Ants are one of the largest groups of insects in the world. There’s over 12000 different species of them and they thrive in almost every climate imaginable. Typically most ants come from a single queen that resides in the nest and whose sole duty is to create more ants. The queen is tended to by her army of workers that can be just a few thousand but in many nests, this number can reach hundreds of thousands or even millions relatively quickly.
As children, we often view ants with curious tendencies. They are strange, industrious creatures and their “ant line” can often lead to interesting things like building materials, food sources or even rival ant colonies where an all-out war can take place right before our very eyes. We’ve all tormented ants at least a few times and disregard them as harmless little bugs unless they are biting our ankles.
When we grow up and the time comes to own and maintain our home and property, these harmless and fascinating creatures can quickly turn into a vile nuisance that is notoriously hard to get rid of permanently and can actually be damaging our house stealthily. Certain types of ant can cause enough structural damage over time to actually render the house uninhabitable according to some state and city ordinances.
Identifying Your Problem
Depending on the size of your home and even minor things like the color of your flooring, wallpaper or type of foliage around your walls can make identifying an ant problem very hard depending on what exactly the little creatures have deemed desirable inside. In the US, you’ll typically be fighting two distinct type of black ant. The “odorous house ant”, also called the “sugar ant” or “kitchen ant” or a slightly larger and more destructive relative, the “carpenter ant”.
Odorous House Ants
The odorous house ant is by far the most common ant you’re likely to see in your home. When you wake up late at night and decide you want a cookie but drop a few pieces on the floor, these little insects are the ones you’ll find in the morning. They’ll be carefully transporting dropped cookie bits back to their nest like a tiny little fire brigade or assembly line. The odorous house ant gets its name because if you crush or stomp them, they exude a strange smell that’s vaguely similar to an old coconut or maybe rotten butter. It’s easier to smell the more ants you crush with a good whack or stomp.
This type of ant typically doesn’t cause damage to your home but they can often be very annoying and difficult to get rid of. They also seem to have a tendency to show back up in a moment’s notice. If you live in the southern, warmer states, it can feel like they can smell a single drop of soda that drops to the floor and claim it within minutes. Colder states may not have such a problem but they can absolutely make their presence known in a similar fashion, it just might take a while longer.
These little black ants are pretty harmless to people and pets though they can be a frustrating experience to water your lawn with bare feet and have dozens of them creeping up your toes and feet.
Carpenter ants are the ants that could lead to potential damage to your home and property and if not eliminated with extreme prejudice, can eventually lead to your home being inhabitable. This is very extreme of course and takes many decades but you definitely don’t want things to go this far. Carpenter ants and their relatives that burrow into wood of all types are in many ways as much of a problem as the dreaded termite.
Carpenter ants aren’t eating the wood in your home however; they are simply building their nest there and breeding. As their colony grows and especially if a queen moves in, they will burrow more and more to accommodate the new population. You can see where this is going.
What You Need To Do
Handling an ant infestation of any kind is basically a three step process. You first want to identify the ants, then rid them from your home, then ensure they don’t come back. Depending on the size of the infestation it could call for anything from a simple mop job where something spilled to a full home inspection coupled with months of repeat spraying and preventative measures.
Identification – To identify any insect the best thing to do is capture it in a container (Tupperware and jars work great) then place it in the freezer. This ensures the bug is intact so you can get a good look at it and show it to an exterminator if needed. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has a great ant identification guide located here: Ant Identification Guide.
Elimination – There are many options when it comes to getting rid of the ants immediately. For a small line of little black ants that have gotten into your garbage can or minor spill in and around your house, a good spray with the hose along with a liberal mop up job using pine-sol or bleach can be good enough. For carpenter ants, you’ll definitely want to contact a professional exterminator or get your hands on a proven, effective product.
Prevention – To keep the little pests from coming back, you can use a myriad of different methods. This again will vary depending on the severity of the problem and the type of the ant. General cleanliness can keep all but the most determined odorous house ants at bay but carpenter ants will almost always need some type of repellent product. You can find these in all-natural or chemical varieties with various types of application methods.
Ants, while tiny, can pose a big problem over time and if they really take hold and decide your house was meant for them, it can be challenging to get rid of them for good. Do your research and make sure your plan of action is proven to be effective for your given situation.