Ants can be considered the housekeepers of this world, cleaning up all kinds of messes and most would agree the ants that stay outside
our homes deserve to fulfill their purpose. But ants that come inside our homes often don't just pick up bits of food, they go for the source in the pantry or out on the counter.
Common house invading ants include Argentine ants, Odorous house ants, Pharoah ants, Big headed ants and many others. Identification can sometimes be difficult unless the specific ants have
prominent differences from other ants.
Ant Species and Preferred Food:
- Argentine ants (sweets)
- Big-headed ants (sweets and grease)
- Little black ants (sweets and grease)
- Pavement ants (sweets and grease)
- Odorous house ants (sweets)
- Small honey ants (sweets)
Ants are like people in the sense they can eat the same kind of foods for a fairly long period, but then comes
cravings for something completely different. The same ants from same colony, but they'll switch from looking for grease based food to looking for
sweet type foods. Sometimes it's just water they are looking for. The key to control is paying attention to what the ants are after.
Methods of Control
The first and most basic method of control is to remove any food or water from the areas where ants are present in the home.
Clean to make sure there is no food residue but ant trails don't need to be disturbed. When the ants don't find what
they were seeking, the ants will stop using those trails. All members of an ant colony have roles to fill but most of the worker ants you
will see are sterile females whose primary "job" is to collect food for the colony. When an ant finds a food source, the ant will lay down
a pheremone trail as it returns to the nest which acts as a marked path to the food source that other ants can follow to that food source.
Other ants that follow the trail will also release pheremones saying "Food is still here". When the food source has been exhausted, the
ants will release different pheremones saying "Foods all gone" and ants will stop using that trail. Maybe you have
noticed that random ants will "kiss" or "bump faces". This can either be communication between individual ants or the
process called trophallaxis which is how ants share stored food. This social behavior, which allows them to thrive in
so many environments, allows us to use that social behavior for control purposes.
Queens and larvae don't leave the nest but trophallaxis provides the mechanism to get an insecticide moved from the
feeding location to all workers and then spread among all members of an ant colony.
Ants are social insects, the workers bring back and share the food they find with other ants and the queen(s),
so the best long term method to exterminate ants is through the use of baits containing a slow acting insecticide. Boric acid is toxic
to ants and can easily be applied by putting a small piece of masking tape near where you have seen ants. Mix a batch of the following bait
and apply a small line to the masking tape with a plastic knife. The ants will do the rest for you.
Protein and Grease Ant Bait
- 4 tablespoons peanut butter
- 6 tablespoons honey
- 3/4 teaspoon boric acid
Note that the boric acid measure is a part of a teaspoon, not tablespoon. More is not better as increasing the boric acid content will often result in the ants not consuming the bait.
Boric acid is considered of low toxicity to humans and animals, but common sense needs to be applied when using it. It is a powder, you don't want to breathe it or get it in your eyes.
You also want to wash your hands well after using it. Baits need to be placed where children and pets
aren't going to be able to come into contact with them. Finally, make sure to label and safely store any leftover bait, you don't want someone making a sandwich with it.