Not all ant species are the same. The small, black ants that march along your kitchen counter in early spring may be easily remedied with a few traps and natural pesticides. But look closely at the ant problem in your home or garden. You could be dealing with one of the most stubborn and annoying pest problems in the world: argentine ants.
Are the ants all about the same size (about 1.5 to 3 mm in length), dark or light brown in color, and have a single section of the body in their middle? You can check out pictures from sources like Clemson University to be sure, but chances are you have an infestation of argentine ants. If this is the case, know controlling Argentine ants requires a different strategy than defeating other ant species.
What Are Argentine Ants?
Argentine ants are a kind of ant originating in Brazil; they are now found all over the world, including the US. They favor consistently warm climates and as a result have become a particular problem in areas like southern California. They prefer nesting in damp and covered places. Argentine ants can easily find places to live in around your house like near the foundation or in the basement, and their need for water attracts them to dark, damp places in your kitchen.
Unlike some ants who have a particular food preference, argentine ants will eat almost anything from animal products to all manner of vegetation. This puts you at risk for sickness since the ants can carry contaminants from one food source to another (i.e. they bring along bacteria from the rotten meat they fed on into your fruit bowl).
Why Are They An Especially Difficult Pest?
The behavior patterns of argentine ants makes them particularly difficult to get rid of once they invade your space. Other ant populations tend to keep each other under control when one colony fights for territory with another. Argentine ants are much more cooperative – they do not discriminate between colony members and merge their populations instead of squeezing each other out. This results in massive supercolonies of argentine ants.
The news for gardeners is even worse. Aphids are a persistent problem in most gardens, and the argentine ant actually protects and cultivates aphid populations because they eat what the aphids leave behind. If you have argentine ants in your home or garden, expect the problem to worsen from March to October since these ants continue to breed through the warm weather.
How Can I Control Argentine Ants?
You have a number of options for controlling and eliminating the argentine ant population in your home. Once you are sure you are dealing with argentine ants and not another ant species, lay out your plan of action. An integrated pest control plan that includes several strategies is usually more effective than a single approach, and understanding the habits and behaviors of the pests you are experiencing problems with will increase your chances of effectively eradicating them.
Your first step toward eliminating argentine ants: make environmental changes.
See if you can follow the ants back to their nest and locate where they are living. Then you can work to make conditions less favorable by reducing moisture or uncovering areas where they are nesting. Remove potential food sources by sealing garbage cans, keeping spoiled food out of the kitchen, and thoroughly and frequently cleaning areas where food debris tends to collect.
Next, you can set out bait for the argentine ants. The University of California recommends homemade traps made with sugar and boric acid. Mix 8 teaspoons sugar with 1 teaspoon boric acid, dissolve in hot tap water, pour into a jar with cotton balls, and cover with a lid poked with a few holes. The argentine ants crawl in to eat the bait and cannot escape. You can also purchase ant bait traps — just make sure argentine ants are among the species that particular trap can lure in and poison.
The North Carolina Cooperative Extension recommends pesticide sprays for argentine ant infestations in your yard. You can keep the ants off trees and out of your house by spraying pesticides containing ingredients like bifenthrin, permethrin, and carbaryl. This should act as a barrier around the area you are trying to keep ant-free.
Since you cannot spray these pesticides inside your home, gel insecticide is a common solution for stubborn, indoor argentine ant issues. Again, make sure the product you use is designed to control argentine ants in particular. Always use these products carefully and keep out of reach from children and pets.
What If I Still Can’t Manage an Argentine Ant Problem?
Sometimes an argentine ant problem is so persistent you cannot handle it even with all of these measures and methods combined. In that case, you may need to contact a pest control professional. An exterminator who has treated Argentine ant infestations in the past will be able to locate their nests, apply all necessary pesticides, lay out the right traps in strategic locations, and let you know what kind of environmental changes you can make in your house or on your property. Your local extension office may also be able to guide you on how to manage Argentine ants.
Hopefully, you are now a step closer to confronting the Argentine ant problem in your house or garden, not to mention reducing any aphid problems and cross-contamination in your kitchen along with them. Even though they are a stubborn and dreaded pest problem, argentine ants can be eradicated from your living area with a little know-how, the right pest control methods, and perhaps the assistance of a trained professional.