Ants. They’re not usually a major problem. More of a minor irritation. But excessive heat and the combination of that prolonged heat and extreme drought is sending these critters scurrying right into your home — even if you haven’t had big problems with them before. They are hungry and thirsty, and just looking a place to beat the heat and get well fed in the process. Are you an unwitting four star hotel for a local ant colony?
First, the basics. Ants come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from the carpenter ants who consume the wood framing of your home as if it were prime rib, to fire ants that make their presence known by, among other things, biting you. And then there are those pesky little brown ants who normally converge in small mounds in your backyard or in the cracks in the sidewalks and around foundations.
With the record-breaking heat wave, though, the ground is cooked, the pavement is hot enough to fry eggs on, vegetation is dead or dying, and rainfall is non-existent for the time being, which leaves ants hot, hungry and thirty. So what’s a poor ant to do? Go visiting.
Now, I’m not against ants; they have their place in the strata of life on earth. I just don’t want them in my kitchen.
If you’re not careful those visitors will be on the way to permanent residency. Without a Visa. But there are steps you can to minimize the intrusion, remove it altogether, and implement preventive measures that can keep most intrusions from recurring.
Home hygiene, or to put it simply, careful consistent cleaning, is the best preemptive. Clean everything. Ants favor areas like kitchens,pantries and bathrooms because they have two things ants need: food and/or water. Ants follow the moisture trail and the sugar path, especially in hot dry weather.
Inside buildings, ants feed on sugar, honey, syrups, fruit, fats, and meat. Grease splatters from cooking, a tiny piece of hamburg that dropped between stove and kitchen cabinets, a few grains of sugar on a counter is all it takes for a scouting ant to mobilize an army. Wipe up spills promptly, and make sure that containers are tightly sealed. Wipe down those pantry and cabinet shelves too.
On its way into your home, scouting ants leave a scent behind that thousands of other ants can follow, so it is important that before you start randomly annihilating these invaders, you take a few minutes to study their tracks, the paths by which they are moving in and out of sight. That’s the beginning of your war plan. And here’s what to do about it:
- Find out what they are attracted to and remove it. A bit of meat. Sugar grains. A broken hot chocolate packet on a pantry shelf. Whatever is meeting an ant’s food, housing or water needs has to go. These items will be easily identifiable by the thin line of ants moving to and fro and swarming all over the object. Follow the trail to the point of entry (a loose wall outlet, a gap under the kitchen counter or by a baseboard or edge of a counter … keep looking.
- Promptly clean up after meals (including the food prep and cook areas), and remove trash. Keep your trash barrels and recycling bins away from the house. Clean the crumbs from your toaster daily (people always miss this tip), because the sugar in bread crumbs is still sugar, and ants love it.
- Tightly wrap food that is left on counters. Refrigerate all perishable foods, especially fruits that might spoil quickly and emit sweet, sugary scents. Ants are all about scent, and will track it down.
- Remove pools of standing water (wipe up that wet counter). Ants get thirsty.
- Vacuum these “ant trails,” wipe them down with soapy water or a squirt of window cleaner or bleach. This removes the immediate invasion AND kills the scent trail, breaking the chain of the invasion.
- Return to those entry points and seal them with caulk or non-toxic petroleum jelly.
- Use natural substances, such as red chili pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper, peppermint, tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, whole cloves, salt, black pepper, or borax on the ant trails. Pure oil of peppermint applied to entry points will also drive ants away — they hate it! Bay leaves work too. Another fairly effective trick is a light sprinkling of baby powder around the perimeter of a room or doorway. Repeat as necessary, since ants are tough characters and keep coming back for more.
- Put out ant traps, bait or ant stick, all of which take time to work, and continue to clean up residual ant trails. Apply ant baits to cracks in moldings, baseboard and other entry points. To improve the effectiveness of baits, make sure all other temptations are removed; clean thoroughly around sinks, stoves and microwaves.
- If you have a lot of anthills in your yard, trying dousing those anthills with the careful pouring of about three gallons of boiling water on the anthill.
- Use ‘moat’ for pet food. Place your pet’s food or water dish in a large dish of water with a bit of detergent in it. The detergent breaks the water tension and drowns the ants, cutting them off from food and killing them.
These preventive measures will not only keep out, or drastically deter the influx of ants, it will reduce invasions from other unwanted guests including cockroaches, assorted beetles, and the spider who prey on all of these other critters.
An effective ant killer can be made from this quick and simply formula: 1 cup water, two cups sugar, 2 tablespoons boric acid. Measure carefully, because too little acid will be ineffective; too much will kill the ants before they can get back to the queen. The idea is to have a few ants consume the sugar water, and with the toxin to be carried back to the source, the queen and the nest. Place drops of the mix on strategic places (like the ant trails) but use caution and do NOT place it where children or pets might have access to it. It will take several days for the bait and kill process to work itself out, and the line of ants will continue to march along their predetermined trails while it does. This boric acid technique is effective, but it does take up to 72 hours to work. Meanwhile, you have to co-exist with the ants.
When all else fails, there are chemical products and pest removal services that can be contracted on a one-time or ongoing basis.