There are numerous ant species that can become pests. For the most part, it’s not necessary to know the specific species of ant you’re facing in order to effectively treat them. The exception to this is fire ants and carpenter ants, which we will address within a separate article.
First, know that ants are willing to travel surprising distances for food and water. The ants you see in your home probably have their nests outside. There are plenty of exceptions to this, but it’s a good general rule of thumb. Also, when you’re battling ants, keep in mind you have to destroy the colony, not just the ants that you see foraging. If all you kill are foragers, the colony will produce more foragers and keep sending more.
When dealing with an ant problem, our first step is prevention. Even if you have a troublesome ant problem already, you should be following the preventive measures. Preventive measures alone will go a long way to reducing the ant population you see, and it will make those efforts you take to deal with an ant problem much more effective. If you haven’t read our preventive articles, do that now, then return to this article. Those preventive articles detail the importance of keeping your house clean and preventive measures you can take to limit successful foraging.
In your home, ants are looking primarily for food and water. If you were able to kill every ant you saw enter your home, they’d still keep coming, because it nest itself is your target, not the individual foragers. Preventive steps are aimed at limiting foragers from identifying your home as a prime source of food and water then relaying that information to their nest. Once you’re seeing large numbers of ants inside, it’s too late – the nest is well aware of your home.
Once the nest knows how to enter your home and wherein it to find food, it may seem counter-intuitive, but killing those foragers can sometimes be counterproductive. You need to destroy the nest to stop the problem. Unfortunately, you don’t know where the nest is, but those foraging ants do. That’s why effective chemical control of ants always emphasizes bait over contact poison. You don’t want to kill the foragers immediately. You want the foragers to take the poison down into their nest for you before they die.
For bait to be most effective, it needs to be placed close to the nest or along a well-traveled ant trail. Other known sources of food have to be eliminated to make the bait their primary source of food. So, in practical step-by-step terms, what does that mean….
Bait Along a Well-Traveled Ant Trail
Steps to dealing with an ant problem:
(Skip this step if you don’t have a well-traveled ant trail in your home) Place bait on the ant trail itself as close to the beginning of the trail as you can find.
Get your house clean. As part of this step, consider your house plants. Plants that are over-watered can provide water for ants. Plants that have aphids can provide a preferred food source for ants.
Seal any obvious entryways for ants (e.g., cracks, gaps under doors or windows, etc.)
Trim trees and bushes so they’re making no direct contact to your home
Place a repellent barrier around your home
Bait your yard.
There are plenty of effective commercial available ant baits. Most will use a small amount of poison, like boric acid, as an active ingredient with something like sugar water to make it attractive to the ants. Different species of ants prefer different foods, and those food preferences can change with seasons. So some experimentation with the type of bait may be required (e.g., sweet, fats, proteins).
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