Your Comprehensive Guide to Ant Infestations

Ants have become one of the most common pests in homes across the country, and there’s no doubt as to why this is. These resilient creatures thrive in large colonies, have over 700 species in the US alone, and can use clever ways to signal their brethren to build a new home alongside them. In other words, if you follow that ant in your kitchen back to its colony, you’re more likely to find that hundreds, if not thousands, have actually set up shop in your space.

Understanding how ants live, thrive, and reproduce can be the key to controlling them and keeping your house ant-free. With a complex set of roles and castes within each colony, ants use complicated methods to keep their colony from being destroyed, even if you go through all the right DIY steps. This guide will clarify why it’s so hard to get rid of ants after they choose your home for a colony and how a professional can help you handle them if the time comes.

Quick Ant Facts:

Let’s start with the basics. There are a few helpful facts to know about ants when you’re preparing to control an infestation in your home. For example:

  • Ants live in colonies led by a queen, similar to many species of bees
  • They can leave a trail of pheromones wherever they go to attract other ants
  • Ants can gather either inside or just outside your home, as long as they have constant access to a food source
  • Though ant season peaks in the spring and summer, they can survive in your home year-round
  • Ant queens can lay thousands of eggs in her lifetime

Getting to Know the Ant Colony

So, what should you do if you find an ant colony? It’s important to know how a colony works so that you understand the best way to discourage the ants from returning after you’ve kicked them out of your home. 

Within most colonies, ants can be broken into three main castes:

  1. The queen
  2. The workers
  3. The swarmers

The queen and the workers are almost entirely female. While the queens primarily reproduce for the colony, the workers care for the queen, manage the colony, and keep the hive safe. The majority of the ants you spot in your home are likely female worker ants taking care of the colony and their queen. 

Swarmers, on the other hand, are the male ants which aid in reproduction. They will form wings, fly to a new area to form a colony, and die soon after mating. This is why you may temporarily spot ants with wings for a short period of time. Fun fact, queens typically only mate once and save the rest of the sperm for reproducing later on. Queens can lay up to 800 eggs in a day, and tens of thousands in their lifetimes.

How to Find an Ant Colony

Knowing how to trace an ant back to its source is often the starting point for getting rid of an infestation. Ants will typically build colonies in safe, out-of-the-way places to avoid disruption. Inside a home, this means behind appliances, in corners, in cracks, or inside walls. 

Depending on the species of ant, their preferred environment will typically vary based on climate and eating habits. Also, some ant species will only come out at night, so it may be difficult to spot where the ants are coming from without a little round-the-clock sleuthing.

Since ants need access to food, you’re also likely to find them within easy walking distance of a food source like garbage, the kitchen, or near a pet food bowl. If you want to trace an ant back to its colony, leave out a deliberate piece of sweet food and then follow the inevitable line of ants back to their home.

Understanding the Ant Life Cycle

Queen ants can hatch hundreds of eggs a day, producing young ants in the larvae stage. The colony then supports the larvae as they grow larger through the Pupa and events into the adult phase. Male ants only live several weeks since they die after the mating season. Female worker ants may live months while the queen can live years, if not decades.

Is there an Ant Season?

As we mentioned above, ants are not necessarily controlled by seasons. Most will simply try to find shelter to get away from extreme weather and live close to a dependable food source—like your kitchen. Depending on your region, the ants in your area may peak during particularly wet weather or extreme droughts. 

Since each species is so unique, it’s important to speak with a professional about what type of weather may cause spikes in ant infestations so you can stay on the lookout.

Identifying Your Ant Infestation

With hundreds of species of ants in the US—and thousands across the world—the untrained eye would have a hard time identifying the type of ants in your home. It’s important to note that many of the ants in the US today were introduced as invasive species and can cause more problems to our environment than others.

With a quick glance, you can typically identify an ant by considering:

  • Color
  • Length
  • Body and head size
  • Whether it has wings
  • How many nodes separate its body
  • The time of year you spot the ant

We’ve gathered up some of the most common types of ants found in your home throughout the US: 

  • Acrobat Ant
  • Allegheny Mound Ant
  • Argentine Ant
  • Big-headed Ant
  • Citronella Ant
  • Field Ant
  • Ghost Ant
  • Harvester Ant
  • Little Black Ant
  • Moisture Ant
  • Odorous House Ant
  • Pavement Ant
  • Texas Leaf Cutter Ant
  • Thief Ant
  • Velvety Tree Ant
  • White Footed Ant
  • Carpenter Ant
  • Crazy Ant
  • Fire Ant
  • Pharaoh Ant

Professionals can take the guesswork out of identifying the ants in your home, so it’s important to call in the experts if you’re unsure of what you’re dealing with. This is especially important if you’re concerned you’re dealing with a more aggressive form of ants such as a fire or carpenter ant.

Are Ants Dangerous?

Like all insects, every species of ants has its own habits that can be more or less dangerous depending on how it eats, builds a colony, and protects itself. The most common threats from ants include:

  • Spreading bacteria throughout your home
  • Damaging wood or electrical wires
  • Bites and stings
  • Allergic reactions
  • Foul smells when killed

One of the most disconcerting factors about ants in your home is their fast rate of reproduction. Finding just a few ants in your home could mean that you have hundreds out of sight. When any sort of ants gather in such large numbers, they can be a threat to the cleanliness, safety, and comfort of your home.

A few common types of dangerous or nuisance ants include:

  • Carpenter Ants: These wood-burrowing ants are attracted to dead and decaying wood. Though this is helpful in the natural world, it can be very damaging to your home’s structure.
  • Fire Ants: As some of the most feared ants in the US, fire ants can inflict very painful and even threatening bites when you interact with their colony. Fire ants can be found throughout the Gulf Coast states and in several southern states as well.
  • Odorous House Ants: Though this species does not sting or damage property, they do emit a rotten smell when killed. They can also reproduce at a rapid pace since they are notoriously hard to eliminate. What’s more, odorous house ants can spread bacteria to your home’s food sources.
  • Pharaoh Ants: Notoriously found in hospitals, these nuisance ants can carry a disease from one person to the next, including common viral and bacterial infections. 

Signs on an Ant Infestation

So, how do you know if that single ant marching across the table was a single offender or part of a larger colony? It’s important to keep an eye out for a colony if you detect an ant problem growing in your home. Here are a few sure signs that you have a larger problem:

Swarmed Food

Left-out food and sticky surfaces won’t stand a chance if you have an ant infestation. If you’re looking to test your theory, leave out a few small sweet crumbs and see how long it takes to gather ants. The ants may not even be coming from inside your home just yet, but this is a sign that they have found an easy entryway.

Damaged Wood

Carpenter ants leave notorious signs of damage around your home, including wood shavings. You may even be able to hear these ants in the walls if there is a large enough hive. Keep an eye out for odd decay around corners and at the base of walls.

Ant Nests

Keep a lookout on the outside of your home for small piles of dirt that indicate a colony. When they are located close to a window or other opening in your home, it could be a sign that ants are beginning to make their way indoors.

Common Ways to Get Rid of Ants

Eliminating ants in your home takes more than simply killing the ants that you see aways from the colony. Even if you find the colony, some species use survival tactics to break up the nest quickly enough so that the queen will survive and continue to reproduce after your efforts.

A Note on Termites:

Before you take on pest control by yourself, you should speak to a professional to ensure that your ant infestation is not actually termites. The two bugs—though unrelated—can look quite similar. Termites, however, require a different approach to removal and often require larger repairs in your home.

Steps for Removing Ants from Your Home

Both professionals and DIY approaches to ant removal typically take several similar approaches. Eradicating ants requires:

  • Locating the colony
  • Set traps and bait for the ants to take back to the colony
  • Cleaning the pheromone trails so ants cannot find their way back
  • Sealing up your home from future visitors

1. Locate the Colony

As we noted above, ant colonies traditionally hover within traveling distance of food. They may nest inside the home and forage on your food or live just outside your home’s walls and enter through cracks, vents, and open windows. Check out hidden areas behind furniture, appliances, and at the perimeter of your floors for signs of an ant colony.

You may also be able to spot a new colony forming during the swarming and mating season. This is when you may suddenly find yourself with flying ants since this is the one time the queen and males will travel to a new area to nest.

2. Set Traps and Baits

To break up the colony completely, most stores and professionals utilize a form of protein-based or carbohydrate-based traps. The idea of these traps is to lure the worker ants into the traps and inspire them to carry the poisonous food back to the whole colony. Not only does this method kill the ants scavenging for food, but it also takes care of young larvae as well.

It is important to consider that ant traps can contain poison that will also affect pets and humans, so be sure to speak with a professional about how to find the best non-toxic ant traps as well as their proper placement.

3. Clean Up the Trail

Even if you’ve removed all the ant temptations from your home, it’s important to give a thorough cleaning until the signs of ants are totally gone. Pheromone trails left behind and the best ways for new ant colonies to find their way back inside.

4. Seal Your Perimeter

In most cases, the first set of ants found their way in through minute cracks in your home. Take the time to seal up the edges of windows, door frames, and your foundation to keep ants out. Peruse your garden, walkways, and patios for signs of frequent swarms to make sure you do not have an outdoor infestation. 

When to Call a Professional

You shouldn’t have to face an ant infestation on your own. They may be common, but their ability to quickly reproduce, hide out of sight, and keep their colony alive can make it very difficult to manage without a professional eye.

The moment the ants make you uncomfortable in your home, give the caring and professional team at Terminix a call. Not only can they handle your infestation quickly and effectively, but Terminix can also build a pest control plan that keeps ants from coming back year after year.

Contact your local Terminix specialist today for a free consultation and a customized plan.

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