How to Identify and Eliminate an Ant Infestation in Your Home
The weather is warming up and you spot the dreaded line of ants creeping across your kitchen counter. Do you have an ant infestation? Or are they simply a rogue bunch of ants that have made it indoor from an outdoor colony?
Ants are one of the most common home pests in the country today, and for good reason. To begin with, the wide variety of ant species are very difficult to eliminate due to their behavior and complex colony structure. They are also stealth survivors, finding unique ways to outlive common household pest control and DIY pest control methods.
So, how do you get rid of an ant infestation for good? There are a few simple ways to better understand these pesky creatures in your home and how to get one step ahead of them. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the most common ants in the US, if ants are dangerous, and ways to both detect and get rid of an ant infestation in your home.
Why Are There Ants in Your Home?
Ants, like most pests, are often attracted inside houses due to the prospect of food and safe shelter. Unlike many insects, however, ants can reproduce and build complex colonies quickly and efficiently. This means that eliminating the line of ants you saw walking across your baseboard doesn’t typically mean you’ve removed them from your home entirely.
Here are the top reasons you may be seeing ants inside your living space.
1. You Have an Infestation Outside
Ants do not need to nest inside your home to infest your living space. In many cases, seeing a congregation of ants inside could be a sign that they have built a colony right outside a window, door, or crack in your home’s outer structure.
Determine where the source of the ant colony comes from by following the line of ants as far as you can go. If they appear to be leaving the premises, focus your ant extermination efforts on the perimeter of your home, such as in gardens, piles of leaves or debris, and in your basement and garage.
2. There Are Hidden Sources of Food
Even if you are a diligent cleaner, ants will stick around and alert their friends of potential crumbs and food remnants. Since ants are omnivores, they aren’t particularly picky about what they eat.
A thin layer of sugar left on the counter or crumbs that have fallen behind the stove are all fair game when ants make their way indoors. Other culprits include leftover pet food, plant sap, and even the carcasses of other dead insects.
3. They’ve Alerted One Another
A small ant infestation can take off without warning due to the mere nature of how ants communicate with one another. When ants find a place to nest—or when they’re looking to build a new colony—they will leave trails of pheromones around your home to attract others. As highly social creatures, you’re more likely to deal with an ant infestation if you or your neighbors have had one in the past.
Are Ants Dangerous?
The majority of ants in the US do not pose a threat to our health or safety, but there are some exceptions. Fire ants, for example, can cause painful bites and stings, even when their colonies are inadvertently disturbed.
Additionally, carpenter ants are known for burrowing through softwoods and materials in our home, which can lead to structural damage over time.
Unique ant species, like the pharaoh ant, can also carry disease and bacteria throughout hospitals and other areas with vulnerable populations. In general, ants are not known for transferring disease, but can make their way across your food supply after spending time in unclean environments.
Lastly, ant infestations are likely to attract larger pests that prey on ants, such as spiders or beetles.
We’ll cover the threat and behaviors of the most common ants below.
How to Identify Ants
Depending on where you live in the US, you’re bound to come across one of the hundreds of types of ants in the country. The majority of which, luckily, are not harmful to our health or the structure of your home, but there are some major problem-causers to keep an eye out for.
When trying to figure out which ant is which, take a look at the following features and factors:
- Body segmentation
- Head size
- Whether it has wings
In most cases, you are likely to see one of the following ants in your home. Knowing how to identify the ant species can help you both target your extermination efforts or report your findings to a professional.
The easy way to identify Argentine ants are by their coloring. This variety tends to range from reddish-brown to tan. They only grow up to about an eighth of an inch and can live in very large colonies that multiply quickly.
Argentine ants typically nest in homes throughout Texas and the southern US states. Though these ants do not bite or burrow through wood, they can carry disease as they are prevalent in garbage and other bacteria-filled spaces.
The look of carpenter ants varies widely throughout the US based on its subspecies. They tend to range from dark black to brown and red, so it can be difficult to determine if you have a carpenter ant infestation. However, nearly all of them have heart-shaped heads and a rounder thorax. Like many ants, the shape and coloring with change depending on its caste in the colony.
Carpenter ants are known for boring through wood, but luckily, not just any old wood will do. They prefer wood and building materials that have been softened by moisture or natural decay. By keeping your home sealed and void of excess moisture, you are more likely to dodge a carpenter ant problem.
As feared residents of the southern states and Gulf Coast region, fire ants can inflict very painful bites and stings to humans and pets. Fire ants are typically easy to identify due to their dark red hue. They will also typically have a visible stinger as well.
You are more likely to find fire ant colonies building mounds out in the open, as opposed to dark and shaded areas. This can make them easier to spot, but they do reproduce quite quickly and can be dangerous to control on your own.
Odorous House Ants
The Odorous House Ant is one of the most common species in the country that leads to home infestations. They are comfortable living among humans and burrowing in homes. You can identify odorous house ants by their brown-to-black color, segmented antennae, and rotten smell when squashed.
Since odorous house ants thrive in cracks and crevices, a home is the ideal place to build a colony. Their nests typically contain multiple queens who lay one egg a day. Though these ants do not pose major threats, they do carry bacteria from place to place.
While pavement ants are more likely to hang around sidewalks and other outdoor concrete structures, they can occasionally make it inside your home in cracks. Pavement ants are quite small compared to other species and range from light to dark brown.
You may also be able to spot that they have two nodes between their body segments and multiple segments in their antenna. Pavement ants do not present a strong threat to your safety, but they can multiply quite quickly and quickly become a nuisance.
Roles in the Ant Colony
Even when ants belong to the same species, there is a chance that you’ll see different types of ants based on the role they play in their colony. Here are ways to determine the caste system of your ant colony and reasons why it can be helpful to know.
- Worker Ants: In most scenarios, you are likely to spot worker ants around your home, especially when they head out to find food to bring back to the colony. These ants are typically female and work to protect and feed the colony. They also take care of the eggs and larvae and the ants grow older.
- Queen Ants: The largest ant of the colony, you’re unlikely to see this ant out and about unless you find the colony itself. Depending on the species, an ant colony may have more than one queen.
- Swarmers: Winged ants, which are easy to confuse with other insects, are ants in the stage of reproduction. Male ants will travel to a new area when they’re ready to expand the colony and die off after mating. The queen and worker ants will stay on to build up the new nest and support the next batch of eggs.
An ant colony is incredibly resilient. Even if you attempt to eliminate one part of the colony, some ants are equipped at breaking off quickly enough to save the queen and the next set of offspring. Eliminating ants, therefore, takes an integrative approach that targets their colonies, their common entry points, and ways to prevent future infestations.
Signs of an Ant Infestation
How do you know if a single ant in your house is a sign of a larger issue? Ants are likely to become a more noticeable problem after they’ve built a significant colony. Here are some ways to know if you should worry about a larger ant problem than what meets the eye:
Debris Piles and Nests
While outdoor nests are a bit more obvious—typically in small mounds of sand and dirt—indoor nests may leave behind wood shavings. In some cases, you can find an ant colony by tracking the line of ants back to one area, though this can be complex since ants will often hide inside unreachable places in your home.
Odd Sounds and Smells
Some ants are easier to detect than others. Carpenter ants, for example, can be heard in the walls and ceilings if they multiply to large enough numbers. Odorous house ants, as we mentioned earlier, can also give off a musty smell when killed.
The easiest way to detect if you have a large ant problem in your house is to bait them out of their colony. Leave a small piece of sweet food in the area where you typically see the ants and see how quickly it takes for the bait to become covered. This is also an easier way to detect if the infestation is coming from in or outside your home.
How to Get Rid of Ants in Your Home
Getting rid of ants the DIY route requires a several step process. It’s important to determine the size of your infestation, detect whether there is a colony inside your home, remove available ant food, and clean any areas where ants have left pheromone trails.
Store-Bought Ant Baits and Traps
Traps from the store will often include protein or carbohydrate-based bait to attract different types of ants at different phases of their lives. This bait will contain a poison that the worker ants will bring back to the queen and the rest of the colony.
Though this is a common method, it’s important to follow the included instructions diligently. Leaving out insect poisons in your home can be very dangerous for children or pets, even when stored in plastic cases.
Sprays and Dusts
Stores will also sell granular and liquid ant poison that you can distribute directly on colonies or that are made for specific species of ants. Dust and granular kits are ideal if you have a very wide-spread infestation but are not sure where your ants are feeding.
Similar to baits and traps, it’s important to follow this method closely to the instructions since poison in your home can cause additional issues.
Store-Bought Natural Ant Kills and Prevention
Several household projects also ward off large ant populations, though the results of these methods vary depending on the size of your infestation. Some popular choices include:
- Diatomaceous earth
- Black pepper
- Essential oils—such as peppermint, tea tree, eucalyptus, or lemon
- White or apple cider vinegar
We also always recommend working with preventative measures such as sealing up all your open food items in the fridge or in the cupboards. Wipe down countertops and appliances for food residue. We also recommend checking common entry points around your home where ants often congregate such as by the gutters, eaves, and throughout the basement.
How Aptive Pest Control Can Help
Taking on an ant infestation on your own can be time consuming, expensive, and even dangerous. You shouldn’t have to handle strong chemicals and potent natural products without the assistance of a professional.
At Aptive, we believe in integrative pest control without the dangerous chemicals you associate with your local exterminator. Our Four Seasons Pest Control Program protects your home against ants throughout the year while eliminating any current infestation with efficiency and ease. This method allows us to catch ants throughout every stage of their nesting seasons while ensuring that additional pests do not return.
Aptive offers guaranteed pest control that ensures that your family and pets remain protected and comfortable throughout each of the treatments. Speak with a trained expert for a free consultation and customized quote and look forward to a safe, pest-free home.