By Hope Bowman, Technical Specialist, Western Pest Services
If you’ve ever experienced ants, you know just how much of a nuisance they can be. Ants may be small, but these pests can be a major headache.
Unfortunately, ants are an inevitable part of summer for many multifamily communities and homes. When warm weather hits, these tiny pests come out from overwintering hungry and spend the entire summer foraging for food.
Ants are drawn inside looking for food, water, and shelter. The hotter, drier and longer the days are, the more likely they are to come inside. They’re also likely to come indoors during rain. Kitchens, bathrooms and food pantries are all hot spots for ants as these areas provide them with plenty of food and water.
Ants are social pests, so if you see one, it’s sure to be followed by many more. When an ant finds a food source, it can leave a pheromone trail for the rest of the colony to follow.
These tiny intruders also have strong survival skills and their colonies can be very difficult to control once established. Sometimes ant nests can be hard to locate, allowing colonies to grow in size so much that it can take weeks to fully treat and clear an area once discovered.
Three of the most active species in the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware regions this time of year are carpenter ants, odorous house ants, and pavement ants. Here’s a look at each species and what you can do to help prevent infestations in your community.
Odorous house ants are brown or black in color. As their name suggests, they produce a strong odor when crushed similar to rotten coconut.
While they do not sting or bite, odorous house ants can contaminate food and be persistent pests. They forage for food day and night and find their way indoors in search of sweets, like sugar or spilled soda. Once inside, they may decide to make themselves comfortable and create nests in wall crevices or voids, near heaters, water pipes, under carpets, beneath floors, under sinks, or behind paneling.
Their colonies can contain over 100,000 ants, so once a colony is established, they can be incredibly difficult to control.
Carpenter ants are one of the largest ants in the United States. They are most commonly black, but can also be red. If left undiscovered for an extended period of time, carpenter ants can cause structural damage. They reside in moist, decaying or hollow wood, and cut galleries to form passageways.
Properties are most at risk for carpenter ants if:
Some of the telltale signs of a carpenter ant infestation are:
Pavement ants are light brown to black. They often build their colonies in pavement along sidewalks or foundations – hence their name. If you see a little mound of dirt near the cracks in a patio, sidewalk or even a pool deck, it could be a sign of pavement ants, which create and use these mounds to access their colonies.
Pavement ants invade buildings and homes while searching for food. They feed on a wide variety of foods, but prefer proteins, sweets, and grease. Sometimes very large groups infest kitchens or patios.
To help keep ant infestations from affecting your community, work with a pest management professional to implement an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, which helps eliminate ant attractors and entry points.
Here are a few simple IPM tactics that can be used to help prevent ants:
Tighten up your landscaping routine
Keep all vegetation trimmed back from buildings by at least two feet. Tree limbs or plants that touch buildings can serve as a bridge for ants to gain access. Choose non-insect-friendly plants when landscaping and remove any logs or stumps that can serve as nesting sites. Also, eliminate any moisture sources around the property.
Block ants out with exclusion
Ants can squeeze through the tiniest of holes in walls, doors, and windows. Seal any gaps, cracks, or crevices that may serve as entry points with weather-resistant sealant and install weather stripping on doors and windows.
Maintain stringent sanitation
Sanitation is also a key component in preventing ants. Make sure common areas are free of crumbs or food sitting in the open, and clean up any spills immediately. Empty trash cans (indoors and outdoors) often and don’t let spilled food and drinks build up inside them. Inspect your grounds and parking lots regularly to make sure they are free from trash that can attract ants.
Proper kitchen hygiene plays a major role in ant control, especially during summer, so encourage tenants and homeowners to do their part. Counters should be wiped clean, floors should be swept or mopped frequently, and dirty dishes and food debris should not be left in the sink. Foods should be sealed in airtight containers, including sugar and cereal.
Dealing with an infestation
Sometimes, even with IPM tactics in place, ants may still find their way inside. If an infestation is suspected, work with a pest management professional to determine the best treatment options. While there are many do-it-yourself baits and sprays available in stores, keep in mind that some may not be effective, especially if misused. Some ant baits kill the ants too quickly before they can target the queen(s), and sprays can cause colonies to bud, or form multiple colonies. As a result, it’s best to work with a professional that has ant control experience.
Hope Bowman is a Technical Specialist and board-certified entomologist with Western Pest Services, a New-Jersey based pest management company serving businesses and homeowners in major Northeastern markets.