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Posted 03/22/2020 in Ants by Pest Control Approved

A Complete Guide to Ants

A Complete Guide to Ants

Ants, What Are They?

Ants can come in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on colony stage and time of year. Each ant species will contain one of three different colony castes:

1) Queen Ants

Fertile females oversee growing the colony by laying as many eggs as possible. Some colonies consist of one queen. Other colonies have many queens. Their growth rate depends on the species.

2) Male Ants

Male ants have one job, and one job only: to fertilize the queen. They help her grow the ant colony as large as possible. After mating, male ants only live for a few days. When an ant colony reaches maturity in late summer, all the Queen and Male ants mate.

3) Worker Ants

Worker ants are females that maintain the nest, gather food, defend the colony, and feed the larvae. They do not reproduce and live a few weeks to a few months.

Ants are considered commensal pests.  This means that they like to eat some of the same things that humans do and will develop colonies close by to benefit from our garbage, lawns, and homes. How long an ant lives depends on their place in the colony, the species, food abundance and quality, and their access to protective shelter. Around the world, there are more than 10,000 known ant species.

What Is A Sugar Ant?

Sugar Ants is a term used for several species of ants that are drawn to sweet substances. Sugar ants will feed on various forms of sugar such as powdered sugars, jellies, jams, and man made sweets. They also eat greasy foods. Sugar ants are not harmful, but they can be a nuisance. Generally speaking, they are a mild-mannered ant, but will bite if disturbed. They will gnaw through thin plastic, paper, or cardboard to get to their food source.

The bites are not painful, and they don’t produce any symptoms unless you are allergic. Bites can be covered in antibiotic cream, if needed. Sugar ants will infest your pantry or other food sources. Check your food containers, pantry, and kitchen as they are attracted to traces of food like stains and spills. Worker ants are active at dusk, moving along trails that have been marked for finding food and at dawn, they will return to their nests. Because of their nocturnal behaviors, they can be hard to locate. But sugar ants like to build their nests in the soil so look for large dirt hills.

What Is A Fire Ant?

The fire ant is found in the south-eastern United States and is part of the tramp ant group. They can survive in dry and moist environments where there are none of their natural enemies are found. This ant is about 1.5 mm long, but the queen can be as long as 4 mm.  Both the workers and the queens are golden to light brown in color. They enter your house through cracks in the foundation but rarely come inside unless they are looking for food. Many times, a homeowner will unknowingly bring them inside on their potted plants. 

Fire Ants are known for their venomous and painful sting and are a health threat and annoyance to pickers in orchards and citrus groves. These ants that can sting many times. The reaction to the stings will vary from moderate pain to severe. Often you will see welts that are painful and can last for a few weeks. They are also harmful to pets and in extreme infestations, they have blinded dogs and cats. They are extremely aggressive and will sting anything that tries to invade the colony. They are the only species known to bite people. A fire ant mound is about eighteen inches wide and its occupants will swarm out and start attacking if the mound is touched.

What Is A Carpenter Ant?

This type of ant is black and live in timbers and old logs. Some of them will also live in the hollow stems of weeds or in trees. Canada is home to two types of Carpenter Ants: the red Carpenter Ant and the black Carpenter Ant. They are one of the largest species of ants in North America. These ants are most active at night when they are looking for food both outside and inside your home. They do not actually eat the wood for food, but they tunnel into it to make their nests. A colony of Carpenter Ants can create structural problems for homes as they destroy the strength and integrity of the wood, especially around the roof eaves, decks, and windowsills.  Although they are not as aggressive as fire ants, they will bite and inject of formic acid.   If the skin is broken, the area should be washed well, and antibiotic cream applied.  

What Is A Winged Ant?

Most ants do not have wings but at certain times of the year you will commonly see flying/winged ants. They are also referred to as swarmers, alatesor reproductivesThey have thin waists that are constricted at their thorax, elbowed antennae, and their front wings are larger than their hind wings. The female is larger than the male and the worker ants are generally seen foraging for food. The queens start out as a winged ant but after they mate, they lose their wings. When this type of ant is found in your home, there may be an established colony inside your home, or it has come through an open window.

Ant Nuptial Flights

The Nuptial Flight, also known as “flying ant day”, occurs in most species of ants and honeybees. Male drones and virgin queens, born with wings, take to the sky in order to mate. Although it not known why these flights are synchronized nation-wide, it is likely something in the air, like temperature and humidity. It allows ants form multiple colonies to mate with ants from different nests. To ensure out breeding, they will fly far from their nests.

Once they are ready to mate, the virgin queens will release pheromones to attract the male drones. Often the virgin queens will try to out fly the male drones to weed out potentially weak mates. The mating will take place during the flight. Generally, the virgin queen will make with more than one flight. The sperm from the male drone is stored in a sperm pocket on her body. It usually lasts throughout her lifetime and will fertilize tens of millions of eggs. After the flight and mating, the surviving virgin queens will land to prepare her new home and the male drones die.

Ant Infestations

The primary cause of an ant infestation is poor sanitation. This includes leaving food residue on counter tops, dirty dishes in the sink, trash that is not frequently emptied, and crumbs on the floor. Just a few foragers entering your home can soon become a major problem, especially if they establish colonies in your walls, under the foundation of your home, or in your yard.

Having ants can be a year-round or seasonal problem. Many will build their nests outside but come inside to look for food. After discovering a good food source, they will come inside to collect the food and then take it back to their outdoor colony. Some species will enter an interior of a home, build their nest, and become a permanent resident of your home. Some of these types include carpenter ants, Pavement Ants, and Odorous House Ants. These are the ones that can be a challenge to control. Normally more ants are found more during the warmer months than during winter.

Are Ants Beneficial To The Environment?

Although most people feel that ants are a nuisance and should be eradicated, they do play a beneficial role in their environment. They help control many pests like grubs and cutworms. When they dig in the ground, they are aerating or tilling the soil. This helps to redistribute the nutrients in the soil. They also turn the dead matter found in soil into fertilizer. Ants are also detritus feeders, hunting for the remains of small animals, rotting debris in the soil and on the ground, and the eggs of other pest insects. Because of these benefits that ants provide, it is not a good idea to remove them entirely from your yard.  

Can Ants Become A Serious Problem?

One of the biggest problems that ants cause in your home is the contamination of food. An ant’s body can carry bacteria. This is spread as they crawl across counter tops or in pantries. There are only a few species of ants that are known to transmit diseases but finding ants in your home is always an unpleasant experience.

Some ants like fire or carpenter ants can cause other problems. Fire ant bites cause pain and can also cause serious symptoms if you are allergic. Carpenter ants can chew tunnels through wood beams and cause a lot of costly damage.

Controlling Ants In The House

Ants that are found in the house can generally be found near moisture, hidden under appliances, behind walls, behind window frames, or near their food source. Controlling them can be a worrisome problem because they are persistent. There is not a single strategy or practice that can control all ant infestations. The strategies differ with each ant species, the ant’s preferred food, and location of their nest. Using an integrated, complete pest management program is what works best.

The first step is determining where the ants are coming in. Then, you can block the entrance and use a variety of home remedies to keep them from coming in. One home remedy is cucumber or lemon peels. You can mix it with vinegar to create a spray to use around problem areas. A stronger remedy is a fogger or ant bait trap. Just remember to keep them out of the reach of children and pets. Make sure that you know what specie you are dealing with so you can get the right products. Some types of bait will not work with for certain species. You may also want to wash your pets too as ants come into the house on them.

Controlling Ants In The Yard

For smaller yards, look for any mounds or anthills and spot treat them with an outdoor insecticide or lawn baiting inserts. Before you do this, you should mow the grass and then in the early morning or late afternoon, spray the entire lawn with insecticide. These are the times when the ants are most active. Make sure the insecticides, granules, and powder sprays are specifically for ant control on your lawn. Also make sure that you also follow all instructions.

One of the main things signs of ants are anthills. These hills can cause unsightly mounds and damage the roots of your grass.  Ants build labyrinths in the root systems of the grass, causing damage.  If you have pets and children that play in the yard, you want to make sure that you be careful about using toxic chemicals. You can make a spray solution with three parts water and one-part dish soap. If the ants are not invading your home, the best solution may be to live with them.

When using Chemical Products, the best method is spot control. Concentrating on a small area isolates the chemical zone and helps to minimize the damage that is caused to beneficial insects. A granular or spray form of chemical should be used on the nest. The granular form will need water to activate in most cases. You can also get Ant Bait in secure tamper resistant stations on the exterior of your home. Make sure that the area that is treated is completely dry before you allow any pets or children outside. If you are unsure about using chemicals, you should Hire a Pest Professional to do the job. They have the knowledge and experience to do it correctly and safely.

Controlling Different Types Of Ants

  • Fire Ants

    The best way to control fire ants is to use baits and insecticides in their nests. Aerosol or Dust Insecticides can also be used after a professional consultation.  A bleach-based bathtub cleaner, or fire ant baits with spinosad or chemical dust can also be used. Since fire ants bite, protective coverings should be worn. You should wear thick shoes, long pants that are tucked into long socks, and heavy gloves. You do not want them to get inside your clothing. Many times, homeowners will rely on a professional to get rid of fire ant. 

  • Sugar Ants

    To completely get rid of sugar ants, you will most likely have to use a combination of traps and natural repellents for the best Ant Control methods.  Many of the ant traps and baits used to get rid of these ants have honey or sugar as luring ingredients.  Toxic ingredients are added to poison the ants. The goal is for the ants to carry the poison to the queen. Homemade ant bait can be made by mixing combination of honey and boric acid as described below.  They will eat some and take it the remainder to the colony.  Important: this is toxic so keep it away from pets and children. 

  • Winged Ants

    Although it sounds simple, you can use a Vacuum to get rid of them. You can use a hand-held one or one with a hose attachment. Just suck them up and get rid of the bag. If you have the bag-less type, empty it outside of the home.

  • Carpenter Ants

    When trying to control ants, you want to treat the nest. If you do not treat the entire nest right, the colony may scatter and build a new nest. To help minimize this risk, use a non-repellent insecticide. A Non-repellent Insecticide is undetectable to ants; they will not avoid it. The recommended way to control them is to use carpenter ant bait on their trail. You can help to prevent further infestations by making sure that tree branches do not touch the house and seal and/or paint any wood construction that is exposed before it gets wet. Carpenter ants are difficult to remove, and professional help is recommended.

Home Remedies to Control Ants

Many homeowners do not like to use pesticides to get rid of ants because they can harmful to the environment, animals, and humans. There are many home remedies for ants however they can take more take time and patience.

  • Cinnamon

    the smell is enough to discourage ants from coming into your house and scrounging for food. Add at least a half teaspoon of cinnamon essential oil to a cup of water. Dip a cotton ball in the mixture and wipe down the areas where you think the ants enter your home. Do this at least once a day there are no more ants. You can also put some ground cinnamon near any place you see ants coming in.

  • Vinegar

    Like, cinnamon, it is vinegar’s strong smell that makes it effective. Ants avoid it and the vinegar smell will mask their scent trails, causing them to become lost. For this home remedy, mix equal parts water and vinegar in a spray bottle. Add a few drops of your favorite essential oils as desired and mix them completely. Use this spray around baseboards and other potential entrances. After an hour, you will be able to wipe up the dead ants. Do this each day until all the ants are gone. You can also use this to clean counter tops, floors, and windowsills to help prevent ants from crawling on these surfaces.

  • Borax

    Borax is toxic to ants and will prevent an infestation of your garden and house. Borax should be mixed with a sugary attractant. Mix equal parts of jelly or jam and borax. Spread it on a flat plate or piece of cardboard where you see ants. You can also mix one-part borax with three parts sugar or honey, adding enough water to make it syrup-like and paste it on outside surfaces where you see ants. Important: Borax is also toxic to small children and pets.

  • Lemon

    The acidic properties of lemons will mask their scent trails. You can rub some lemon juice on any area where they are getting in like windowsills and door thresholds. You can also scatter small slices of lemon peels around the outside entrances.

  • Peppermint

    This is a natural repellent. It will keep ants away effectively. Again, because of the strong smell, it interrupts their smelling capabilities, so they are unable to detect food sources. You can add ten drops of peppermint essential oil to a cup of water and mix in a spray bottle. Spray the areas where you see ants two times a day until they are gone. You can even use some dried peppermint and sprinkle it around your garbage area, doors, and entryways to keep ants out.

  • Cucumber Peels

    Ants have a natural aversion to cucumbers because of their taste. Take small pieces of the peel and put it where you have seen ants. Just replace them every day with fresh peels.

  • Cayenne Pepper

    The chemical signals that the ants rely on to navigate are destroyed by the strong nature of this type of pepper. If the ants cannot get the right signal, they cannot survive, and colonies will move away from the area. Sprinkle some cayenne pepper powder wherever you see ants. To make an unpleasant barrier, mix equal part of turmeric powder and cayenne pepper and put it across the ant’s access point.

  • Dish Soap (Liquid)

    Any type of liquid dish soap will work. Dish soap suffocates ants upon contact. Mix a teaspoon of baking soda and dish soap in a cup of water to make like a paste. Spread the paste at entry points of the home. You can also mix two parts water with one-part dish soap in a spray bottle and use it where you see ants. In a few hours, you can wipe up the dead ants.

Pet Safe Ant Control

Pesticides and pets seldom mix. If you have ants and pets, you should consider non-toxic solutions. Here are some ant control methods that are safe for your pets:

  • Chalk - This is a simple and easy remedy to get rid of ants. Chalk temporarily disrupts ants’ scent trials. Draw a line around any room where you see ants. They will not cross a chalk line. All you need is regular chalk.

  • Lemon - Squeeze the juice of lemons into the openings or holes where see ants coming in. Make sure that you cover any cracks in between the walls and floors, thresholds, and windowsills.

  • Baking Soda - Draw a line using baking soda. Like chalk, it will stop them in their tracks.  

  • Vinegar - Spray vinegar around any openings where ants come in.

  • Boiling Water Use boiling water to wash areas where there is an ant trail. Use gloves or a mop to get rid of the scent on the ant trail.

Components of an Ant Control Program

  • Correctly identify the species of ant

  • Minimize and remove any moisture that the ants can access. Make to fix any leaks and use downspouts to direct rainwater away from your home’s foundation.

  • Keep things clean. Don’t leave food or crumbs lying around. Don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink and empty trash containers on a regular basis. Keep things in the refrigerator or in sealed containers.

  • Remove potential entrances. Seal up all gaps, holes, or crack in the exterior of your house. Seal areas where wires or pipes enter your house. Keep tree limbs cut back from the house.

  • Minimize or remove their harborage sites. Make sure there are no attractive homes for ants on your properties. Remove areas that can give an ant colony the moisture and protection they need to live.

  • Use a vacuum to remove any ants found inside your home

Using Ant Control Products

  • Never use an insecticide to just control visible ants. To control the colony, you must eliminate the workers and queens. If not, the colony will continue to live. If the ants notice that some of the colony is dying, they may move the colony to another location.

  • In your home, use insecticide bait to attract ants. Foraging worker ants will think it is a food source and will take it back to the colony for the queen and others to eat. Using this method, you can eliminate the whole ant colony.

  • When you put out bait traps like granular baits, liquid baits, or gel baits, avoid stomping on the ants. You want them alive to take the bait back to the nest. 

Services Offered by a Professional

A professional can determine the species of ant, the size of the colony and the location of the nest. Generally, they will use bait insecticides. They will place a small bead of the bait in the areas where the ants have been seen feeding. The bait is placed on some type of holder, like a small piece of cardboard or an ant bait station.

For suspected carpenter ants, the professional will positively identify the ant species and then locate the nest. They can directly penetrate the nest with a drill and treat the wood with an insecticide. The professional will follow up by spraying the entire perimeter of the house to help deter the ants from coming inside.

Fire ants should also be handled by a professional. They can be dangerous to eradicate as they are very aggressive.

Why Do Ants Bite and Sting?

There are two main reasons why ants bite. They bite an animal or inset that they think is food. Secondly, they bite to protect their nest-mates or nest. Aggressive ants, like the fire ant, will sting pets. They may also sting defensively when they are disturbed. This is common with fire ants.

How to Treat an Ant Bite

Many aggressive ant species will bite or sting. The reaction you get from the bite is caused by their two-part process of repeated biting and stinging, which injects venom into your skin. Ants like the harvester ant and fire ant are more dangerous because they will sting a person many times. Luckily, most bite symptoms are minor. There will be moderate to intense pain at the site that generally goes away in a few hours. There is often localized swelling and redness. Depending on the age of the person bitten, the number of bites, and the degree of their allergic reaction, the symptoms can be mild or serious. If the person is allergic to the bite, the reaction will happen within a very short time. Some of the signs of an allergic reaction include sneezing, hives, difficulty breathing, wheezing, and nausea. If you are having an allergic reaction, you should seek medical help immediately.

Treating Fire Ant Stings

Fire ant venom is made of at least forty-six proteins and recent testing suggests that it contains a poison that affects your nervous system. This may why some people complain of hallucinations after a fire ant bite. This is more likely if you have been stung multiple times. A fire ant bite causes an intense burning pain or intense pinching feeling that lasts from seconds to minutes. This is followed by burning or itching ranging from mild to intense. Over the next few days, the itching sensation becomes stronger. However, most will heal without treatment. What sets their sting apart from other ant bites/stings is that they cause a blister that is pus-filled and look like a pimple. These blisters usually appear within twenty minutes and generally in a cluster. 

You can treat them using these methods:

  • Use a cold compress to reduce swelling 
  • Use a hydrocortisone cream for itching
  • Use a triple antibiotic ointment to help prevent infection

Avoid scratching the bites as this can open the blisters and cause an infection. If the symptoms do not improve in a few days, you may need to see your physician.

Fun Facts About Ants and Their Behavior

  • They can pass through the smallest cracks looking for water or greasy or sweet foods.

  • They leave an invisible chemical trail that contains pheromones that other ants can follow to find food, water, or shelter.

  • Colonies can relocate quickly if they are threatened and can number from 300,000 to 500,000.

  • A colony of ants can love a long time.  A queen can live as long as fifteen years while a worker can live up to seven years.

  • Generally, ants can carry and life more than three times their body weight.

  • Most ants are black, red, or brown, but some have a metallic luster.

  • There are some ant species that are asexual.  This means that they do not require a male to breed and they clone themselves.

  • For every human on earth, there are approximately 1.5 million ants.

  • Ants exist on every continent except Antarctica.

  • They are the longest living insect.

In Conclusion

DIY pest control is time consuming and prone to failure and frustration. Controlling ants is difficult, no matter the species. An ant infestation is difficult to remove on your own. Contacting your Local Pest Professional may be the best solution.

Remember, to prevent an infestation, keep your home clean. Sweep and mop to make sure that there are no crumbs on the floor.  Wipe down your counters and stove.  Prevention is far easier than removal. Make sure that when you use ant bait, the traps out of the reach of pets and children.

Check with your local home improvement store to find the products that you need to get rid of ants. Do not hesitate to call a professional if you cannot get rid of the problem. They have the experience and knowledge to get rid of a variety of species of ants safely. If you want to try to do it yourself, read all the instructions before using pesticides and wear the correct safety equipment.