Ask The Bugman: Ants are very successful insects

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Ants are the most common household pests in the country. They create more calls to pest control companies than most other pests combined.

They have small to large colonies which contain workers (sterile females), queens (one or many, secondary reproductives that take the place of queens when she passes on and winged reproductives (known as alates) whose sole responsibility is to start new colonies.

Many of our most troublesome pest species are transplants from other countries. These ants are very hard to control, hence they are very successful at establishing new homes.

White-footed ants have successfully become established in Florida and have turned up in some other states as well. They are originally from Indonesia. Ghost ants, who originated either in the tropics of Africa or Asia, are also doing well in this country. Pharaoh ants are major pests in many large cities and they are not native here. They probably originated in Africa. Fire ants have really made their presence known in our southern states and they originally came from South America.

Probably the most persistent household ant in this country is the Argentine ant. They originated in Argentina, although Argentinians claim they came from Brazil to their country. In any event, if they came from Brazil, they entered Argentina as nameless little vagabonds, because they were given their identity in 1868 by a fellow named Gustav Mayr, who described them from specimens taken in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Most of our domestic species that have always made their home with us are much easier to control. There are hundreds of species of ants in the U.S. Most of them live in areas where they don’t come in contact with people. There are a few species, however, that can be a nuisance and some even reach pest status.

Here are several things you can do to prevent ants from entering your home.

The first step is exclusion. Go around the outside of your home and inspect it very carefully from an ant’s point of view. Ants can sense cool air and aromatic odors emanating from your home and will try to gain access.

Check around the house at ground level and look for cracks in the foundation, voids around pipes, areas under stucco, weepholes in bricks and similar areas that ants can use to gain entrance. All these areas need to be sealed, caulked, screened or otherwise altered to prevent ants from using them to get into your home. Check around your windows and doors to make sure they close tightly. If the doors aren’t tight, you may have to install doorsweeps on them.

Check your bushes, shrubs and trees to make sure you don’t have any branches touching the roof. Don’t stack firewood, bricks or anything else next to your house or ants and other insects may find a good place to nest. If you have bushes or shrubs next to your house, periodically inspect them for aphids, scales and similar bugs, because ants are attracted to the honeydew they produce. The ants will get on the plants and eventually find their way into your home.

Don’t put flagstone or flat boards on the ground too close to your home or some species of ants will nest under them.

On the other hand, mound-making ants will generally stay outside. They rarely leave their complicated and efficient home life in the mound to enter homes. If you don’t want the ants making mounds in your yard, you can flood the nests with club soda or with white vinegar or food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE). If you use the DE, mix four tablespoons per gallon of water. You can also use one gallon of orange juice diluted with two gallons of water and a dash of soap. If you prefer, you can also spread dry instant grits on the mound. The ants will eat it and not be able to digest it and die.

You can repel ants with a wide variety of products, including cinnamon, baking soda, Comet Cleanser, cedar oil, medicated baby powder, Tide, talcum powder, chalk, coffee grounds, borax, garlic, broken egg shells, bone meal, black or red pepper, peppermint, paprika, chili powder and mint leaves.

If you have ants going into your hummingbird feeder, you can put duct tape, sticky side out, on the wire holding the feeder, to deter them.

The best way to control them when they get in your home is with baits. Different species have different food preferences. Some species will take a variety of baits, while others are more fussy.

You can use a bait containing half baking soda and half powdered sugar and place it where you see foraging ants. You can also use instant grits, which they can’t digest, or use two packets of Equal or Nutrasweet, which contains aspartame, wherever you see the ants. You can mix a couple of packets of Equal in a glass of fruit juice to control yellow jackets.

If the ants have a preferred food in your home, such as apple sauce, peanut butter, canned cat food, Karo Syrup, jelly or similar products, you can mix in small amounts of boric acid or borax or aspartame. Mix about two percent of any of these products in the food. Make sure you keep these baits away from children and pets. If the ants are dying near the baits, you are making it too strong and need to make a fresh batch with less boric acid or borax.

Here is a recipe for effective, homemade ant baits/traps that use borax. It attracts ants looking for either moisture or food. You will need: three cups water, one cup sugar, one teaspoon borax or two teaspoon food-grade DE or aspartame, six small screw-top jars with lids, such as jelly jars covered with masking tape, which will enable the ants to climb up the side. Mix the sugar, water and borax (or food-grade DE or aspartame) in a bowl. Half-fill the jars with cotton balls or pieces of sponge or wadded paper towels. Pour up to ½ cup of the sugary mixture over the cotton balls, saturating them. Make several small holes in the lid. Screw the lids on the jars tightly.

If you smoke, always wear plastic gloves when making ant baits or they will sense the tobacco smoke on the baits and not go to it. Ants do not like cigarette or cigar smoke.

If you are finding ants in a classroom or office building and baits aren’t practical, you can spray all of the foraging ants with Greenbug for Indoors, which is a cedar product and will kill the ants it hits and repel others.

Food-grade diatomaceous earth should be available in any feed store. Greenbug is available online from www.greenbugallnatural.com.


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