How to Get Rid of Ants
In the movies, ants are kindly little creatures who scamper around the forest floor in search of tasty berries to bring back home. In reality, ants are invasive creatures that at minimum can be an utter annoyance and at worse can be down right deadly. Their colonies can contain tens of thousands of individuals, all working in concert with a singular goal. Bring food to the colony. If that food comes from your home, well, so be it.
With this thought in mind, before we talk about killing the ants and destroying their colonies, let’s take a look at what brought the ants into your home to begin with. By understanding why the ants chose your home to setup the all night buffet, you will be able to better control the problem and eliminate ant re-infestations.
In general, ants will invade a home because there is a readily available food and or water supply. It doesn’t take much in some cases either. Remember, that crumb behind the cookie jar may seem like nothing to you, but it’s like a bolder of chocolate chip goodness to the ant. In ant logic, “where there is one cookie bolder there are probably more”. So, he tells his friends back home and before you know it the few ants that were hanging out behind the trash can or under the kitchen sink are now crawling out of the Wheaties box or visiting the “Cat Dish Cafe”. It is time to get rid of the ants.
As is almost always the case in the insect world, provide a proper environment and the insects will come running, sort of speak. Unfortunately, there are a lot of bugs that enjoy the same type of environment we do, or at least like eating the same food as we do. So, the first step in eradicating an ant infestation is to remove the favorable environment.
Not all ants are the same and thusly they may be invading your home to take advantage of different environmental conditions. So, you must first identify what type of ant you are dealing with. There are too many species of ant to address them all here, but a comprehensive list and identification chart can be found at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln website.
Food being the primary draw to ants, nearly all ants indigenous to the US fall into one of two camps. I call them “sweet ants” and “protein ants”. In other words, some ants go for the sweet stuff like sugar or that left over apple core. Other ants prefer a protein-enriched diet such as cooking grease. Knowing the type of ant, you can determine, if its not already apparent, what the ants may be feeding on and eliminate the food source.
Another environmental contribution to the ant invasion of your home could be from standing water. Yes, ants need to drink too and a readily available water source, especially in a dry climate, is a perfect place for ants to hang out and refresh themselves. Obviously, removing the water source will force the ants to relocate someplace else where ample water is available.
Here are some suggestions on how to keep from creating an environment that will draw the ants to your home.
1. Keep counter tops clean, especially behind jars and containers and under small appliances such as the toaster.
2. Keep the area around your garbage can clean. This means the can itself as well as the wall and floor around it.
3. Don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink or the dishwasher
4. Keep compost piles well away from the house.
5. Remove any areas of standing or pooling water
6. Place pet dishes inside a larger bowl with water in it to create a mote that the ants won’t cross to get to pet food.
One habit that ants have is that once a food source has been located, even if the source is eliminated, the ants will continue to return from time to time to that place in hopes of finding a free meal again. So, even though you have eliminated the environment, you still need to keep them from coming in and taking a look around. Identifying where the ants are coming in then becomes very important. A non-lethal but very effective way of locating their entrance is to drop some black pepper onto the ants you see. For some reason, the ants will run away and head back home to their colony, possibly to warn the others of the spoiled food. Just follow the ants as they head back home to see where they are entering your house.
There are a number of non-lethal and non-poisonous means to block the ant’s entry. One of the most effective means is to sprinkle a little talcum powder or Diatomaceous earth around the area of entrance. These substances draw the moisture from the ants body, so they avoid walking into or over it. Another product to use is simple vinegar. Mixed 50/50 with water, spray on areas that you have seen ants enter or just roaming around. The vinegar throws off their sense of smell and they will avoid it like the plague.
One last note to helping eliminate a re-infestation. Ants use a scent trail to let their buddies know where the goodies are located. If you have spotted a trail of ants, wipe or mop that area with an all purpose cleaner. This will remove the trail scent and the ants will have no idea where to go.
Once you have eliminated the environment and put barriers in place, the ant problem will be resolved once and for all, right? As if! These little guys can be quite tenacious. Even if you have removed any visible environmental enticements and blocked all the entrances, they may still try to continue the invasion. At this point, nice has to stop and you must take the role of General in a war against thousands.
The most common way to kill ants is with bait. Go back to when you determined the type of ant you are having problems with. Is it a sweet ant or a protein ant? This will tell you if you should be using a sweet bait or protein based bait. One quick note on using baits to get rid of ants, make sure to remove the bait once the ant infestation has been eliminated. Leaving ant bait will only entice other ant colonies to explore your home for food sources.
Sweet bait is generally made using a sweet syrup mixed with boric acid or borax. Terro is a common sweet bait that’s available in most retail stores. It’s cheap, easy to use and very effective. Another sweet bait you can make at home that can be just as effective is to mix equal parts of powdered sugar with baking soda, place in a shallow dish such as a soda cap or a butter bowl lid. Place the bait wherever ants are congregating. Both of these baits are taken by the ant to the colony and fed to the other ants, which die after ingesting the bait.
Protein baits are different and ants in this category require a different method to eliminate. Because these types of ants are normally found in an outdoor setting rather indoors, these ants must be eradicated using a granulized insecticide that contains Hydramethylnon. Popular brands include Maxforce and Amdro, which are broadcast over the ground with a grass seed spreader. Some outdoor ants can be resilient and this may mean re-applying this insecticide every 3 or 4 weeks to keep them under control.
As a last resort, you may be forced into destroying the colony on-site, especially if the ants pose a threat to children or pets, such as a Fire Ant or Argentine Ant infestation. A non-poisonous method for destroying an ant colony is to pour boiling water into the anthill. Heat water to boiling on a grill or portable stove as near to the anthill as possible and pour directly onto the hill. Repeat this several times to ensure adequate penetration into the colonies tunnels.
One final thought on ant control. If you have aphids present in your lawn or garden, get rid of them! Aphids excrete a sweet substance called “honeydew” that ants find irresistible. In fact, a species of ant called the Argentine Ant, found mostly in the south and southwestern U.S., actually tends to aphids like they were cattle, harvesting the “honeydew” from them and even moving the aphids along with the ants as the colony moves.