For Release July 17, 2005

The Amazing Ant

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

Ants are amazing creatures! They live in very structured and ordered colonies that probably gave many socialists their idea of the socialistic society. All individuals within an ant colony are dedicated to the protection and support of that colony. Individuals have very specific jobs within the colony and they will do their job until they are no longer capable and then often go off somewhere to die so that they won't be a burden to the rest.

There are over 110 species of ants known to live in Kansas. Some are very small, others are quite large. Some ant species are red, some are black, some are brown and others are a rather pale yellow. The different species have many different food needs. Some live on scraps of food that they scavenge from us humans with different species often showing a preference for sweets or fats. Some species are ranchers, raising and protecting aphid herds from which they harvest honeydew secretions that they take back to the nest to grow fungus that the ants eat.

These colonies can be huge with 10,000 individuals. Some species have much smaller colonies with only a couple of hundred individuals. They almost always have the heart of the nest in the ground, coming up for food and water. Even carpenter ants, which excavate wood for a nest, still need that contact with soil and water. When ants go foraging, they leave a scent trail to find their way home; a chemical trail of bread crumbs so to speak. Other ants may follow this trail looking for a food source. This explains why you may find an ant in the same spot in your house day after day. Ants are truly fascinating.

I hate ants. They are tireless workers and will exploit any food source or access into our homes that may give them a good source of food or water. While they will go into a much reduced state of activity during cold weather, they never go completely dormant. If their nest is in close contact with your home, the warmth of the home can keep them active through much more of the year.

Killing one or two ants that you see on your counter will do little to stop the problem. I've been receiving more reports of ants invading homes in recent weeks. This is quite common when you have hot dry weather following a cooler wet period. Populations build up during this nice damp period and then when it turns off hot and dry, they come looking for cooler moister locations especially if they have food sources also.

Some of these species are so small they can come right around an apparently tightly sealed window. To really deal with an ant problem you have to control the entire colony, including the queen and all below ground workers or completely exclude them from your house. Traditional pesticide treatments on the outside of the house may help. I would recommend a peremthrin or cyfluthrin based spray and spray the soil and the foundation including up on the side of the house in the area where they seem to be invading. Team this treatment up with good house sealing practices like you would use for weatherproofing in the fall.

Then utilize some of the newer ant baits. There are many versions of these in both indoors and outdoors formulations. These are growth regulator based baits that when taken back to the nest and fed to the queen and developing young controls them by interrupting normal growth processes. And since they are targeting ants, they have much lower risk to non target species including other insects and pets that may get a hold of the bait. Yes, ants are truly fascinating, until they start getting in your homes!


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