Ants worthy adversaries for homeowners

It could have been the opening scene of a horror movie. The dark stain poured out of the ground, illuminated by headlights in the night.

Millions of crawling, shiny creatures spewed from the crack in the concrete, taking over everything in their path. ANTS! A fountain of ants flowed across the driveway.

Out of annoyance, I poured boiling water on them and watched them wash into the gravel. I knew it was futile. They always return.

Most of the ants at my house are classified as pavement ants. They’re tiny, dark brown insects that favor the cracks in the driveway for nest-building. No matter how many times I sweep away the fine dust piles at the entrances of their nests, they rebuild. They’re industrious little creatures, for sure. I don’t really mind them until they swarm out of the ground when they’re moving their nests, or they come inside.

A good rule when planning your attack on any pest is to determine whether you’re providing a food source for that pest. If ants are always on your countertop, well, maybe that’s because you have a mountain of toast crumbs provided as a free buffet.

I find that if I notice ants in my house, it’s usually traceable to a piece of dog food hidden under the container or some other morsel that lured them inside.

Keep your house clean and free of food that attracts pests, and you’ll have fewer problems with those pests. Make sure your indoor trash cans are fully contained and inaccessible to ants (or move them outdoors). Ants also need water. Check for leaking pipes or dripping faucets.

You can set up a barrier by spraying the outside perimeter of your house with a permethrin product, to discourage ants from crossing the line and invading. This might last a week or a month, so you’ll have to fortify your barrier.

According to information authored by Colorado State University entomologist Whitney Cranshaw, “use of ant baits will usually provide the most satisfactory control.” An old remedy for ants at my parents’ house was to mix boric acid powder with peanut butter and place it in the cabinet where the ants had been seen, so they would take the poisoned food back to their nest and kill all the other ants, too. The poisoned food was in the cupboard to keep it away from our dog, who loved peanut butter as much as ants and would have been very sick if he ate it.

Each type of bait has its pros and cons. You wouldn’t want to place anything with boric acid in a garden area, as it can hinder plant growth. If you’re controlling ants outdoors, you might want to use an insecticide such as permethrin or carbaryl (also known as Sevin). It really depends on where you’re controlling the ants and what else is in the area. I wouldn’t want some of these chemicals in my house.

According to Cranshaw, you need to give the bait a week or two to make a dent in the ant population. Make sure it doesn’t run out or get crusty or dry, and that you encourage the ants to eat the bait exclusively (don’t leave crumbs around).

Remember, this is poison! Keep it away from pets and children. Don’t spray the area with the bait to deter ants, the whole idea is to get them to take the bait.

Cranshaw also notes in his research that for some reason, certain ants prefer different foods. Some like peanut butter, but others love sweet, sticky foods such as jelly and honey. You might have to try a variety and see what they eat.

For information, check out Factsheet No. 5.518, “Ants in the Home,” at http://www.ext.colostate.edu.

Erin McIntyre is a writer, gardener and Grand Valley native in the midst of starting her own gourmet pickle company, which you can check out at yumpickles.com.


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