By Kimberly Cataudella
From The News & Observer (Raleigh)
With the right pesticide and some intervention tricks, you can get ants out of your home—and make them stay out—this spring and summer.
The News & Observer spoke with Sydney Crawley, a North Carolina State professor and extension specialist with expertise in insect and vertebrate pests, to learn why they’re in our spaces and how we can reclaim our homes.
“There is some value in making sure that native ants are protected,” she said. “However, when ants start invading the home, contaminating food and annoying people and pets, I believe that control of some sort is warranted.”
Ants come inside homes in search of three basic things: food, water, and nesting habitat.
Food is the No. 1 reason, and many species of ants love protein, sweets, and grease.
“Once a foraging ant has found suitable food, they will communicate this to other foragers, usually through a trail pheromone,” Crawley said.
“This leads more and more workers to the food source, explaining why you may see more ants over time.”
The keys for getting rid of ants are: exclude, sanitize, and apply pesticides.
Caulking or sealing openings that may allow ants inside can prevent invasion. Trimming back ornamental plants and trees that touch the home can also help.
“There are many ant species that protect aphids that live in plants in exchange for honeydew. Branches serve as bridges that afford ants a convenient way right into your house,” Crawley said.
You should also repair rips in your screens, replace weather stripping and check around electrical conduits to ensure your home is as tightly sealed as possible.
Keep your food sealed. Ants in a home will commonly feed on food crumbs, liquid drippings, or debris on dirty dishes.
“I see lots of ants in pet bowls, for instance,” she said.
Leaky faucets and standing water can attract ants as well. Correct leaky faucets and stagnant drains to keep ants away.
Ant baits can help most ant problems. Sugar bait with a toxicant, such as boric acid, typically works well, as many of the ant species that enter homes are sweet-loving ants.
This will work slowly, as foraging ants take food back to the queen, and you must kill the egg-laying queen to get rid of the colony. If you don’t see any reduction in ant activity after a week, it might be because ants are not currently feeding on sweets, so you might have to switch to a protein or fat-based carrier.
“The product label should tell you what the bait matrix is and whether it is meant for sweet-loving ants, or others,” she said.
Here are some kinds of bait to consider:
An important note: If you are using bait, do not spray ants or ant trails with chemical products, such as Raid aerosols, to kill them.
“This will contaminate the bait, repel ants from it, and you will be starting from square one,” she said.
Most home remedies are ineffective, Crawley said, including essential oil repellents you may read about online.
“I recommend sticking with federally registered products and adhering to the label verbiage for application,” she said.
While there’s no benefit to having ants inside your home, native ant species—when kept outside—are environmentally beneficial.
“Ants are predators that can control many nuisance insects in the lawn and landscape. Native ants are important ecosystem servicers,” Crawley said.