Menomonee Falls Patch
Shane McCoy
June 7th, 2013

ANT – a three letter word for the most socially complex and most prevalent insect on our planet. Ants invade homes, restaurants, hospitals, offices, warehouses and any building where they can find food and water. They are social insects that live in colonies consisting of hundreds and even thousands of individuals. The goal of each individual ant is to expand the colony and ensure that it survives.

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The colonies contain two types of individuals:

  •     The Queen(s) which produce the eggs.
  •     Workers which complete all the work required in the colony such as foraging for food, tending to the queen and young, nest enlargement and defending the colony.

Identification

All ants, together with wasps and bees, belong to an order of insects called Hymenoptera. The ants are classified to the family Formicidae of which there are over 11,800 described species with more being identified all the time. Like all insects, ants have three basic body regions (head, thorax, and abdomen), one pair of antennae and three pairs of legs. Winged reproductive ants (swarmers) have two pairs of wings and can be confused with winged termites. Check out the diagram in the photo box above and look for these key differences between ants and termites:

Antennae:

  •     Ants- Elbowed
  •     Termites- Straight

Wings:

  •     Ants- Hind wings smaller
  •     Termites- Of equal length

Body:

  •     Ants- Pinched segments
  •     Termites- Broad waist

Ants usually nest in soil; nest sites vary with species but are often found next to buildings, along sidewalks or in close proximity to food sources such as trees or plants that house honeydew-producing insects. Ants also construct nests under boards, stones, tree stumps or plants and sometimes under buildings or other protected places. In temperate climates, this species nests in warm, moist locations such as inside walls, under flooring or near hot water pipes or heating systems. Food preferences vary among ant species but may include fruits, seeds, nuts, fatty substances, dead or live insects, dead animals and sweets.

Ants often enter buildings seeking food and water, warmth and shelter or refuge from dry, hot weather or flooded conditions. They may appear suddenly in buildings if food sources become unavailable or weather conditions change.

Nonchemical methods

Trying to discourage ants from invading the home can be frustrating. Proper food storage and waste management will reduce the food that often attracts workers indoors. Some simple, nonchemical methods for keeping ants at bay include: cleaning all kitchen surfaces, vacuuming daily and rinsing recyclable containers before storage. Ant trails can be temporarily disrupted with a mild solution of vinegar and water. Caulk cracks that ants are using to enter the home.

Outdoors

Many ants enter homes from outside nests as they forage for food. To find their nest, follow the ants! You can encourage foraging by setting out attractive food. If it looks good to you, imagine how delicious it looks to a tiny ant! Ants usually take regular routes to and from their nest and the food source by establishing a chemical (pheromone) trail. The nest may be found by watching where the ants go; for some ants, like carpenter ants, this works best at night. If the nest is discovered, it can be treated or, in the case of rotted wood, removed. When you’re selecting an insecticide to treat nests, make sure to select a product that is labeled for treating lawns.

Indoors

When possible, find the nest and treat it with an insecticide. When the nest is concealed, e.g. behind a wall, it may be necessary to drill small holes, about 1/8 inch diameter, and apply an insecticidal dust (be sure it is labeled for indoor use). These products may come in ready to use applicators. If not, use a plastic squeeze bottle or some type of flexible plastic container with a tube tip to apply the insecticide. Fill the container about 1/3 or 1/2 full and squeeze a small amount of dust into the desired location (note: applying too much material will cause ants to avoid contact with the dust). After you’re finished, return the unused insecticide back to its original container and thoroughly clean the applicator. Make sure you select an insecticide that is labeled for indoor household use.

Baits

Ant baits contain insecticides mixed with materials that attract worker ants looking for food. Baits are a key tool for managing ants and the only type of insecticide recommended in most situations. Ants are attracted to the bait and recruit other workers to it. Workers carry small portions of the bait back to the nest where it is transferred by mouth to other workers, larvae and queens, eventually killing the entire colony. Bait products must be slow-acting so that the foraging ants have time to make their way back to the nest and feed other members of the colony before they are killed. When properly used, baits are more effective and safer than sprays.

About Shane McCoy Shane McCoy is an Associate Certified Entomologist with 17 years of experience in Pest Management and is the Technical Training Director for Wil-Kil Pest Control servicing Wisconsin and Illinois. You can find more information about Wil-Kil at http://www.wil-kil.com or contact your local office at 800-236-8735. You can also follow Wil-Kil on Facebook and Twitter (@WilKilPest).