moist, already damaged wood, they’re effectively targeting your house at its weakest points. Because of this catastrophic damage risk, combined with their preference for living in hard-to-find places, we recommend calling a professional immediately if you find them.
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Regardless of whatever species you’re up against, there are a few tools that usually work across the board. Ant sprays like Raid, for instance, are a good way to kill some ants on the spot. However, contact pesticides like these sprays can be harmful to humans and animals, and they only kill worker ants. They have no effect on the colony at large.
There are also ant baits like Advion Ant Gel that leverage the unique behaviors of ants against them. If an ant is lured into the trap, they’ll consume a poison, while carrying some back to the colony. Through the usual pheromone mechanism, they’ll lead the rest of the colony to the trap, poisoning them as well. At the same time, other ants inside the colony will consume the poison brought back to them, along with the remains of dead, poisoned ants, spreading the toxins even more. Just remember to put the trap in a place you wouldn’t mind being swarmed by ants! However, due to the sheer number of ants out in the wild (especially here in Tennessee), there’s a good chance your ant problem requires more than DIY remedies.
We hope this guide will be useful to you in your quest to preserve your precious food. Still have questions, need professional assistance, or want a free inspection? Give U.S. Pest a call at 615.383.9779, we’re happy to help.