Meet the ant, social butterfly, um, insect. Do you remember the nursery rhyme, "The ants go marching one by one"? Hopefully, the ants in your area do their marching outdoors and far away from your home. However, if ants do invade your personal space, knowledge of the "enemy" is key. By understanding an ant's motives, you can help keep your home and property free of these industrious pests.
Meet the Ant
Ants are social insects that divide important tasks throughout their population.
- The queen. Ant life revolves around a single reproducing female, the queen. She lays the eggs that will become the future members of the colony.
- Workers. The queen is supported by a large population of additional non-reproducing females (the workers) that are responsible for infrastructure, brood rearing, and feeding of the group as a whole.1
- Drones. Some, more rarely seen, male ants called drones are responsible for the reproduction and establishment of additional colonies.
The ants' social structure is similar to that of wasps, hornets, bees, and other social insects. Ants love to share information with each other, and they do this using pheromones. Ants can use these special chemicals to communicate different meanings, but one common and famous use is their pheromone "trails." This way of communication is why you sometimes see ants following each other single-file, particularly when coming and going from food sources.
Why Ants Are a Problem
Watching ants work an anthill can be fascinating, but watching them work in and around your home is probably more frustrating because ants can cause a number of issues.
How Ants Affect Your Pet
- They bite! Ants won't really seek out your pet the way ticks, fleas, or mosquitoes do. Nevertheless, if your dog or cat stumbles onto a colony in the yard, certain species of ants may bite. (They'll bite you, too!)
- Pet food. Indoors, your pet's food may attract ants.
How Ants Affect Your Home
- They steal food. The old cliché about ants crashing your outdoor picnic is true, but it's not because they're necessarily interested in the canoe ride or the potato sack race; they are almost certainly after your food. Ants enter your home for the same reason. In particular, ants seem attracted to the sugary stuff (better guard those cookies) and proteins like meat. Not only do ants take your food, but they can also spread bacteria around as they do so.2
- They're destructive. One particularly destructive ant is the carpenter ant. These ants prefer building their colonies in wood, especially damp or somewhat rotted wood. Carpenter ants don't really eat the wood; they simply chew tunnels through it.
How Ants Affect Your Yard
- Ants in your yard are probably less of an immediate concern than in your house (at least they're outdoors!), but they can still be an issue if you use your lawn for family recreation or as an exercise area for pets.
- Stray ants in the lawn may still make their way indoors, leading to additional trouble.
- Larger anthills can be a nuisance when mowing the lawn, as the lawnmower blades can strike the hill, tossing sand and dust everywhere.
How to Get Rid of Ants
There is plenty you can do to stop unwanted ants from causing trouble.
- Seal up food. Indoors, keep a lid on food items to prevent the smells from attracting ants.
- Keep the kitchen tidy. Keep a lid on household garbage and remove kitchen crumbs. The cleaner, the better.
- Keep the house clean. Remember the pheromones—the chemical scents ants leave behind to show each other the way to a food source? Disrupting these trails can help discourage the ants, so washing countertops and floors and vacuuming carpets can be a real help here.
- Repair wood. Interior or exterior wood in need of repair may attract carpenter ants. They might also try to enter your home from the branches of nearby trees. Preventing both of these issues may help get rid of carpenter ants.3
- Check for water damage. "Water" ants or "moisture" ants are collective names for generally small ants that thrive near water sources. In your home, this might be leaky plumbing or consistently water-damaged areas. Discourage these ants by stopping the moisture problem.
- Use a yard spray for ants of all types. If ants are overrunning your yard, using a lawn spray like Adams Plus Yard Spray can help eliminate the ants and make the yard pest-free again. Getting rid of the ants in your yard may help prevent them from coming inside the house, especially if the colony/nest they are originating from is outdoors. Locating and spraying the colony itself is very helpful.
- Eliminate entrances. Ants (including carpenter ants) can squeeze through a variety of cracks and holes in your home, so caulking cracks and stopping up similar entrances can help keep them out.4
- Try a fogger. If indoor ants are bothersome but you can't locate their source, a fogger that can handle ants, like Adams Plus Flea & Tick Indoor Fogger, may help—especially if you suspect the colony is not too far out of reach.
- Try an indoor spray. If you prefer a spray to a fogger, a product like Adams Flea and Tick Carpet & Home Spray can be used to target specific areas of your house like around furniture, rugs, and carpets.
Ants in the house can be a nuisance, but with the right techniques and products, you can work to keep them under control!
1. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Ant." Encyclopedia Britannica, 6 Apr. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/animal/ant
2. Lupo, Lisa Jo. "How to Get Rid of Ants in the House." The Spruce. 14 March 2021. https://www.thespruce.com/how-to-get-rid-of-ants-2656468
3. Hahn, Jeffery, and Kells, Stephen. "Carpenter ants." University of Minnesota Extension. 2018. https://extension.umn.edu/insects-infest-homes/carpenter-ants
4. Penn State Cooperative Extension. "Common Urban Pests - Identification, Prevention, and Control." 1 September 2011. https://extension.psu.edu/common-urban-pests-identification-prevention-and-control