Ants invade homes, usually in search of food and water. These close relatives of bees and wasps are social insects that divide duties among different types of adults. Queens lay the colony’s eggs and sometimes participate in feeding and grooming larvae. Most of the colony is comprised of sterile female workers that gather food, build tunnels, and defend the colony. The odorous house ant, imported fire ant, and black carpenter ant are among North America’s almost 1,000 species of ants.
When they make their way indoors, ants usually find pet food, which can create a dilemma for your pet: eat and be stung, or leave the food alone. Ants have not been proven to transmit disease, but bites cause painful swelling and redness at the site, usually on a hairless or lightly haired part of the body such as the belly, feet, or nose. Multiple stings or bites can cause shock, so it’s especially important to monitor your pet for any signs of an allergic reaction.
Most ants that are found in homes nest outdoors and come indoors only to search for food or water. Take the following steps inside your home to help keep ants at bay:
- Place attractants out of ants’ reach. Put items containing sugar in glass containers with rubber gaskets, or refrigerate them. Keep the sink and food prep areas clean, and remove garbage frequently. Finally, feed your pet only what he will eat immediately; then take up the bowl. If you must leave food out, place the food bowl in a larger water-filled tray—ants that venture into this area will drown before reaching the bowl.
- Erase foraging or scent trails. Ants use these trails to help them find food for the colony, so eliminating the trails will help eliminate your ant problem. Use soap and water on countertops, and vacuum carpets and use mops on hard floors to interrupt the trails. After vacuuming, try indoor flea control products to keep ants from returning.
A second approach is to deny entry to your home in the first place. The most important way to do this is to reduce the ants’ entry points by caulking cracks and crevices, especially around foundations. In addition, secure all wire or pipe entries because ants frequently use them to enter and travel within a structure. If you cannot find the entry points, try a spray along the entry wall.
While preventive measures are important, the reality is that most people deal with the ants they see. Eliminating queens and other colony members within their nests is the effective way to control ants. Nests are sometimes marked by a mound or anthill, and some nests are hidden under landscaping or pavement, or adjoining the foundation wall of a building. When you discover the colony, a good approach is to use a yard spray designed to eliminate ants, such as flea spray for yard pests. However, the spray must reach the entire colony. It takes patience to locate an ant colony outdoors, but the results will be more rapid and permanent than if you only spray where ants are seen trailing.