- What are ants?
- How do they look like?
- How to ants communicate and find food?
- Some fascinating facts about ants
- How to detect ant infestation?
- What do ants eat?
- Ant Life cycle
- Types of ants
- Ant bites and its remedy
- Home remedies for ants/How to get rid of ants naturally?
- How to get rid of ants with chemicals?
- How to prevent ants at home?
‘The ant train’ was one of the fascinating things that attracted most of us during our childhood! Tracking down the source of this ‘ant train’ was a silly bit of adventure back then. But now, it’s more likely to be considered a nuisance to watch that ‘ant train’ directed inside our home! That feeling of adventure has been turned into a sense of fear considering those ants attacking our belongings.
Let’s learn more about these insects in depth so that, we can easily be able to get rid of them.
What are ants?
Ants are six-legged social insects like bees who prefer to live in large groups or colonies.
They are very common to our household often seen to move around forming a single line, in a disciplined manner. They can form their colony in trees, underground or in ground-level mounds. They have three categories of member in their colony viz. the Queen, females and males with each of them responsible for different kind of work. The ant queen is responsible to lay eggs and continue the race, the sterile females form the worker community and aim only at accumulating food, taking care of the nest, the offspring as well as other duties whereas, the male population is responsible for mating post which they may die.
They eat anything and everything available to them with greater attraction towards sweet foods. About 10000 species of ants do exist worldwide out of which 25 species are infamous for infesting homes.
How do they look like?
Depending upon species, ants can measure from 2mm to 25mm. Their body can be divided into three major sections viz. head, thorax and abdomen. Like all other insects, they also have a pair of antennae. They have relatively narrow waist than termites in between their thorax and abdomen. Ants have larger heads and powerful jaws with them.
How to ants communicate and find food?
Ants use pheromones to communicate with one another. They can smell through their antennae. The reason why they move in a single line is because of the pheromone trail that each ant leave behind. When a food source is being located by an ant, it leaves a pheromone trail behind it while it returns to the colony. Next, the ant colony can smell the trail and reach the food source easily. In case of any obstacle in between, they try to find out alternative route to the food source thus creating a new pheromone trail. They also leave a different kind of pheromone when in danger or under any attack to bring more ants to the location for help. They can also detect the community of an individual ant with the help of pheromone. This way they can communicate within the colony. The active queen also produces a specific kind of pheromone, absence of which, the colony might choose a new queen ant for them. They are also known to communicate by producing sounds through their mandibles.
Some fascinating facts about ants:
- The jaws of an ant works just like a pair of scissors. They open and shut sideways
- Ants have compound eyes i.e. each eye is made up of several smaller eyes
- They can lift up to 20 times their own body-weight. They are one of the strongest creatures according to their size
- They cannot chew their food but swallow
- Abdomen of an ant has two stomachs. The food in the second stomach is to share with others
- They are very fond of sugar
- Sterile females form the workers and soldier community as well as the queen. Males or drones, just mate and die
- Some ant species steal pupae of other ant species and tame them to be workers in their colony when they hatch. Slavery still exist among them!
- Except Antarctica, ants are everywhere on Earth
- Some species of ants can even stay 24 hours underwater
How to detect ant infestation?
Ants are very popular in the United States for infestations. Once you find a single ant inside your home, you can be certain that there is a breeding colony inside your house or nearby. As ants communicate and move around by following the pheromone trails left by other ants, it means that the ant you just spotted is actually following some trail. It might be there for food hunt but it’s for sure that your house falls within the perimeter of the ant habitat. If your home is acting as the food source for the colony, then certainly, the infestation status is positive.
What do ants eat?
There is no single kind of food that ants prefer to eat. They almost eat everything that we humans eat. Again, the food choice also varies species to species but sugar being the favorite food for almost all of them. Some of the ant species like to feed on protein-rich things like even dead insects or even the live ones! Some prefer any fruit or vegetable, honeydew, cheese, breadcrumb, starch, meat i.e. almost everything. For drinking purpose they do drink water, juices or any other sugary liquid. They say yes to any kind of food and still there is no obesity at all!
Ant Life cycle:
It all starts with an egg! Ants undergo complete metamorphosis by passing through four distinct phases i.e. egg, larvae, pupae and adult. The whole cycle requires weeks or even months to complete depending upon the ant species.
The oval shaped tiny ant eggs are white in color and transparent too. Only the fertile females mate with the males and become the queen. They select a shelter best suited for laying eggs and thus they start the colony. Ant eggs are just about 1/2mm in diameter.
It requires the baby ant within the egg phase for about a couple of weeks to get converted into a larva. The ant develops no legs during this stage. The appetite at this stage is very high and the adult ants has to take care of their nourishment.
The next stage after the larvae stage is known as the pupae stage where the larvae sheds their skin and molts. Pupae looks more like the adults with slight difference in their legs and antennae which remains attached to the pupa body. Initially, the pupae appears white but with ageing, they acquire pigmentation like that of the adults.
Here, the pupae are fully grown with proper legs and color. They are then included in either of the three communities of ants i.e. the worker class, queen or the male community with different job description for each.
Types of ants:
Carpenter ants are pretty popular in the United States besides being common in Europe and
other parts of the world too. They are usually dark black in color but also have reddish and yellow colors among other species. The workers usually have larger mandibles. These ants are able to stay in both indoor and outdoor conditions. As their name suggests, they do reside in decaying wood with moisture content or hollow woods. They do not eat woods but use those to create their nest by cutting through those. Carpenter ants feed on sweets, meat and even other insects. Their size may vary from 3 to 13mm in length.
The queen can lay up to 16 eggs in the first year and lives for about 25 years. The winged male are usually observed by home owners during swarming. The workers are also noticed while foraging for food. They would firstly attack food exposed to moisture. Any of these are signs including debris which forms while tunnelling through woods indicates that a well-developed colony exist nearby. They can even cause serious damage to wooden structures at homes.
These ants can usually be noticed building their nest underground which appears like a mound of soil. Some other species of field ants also nest near building foundation, sidewalks, trees, parks and fields. Field ants are not known to infest indoors.
They do not bite unless disturbed. They belong to the genus formica. These ants can spray formic acid when disturbed which might result in a painful sensation which stays for about an hour.
They can grow up to 8mm in length. These ants could appear in yellow, black and red or even a combination of these. Ants just like humans, also tame other insects like aphids and mealybugs to feed on their sweet secretion. They also do feed on meat and other insects.
In order to identify field ants which are also known as thatch ants, one has to look around for any soil mounds or mounds made of plant materials etc.
Fire Ants/Red ants:
Fire ants are aggressive, reddish in color and can grow up to 5mm in length. They are
common source of annoyance in the southern and northern United States. They are known to be omnivorous, equally feeding on vegetables and animal food source. They often feed on other insects, fruits, seeds, earthworms, honeydew and arthropod eggs.
They build their nest in the ground itself with visible mounds usually built to a height of about 20cm. These mounds become visible mostly after rainfalls. This is one way to identify fire ants. The colony size of fire ants are quite high sometimes exceeding even 500,000 members.
The queen of this colony might live till six years while the workers might live up to 180 days. It takes around a month for an egg to mature into an adult.
Citronella ants appear yellow and fall within a range of 4mm to 8mm in terms of body length.
When they are crushed, they release a lemon-like strong odor and that’s why their name.
These ants usually nest in the ground but also choose staying under rocks, logs of wood and timbers. They also infest indoors in areas consisting high content of moisture. So to get rid of them, the home-owners should rather focus in sorting out moisture problem in their homes. They are very common in the regions spanning at the north-west of Pacific as well as in Florida and Mexico.
They are smaller in size measuring about 2-3mm in length. They are known to appear in
black or dark brown colored bodies. Their thorax is uneven in shape unlike other species. When they are crushed, a smell of rotten coconut is released and hence their name.
They stay in both indoors and outdoors. During rainy weather, they are more likely to invade indoors. They also feed on honeydew, greasy foods and meats and sweet food items.
These ants reproduces mostly in the months of summer. Swarming activity takes place where the winged male mates with the females. The fertilized female then starts a new colony. Each colony might consist of over 100,000 workers. The metamorphosis process takes around 34-80 days approximately. Odorous ants do not bite or sting unlike the fire ants. When disturbed, they run quick in erratic motions by raising their abdomen into the air.
They are small species of ants measuring about 23mm in length. Their body color ranges
from light to dark brown. They reside in moisture-laden areas. They can live anywhere in soil, under debris and mulch or woods. Their colonies are relatively bigger with more than even hundred queens. Like other species of ants, they also prefer sweet foods and eat almost anything. One significant difference with argentine ants is that they do not swarm and reproduce inside the nest itself. The queen establish new colony nearby the old one and also shares workers among both when required. The queen can lay up to 60 eggs per day. The eggs require about 74 days to reach adulthood.
Argentine ant species form massive colonies consisting of millions of members. It is hard to control them without the supervision of some professional.
This species is commonly found in the United States. Their body color ranges from being
yellow to dark reddish brown. Interestingly, they have divided the worker section into two viz. major and minor workers. The major workers have bigger heads and hence their name. They are usually given the duty of protecting the colony from threats. The minor workers do the normal jobs like feeding and nourishing the colony etc.
They form their nest under logs or rocks or even under slabs. They are also known to form mounds around their nest opening. They do not intrude human habitat but occasionally they do while foraging for food source.
This red colored ants can grow up to 10mm in length. They are known to reside outdoors in
gardens and in the open but they might destroy vegetation. These red harvester ants are very aggressive when provoked. Their vicious bites can even cause allergic reactions. They also use pheromone trails to move around hunting for food.
A single queen in the colony is responsible for laying eggs and produce swarmer who carry on the mating activity after which the males die. There are different species of harvester ants also out of which the red colored ones are very poisonous but not all. Well, that doesn’t mean that their bites won’t hurt!
These ants have dark colored heads and thorax but their legs and abdomen are pale in color
and are often difficult to see through human eyes, hence their name. They are tiny in structure measuring about 1.5mm maximum in length. Like odorous ants, they also emit a coconut like smell when crushed.
They are common in Florida and in tropical regions. They are more likely to reside in warm and heated buildings and greenhouses, besides stones, firewood piles etc. They also feed on honeydews and other insects. They might go indoors following any trails or even through trees and shrubs touching the house in any way and make nests within flowerpots, or wall cracks.
The eggs develop through the process of complete metamorphosis. These ants do not bite or sting unless their nest is disturbed. Their bites are not so serious and might not even have any effect on human body. But they might be carrier of disease causing organisms.
They are a small sized species of ants measuring just about 2mm in length with yellow
colored bodies along with red and black marks on the abdomen section. Infestation can be identified by noticing amber-colored small workers foraging for food. They might want to invade indoors to escape from the winter while in summer months, they can build up their nest outdoors. In indoor environment, they can build nests within the folds of clothes, within the crack of the walls and undisturbed dark areas.
The colony might have multiple number of queens and they can live till a year. The eggs laid by the queens require about 38 days to completely grow as an adult. They do not swarm but they create new colonies by budding.
Pharaoh ants are menace to places like hospitals due to their capability to breed indoors. They also carry disease spreading organisms.
Thief ants and pharaoh ants appear similar in their appearances. This species of ants also grows to a maximum body length of 2.2mm. Their antennae have 10 segments in them while the pharaoh ants have 12. They appear in a color range from yellow to brown. There are no spines in their thorax.
They feed on protein rich and greasy foods like cheese, nuts and sweets etc. They also do target dead insects for food. They are known to steal food from other nests and hence their name.
The eggs from the queen need 50-60 days to fully develop as adults. They infest indoors inside wall-cracks, behind baseboards or cabinet voids etc. and use trails from the food source back to their nest which is easily traceable.
They grow up to 3mm to 4mm in length. They can be of brown or dark in color. They are
more popular in North American regions. They have a visible pair of spines on their back along with grooves on their head and thorax. They also do feed on honeydew, sweet food items, breads, meats nuts etc.
Pavement ants also has the habit to build their nest under logs, stones and bricks and in the open etc. They also build their nests indoors for e.g. within walls, under floors and dark corners. Same as other ants, the eggs has to undergo complete metamorphosis to develop. A colony might have several queen ants. The new broods are taken care of by the workers and kept away from temperature fluctuations.
Ant bites and its remedy:
The one who believes and preaches that ‘Size Matters’ should be bitten by fire ants! Well, ants might look tiny and helpless, but when bitten by the poisonous one, things can really
turn very distressing and discomforting. Sometimes the pain itself remains for hours not to forget the itchiness which becomes uncontrollable. Below are some remedies which are very helpful in providing relief from ant bites:
- Salt: Make a paste of salt and water and apply it on the affected area. This acts as a saline mixture and fights against any sort of infection. Leave a coat of that paste which will also prevent you from itching that area and control swelling as well.
- Applying Ice: Swelling can be easily prevented by icing the area. Ants release histamines under the skin which causes swelling and this gets controlled by ice. The pain will also minimize.
- Toothpaste: Not just any toothpaste but the ones with peppermint and cloves are more helpful in acting as anti-histamines and thus can reduce the discomfort and swelling.
- Alcohol: Drinking it will reduce your sense to feel the pain, nothing else! Instead, apply alcohol or alcoholic containing product like mouthwash on that bitten area and rub it thoroughly and repeat the same process repeatedly. In that way you will get rid of that discomfort and still be at your senses!
- Vinegar: It’s good to apply vinegar in the area if you’ve scratched that area by mistake. This will reduce the chances of any bacterial infection.
- Aspirin: Aspirin tablets ae popular for their anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving nature. But in case of ant bites, you can form a paste of aspirin and water and pally it on the ant bite area. This would also give you comfort and prevent further swelling and itching as well.
- Calamine: Apply this lotion generously on the ant bite area. This will reduce the itching sensation to give comfort.
- Soap Bar: Press and rub soap bar on the affected area to create a coat of soap on the skin to prevent bacterial attacks and reduce itchiness and swelling.
- Aloe Vera: Aloe Vera gel also helps in reducing the swelling and pain sensation. Apply it on the skin and leave it to dry. Repeat the same if pain persists.
- Tea bag: Tea has tannic acid in it which helps in reducing discomfort caused due to ant bites. Moist the tea bag, cool it and press on the bitten area with the bags. Even tea tree oil will also work.
- Baking Soda: Form a paste of baking soda and apply it on the bitten area. This will prevent any infection and reduce discomfort.
Home remedies for ants/How to get rid of ants naturally?
Dealing with insects doesn’t always require chemicals. There are home remedies to get rid of ants too. Below are few tested methods to kill ants:
- Vinegar: Use vinegar to get rid of ants. It’s a very common ingredient in your kitchen. Pour vinegar in a spray bottle and spray vinegar at all the suspected points and over the trail route through which ants enter your home. Vinegar diminishes the pheromone scent and eventually ants would keep out of your home.
- Chalks: Draw lines around the perimeter of your home. Ants seem to know their limits too! They are observed not to cross the chalk lines. Chalks are widely available and is cheap way to get rid of ants.
- Lemon Juice: When life give you lemons, you ought to squeeze those! Lemon juice acts as natural ants-repellent. Spray the juice around all entry points and this will also help you in keeping ants away from your home.
- Soapy water: Make soapy water solution at home using either bathing soap or dish-washing soap and spray the solution all over the trail as well as over them. Repeat it after some time to get rid of ants.
- Diatomaceous earth: Use food grade diatomaceous earth to sprinkle it around your house. This might take some time to provide visible results but it works. Make sure you do not wet the substance or else it might not be effective.
- Baby Powder: Sprinkle baby powder over the entry points and you’ll see ants not crossing those points.
- Coffee grounds: Ants do not like coffee smell. Place coffee grounds at all entry points which will keep them away from your home.
- Salt: Prepare salt solution and spray or simply sprinkle it over all significant locations like wall-cracks, window-cracks and similar possible entry points and this will be a deterrent for the ants.
- Essential oils: Oils like peppermint, lemon or tea tree oil are very effective in getting rid of ants. Make a water solution with these oils and spray it over the suspected areas to see positive results.
- Borax-Sugar mixture: Make small balls of this mixture and place it at places where you’ve seen ants to roam around. Sugar will attract them but borax will kill them.
- Baking soda & sugar mixture: Same as the one mentioned above, make small balls of this mixture in the ration of 1:1 and leave those in strategic locations for the ants to consume it.
How to get rid of ants with chemicals?
If you’re not ready to experiment with the DIY methods and rather want some chemical which will instantly help you in getting rid of ants from your home, then there are ways to do that too. But, few things to be remembered before using insecticides to kill ants are that, chemicals should be kept and placed in secure locations beyond reach of small children and pets. Secondly, baits would encourage and allow ants to consume it as well as carry that to their nests. So, the probability of infecting the whole colony stays high while insecticides would kill some on spot but may not the whole colony. Below are few ways to kill ants by chemicals:
- Using pyrethroid: This is an effective method to eliminate even big nests of ants. You might require to dilute the chemical with water and then apply. It’s better to follow the instructions mentioned while using it. For e.g. bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, phenothrin, deltamethrin etc.
- Talstar granules: This is ant bait which can be spread around the home. When one is attracted towards it, more will follow and get infected within hours.
- Boric Acid: Boric acid can be mixed with syrups and sugar containing ingredients to make ant baits. When some foragers get attracted to the bait, they carry it to the nest which kills the queen even. Once that is done, the demise of the nest becomes inevitable.
- Insect growth regulators: There are chemicals like methoprene and pyriproxyfen which inhibits the growth of ants. This will keep the population under control. But it’s very toxic and thus whould be disposed of carefully.
- Neonicotinoids: This chemicals directly attack the nervous system of the ants and is used especially to get rid of indoor ants in the form of gels and liquids. For e.g. Clothianidin, acetamiprid, Imidacloprid etc. are some of the pesticides falling under this category.
- Hydramethylon: To be used in the form of granules, gels or liquids. This is very effective against fire ants, argentine and carpenter ants. It hampers the fetus and reproduction process of the ants.
- Fipronil: It’s a dangerous toxic chemicals effective against argentine and carpenter ants. It’s even toxic to humans when exposed.
- Indoxacarb and fenoxycarb: Very effective against fire ants. These are available in the market in the form of granules.
- Aerosols and foggers: These can be sprayed over the nests to kill ants but spraying these also pollutes the air and inhaling these might be harmful to humans. For e.g. limonene, eugenol or clove oil, cinnamaldehyde etc.
It’s suggested that you employ multiple methods to get the best results. DIY methods would not cost you more that $500-$600 per year, but seeking professional help in case when none of these methods work, can cost you even more than this depending on how big your house is and the level of infestation.
How to prevent ants at home?
Getting rid of ants at once from your house doesn’t mean that they won’t come to invade your home ever. Even after killing all of them, you have to make sure that you are able to prevent them from entering your home once again.
- Always try to keep your house clean.
- Maintain a non-messy kitchen. Always clean it after cooking.
- Regularly sweep the floor and keep food items in covered containers
- Avoid unnecessary moisture to accumulate inside your home
- Clean trash cans and empty those in regular intervals