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Do-It-Yourself Control of Small Ants

 

How To Locate an Ant Colony

Treatment of small ants varies according to the specie. One step that is common to all species, however, is to try to determine the location of the colony.

Most ants are foragers. In some species, they may travel hundreds of feet from their nests to find food. That's why the place where you see the ants may not necessarily be the place you want to treat.

In many cases, small ants actually live outside and come into buildings only for food. So one aspect of ant control (and pest control in general) is to eliminate food sources as much as possible. This means promptly washing dishes, cleaning up spilled food, and securing stored foods in insect-proof containers.

The most common way to locate an ant colony is to simply follow the ants. You may be seeing them on your kitchen counter, but they may actually live hundreds of feet away. So pick a few ants and follow them. In particular, look for ants who are carrying little bits of food, because they are the ones who are returning to the nest.

Hint: If you have young children, ask them where the ants live. Children often are fascinated by things like insects, and there's a good chance that they already know where the nest is.

When treating for ants outside, use some common sense. Most exterior ant treatments use baits for effective control. But if you apply the bait when you know it's going to rain, it's not going to do very much good. Most of the baits are no longer attractive to ants once they've gotten wet. And of course, be sure to read and follow the label directions.

 

Control of Common Small Ant Species

Of the thousands of species of ants, only a few are commonly considered pests. These include the following:

Pavement Ants

Pavement antPavement Ants are one of the most common small ants invading homes. They are small (about 1/8") and black or dark brown in color. Under a microscope or magnifying glass, one can see parallel lines or grooves on the head and thorax that (some say) vaguely resemble the pavement markings on a highway.

Pavement ants are omnivorous, but they prefer sweet foods, nuts, and oils. The simplest way (and usually the most effective way) to treat for pavement ants is with any of several baits that are simply sprinkled on the ground so the ants will find the bait when foraging.

One of the best pavement ant baits to use if you have children or pets is Niban Granular Insecticide Bait. Niban's active ingredient is Boric Acid, the least toxic insecticide ingredient on the market, and one to which ants (and other insects) cannot become immune. But borate insecticides are a bit slow; so if you want something a little faster-acting, consider Maxforce Complete Granular Insect Bait, which is a bit faster.

Argentine Ants

Argentine antArgentine ants prefer sweet feeds like sugary candies, pancake syrup, honeydew, fruit juices, pastry fillings, etc. Argentine ant colonies can get quite large, making control more difficult and time-consuming. They commonly nest outdoors under logs, rocks, concrete slabs, mulch, and leaves.

Because of their love for sweets, sugary-liquid baits like Terro PCO Liquid Ant Bait Concentrate or Gourmet Liquid Ant Bait are usually the best bet for do-it-yourself control of Argentine ants. These baits have to be applied in some sort of bait station, such as Ant No More Bait Stations.

If filling up liquid bait stations is too much like work, then granular products like Terro 2600 Ant Bait Plus are easier to apply, but may not be as readily accepted by Argentine ants.

During winter months, Argentine ants often move indoors, where Terro Liquid Baits are a good option.

Odorous House Ants

Odorous house antOdorous house ants are named for the foul odor that they give off when they are squished.

Odorous house ants tend to prefer sweet foods, and often arrive in droves minutes after a sweet beverage is spilled. The same treatment methods as used for Argentine Ants (above) will usually control odorous house ants. It's best to try to kill them off during the summer by baiting outside, which usually prevents the need for any interior treatment.

They are usually content to stay outside during the warmer months, only coming into homes when their natural sources of food become less abundant.

Pharaoh Ants

Pharaoh antPharaoh Ants are itty-bitty things, averaging only about 1/16" in length. They'll eat virtually anything, and are capable of foraging over considerable distances. They often establish their colonies in wall voids, and travel throughout the entire house through pipe chases and electrical conduits.

Pharaoh ants are extremely difficult to control. Using sprays or dusts against them won't do diddly. (It may, however, do squat.) Professionals usually control Pharaoh ants using special baits like Dupont Advion Ant Gel Bait. This is a very effective product, but Pharaoh ant control is still very difficult because of their habits.

In order to effectively treat Pharaoh ants, you will have to place small amounts of the bait along their travel routes, which can be extensive and are always well-concealed. This may involve treating electrical conduits, outlets, and switches; pipe chases; inside cabinets; under sinks; in walls and ceilings; and pretty much anyplace else where the ants may be traveling. Usually, you start in the area where you see the ants and then treat that area and all the adjacent ones -- side-to-side and up-and-down.

Because of the vastness of the colonies, it's not unusual for it to take weeks or months before you see results -- even if you've done everything right. On the other hand, it's just as difficult for professionals to control Pharaoh ants as it is for do-it-yourselfers, so it tends to be a very expensive job.

So if you want to save some money, give it a try. Otherwise, save yourself the aggravation instead and call a pro.

Thief Ants

Thief antIn nature, thief Ants live among colonies of larger ants and feed on the larger ants' young.

When thief ants invade human's homes they leave the kids alone. But they will eat fatty or greasy foods like meat, cheese, buttery pastries, lard, and pet foods. They are so small -- about 1/20 of an inch -- that they often go unnoticed and may be accidentally eaten by humans along with the foods that the ants are infesting. Yecch.

Thief ants inside a home are hard to exterminate, but a through crack-and-crevice treatment with a high-quality bait like Dupont Advion Ant Gel Bait usually does the job. The exterior should also be treated with a high-quality ant bait that's attractive to lipid- and protein-feeding ants, such as Advance 375a Select Granular Ant Bait.

Citronella Ants

Citronella antCitronella Ants are about 1/8" to 3/8" in length and are yellowish in color. They get their name from the sweet, citronella-like scent that they give off, especially when they are squished between the fingers.

Citronella ants swarm once or twice a year, and terrified homeowners often mistake them for termites. But citronella ants are harmless and usually require no control other than sealing the cracks through which they emerged.

In extreme cases, you can try Terro 2600 Ant Bait Plus, which they'll take most of the time, if the ants are outside. Inside, you can try Gourmet Ant Bait Gel applied near the openings the ants are emerging from. This may kill the colony and prevent the problem from happening again next time around.

 

Applying Granular Ant Baits Outside

Most granular ant baits are sold either in bottles with shaker tops, or in shaker-type bags. You also can use a properly-calibrated garden spreader, but make sure to thoroughly clean it and allow it to dry if it's ever been used for spreading pesticides or fertilizers (many of which are repellent to insects).

In general, you want to apply any kind of insect bait in areas close to the ants' nests, and in their established foraging trails. For preventative treatments, you can also sprinkle them around your home or patio. Try to avoid applying them when you know it's going to rain, or in areas where they're likely to be washed or blown away. Always read and follow the label instructions: The label is the law.

 

Applying Ant Gel Baits Inside

Most ant gel baits either come in little bait stations that can be placed on or taped to the floor in areas where ants have been seen (for example, by sliding exterior doors), or in injectable syringes with plungers. For best results, baits should be injected into or as close as possible to the openings through which the ants are entering the home or the living area.

For example, if the ants are entering your kitchen through the little crack under the threshold of a door leading to the outside, then injecting a little gel bait directly into that crack is a good strategy. Ants foraging from the outside will find the bait in the crack before actually making it into the interior of your home, and most likely will not come in any further. It may take days or weeks for the ants to carry enough bait back to their colony to eliminate it, but at least they'll be out of your sight during the process.

Be neat and precise when applying baits (or any pesticide). Be sure to read and follow the label instructions, and avoiding placing baits in areas accessible to children or pets. Use the tips provided with the bait gels to precisely inject the product directly where it needs to be, and promptly wipe up any bait that drips onto adjacent areas.

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