Ants can quickly become a nuisance in and around your home if left unaddressed. Before you pick up the phone to call an ant exterminator, there are some simple DIY solutions. Some anti-ant measures can keep ants away permanently while others may last only a short time.
When approaching an ant infestation, there are several things to be aware of. Without diving too deeply into ant biology, here’s what you need to know:
- Ants use scouting parties to find food and let other ants know about it
- Ants use pheromones to send signals to one another.
- The number of ants you see doesn’t necessarily reflect the colony size
- Targeting a Queen ant can bring down the colony
Each of these considerations can help ensure you find and eliminate ants from your home once and for all.
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Steps to Killing Ants
1. Identify the Ants
There are many different types of ants. Each type can be characterized, at least partially, by differing behaviors. Knowing what type of ants you’re dealing with can ensure the most appropriate battle plan. As noted by the Terminix blog, there are roughly 8 types of common ants:
Acrobat – These ants come in a variety of colors ranging from orange and red to muddy brown and black. Their habitat of choice is moist wood found outdoors leading them to do structural damage to homes in many cases. These ants can sting and are known to be aggressive.
Argentine – These ants are smaller, often a lighter brown color, and emit a “musty” smell if stepped on. They’re commonly found in walls, insulation, and like shadier spots during the summer. They cannot sting.
Carpenter – These ants are fairly common throughout the US. Carpenter ants are larger than many species and are known to damage wood as the build colonies. Some species of carpenter ants will sting if provoked.
Crazy Ants – These ants can be found indoors or outdoors, but tend to nest in protected areas such as under rugs or in brush piles. These ants move very erratically upon disturbance but do not sting. Found throughout the US, particularly the Gulf States.
Asian Needle – Brown and black ants that are attracted to shaded, outdoor areas with high moisture. These ants will sting if pressed against one’s skin. Common in Southern US states.
Rover Ants – Smaller black ants that are commonly found in densely populated areas. These ants like to nest near the borders of yards and are sometimes venture indoors.
Field Ants – These ants are often reddish and black, spray formic acid, and common in the Midwest and Northeast areas of the United States. Field ants form large nests mostly in open areas and soil.
Fire Ants – These are the worst kind of ants to have a problem with. Most fire ants are a reddish color and inhabit a wide range of areas including gardens, lawns, and plants. During winter months, fire ants are known to nest indoors. These ants are aggressive and produce painful stings.
2. Find the source
Finding and identifying the ants you’re dealing with is just the start. Killing ants as you see them isn’t likely to solve any problems. In many cases, these are just “scouting” ants looking for food. If they find some, they let the colony know about it. The colony is where you want to strike—but finding it can be tricky!
As noted by Chris Murphy of Inman-Murphy Pest Control, there are some common places to start looking:
- The Kitchen
- Around Pet Bowls
- Inside Walls
- Around Trashcans
- Insulation Materials
3. Find what’s attracting them
Ants don’t appear magically. If you find them in your home, it’s most likely that there is something attracting them. Ants are attracted to certain food sources, certain environmental conditions, and even certain species of plants. As noted by Tim’s Pest Control, these three things are likeliest to attract ants:
- Food (especially sugar)
- Water & Moisture
- Plants & Flowers
4. Destroy their pheromone trails
An individual ant is very dumb. As a collective, however, ant colonies are capable of very complex and intelligent behavior. One of the reasons groups of ants can act intelligently is because of their effective communication skills. Ants use pheromones (scented chemicals) to help pass along messages.
Ants leave these scent trails when they find food, among other things. If these scent trails are removed, it’s kind of like washing away the roads they use to travel. As noted by Ehrlich Pest Control:
Remember, ants leave scent trails when they find food. You need to erase these trails using cloths soaked in disinfectant or bleach. (Water alone will not remove the trail.) A simple mixture of water and vinegar can also effectively erase the trail. Your aim here is to destroy the trail; you aren’t actually eradicating any ants.
5. Attack the Colony
The final step in getting rid of ants is to attack where they live. The ideal outcome is to kill the queen but in many cases, a colony can be effectively removed by simply killing most of the worker ants.
It’s not practical to go digging around in an ant colony looking for the queen. Even if you were to manage to avoid all the stings and bites, it’s still comparable to looking for a needle in a haystack. However, worker ants can be “tricked” into poisoning their own queen! Northwest Pest Control describes this process as such:
Feed the worker ants traveling to and from the colony poisonous baits. These baits usually contain a sweet substance that ants are attracted to and will take back to their colony to feed to the others (queen included). And because most baits are slow-acting, the ants have time to distribute the poisonous food to the colony before the bait begins to work. When the ants begin to die, the bait continues to work to eliminate other ants in the colony since the dead ants will be eaten by the colony, thereby continuing the spread of poison throughout the colony.
This process can take anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks to work completely. Don’t lose hope if you still see some worker ants lingering around after the initial dosing. Many pest control companies recommend a two-part treatment plan for initial action. Following initial treatment by a secondary treatment two weeks later ensures that freshly-hatched ants are also eliminated.
It’s thought that as many as one-million-billion ants live on Earth. Having even a few hundred thousand around your home can quickly become a nightmare. If left unaddressed, colonies of ants can begin to move into your house. You can stay on top of any potential ant problems by keeping in mind the steps listed here. A closing thought: even though professional ant removal services can be expensive, the price is worth not waking up with ants in your bed!