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Skaggs: Exotic ants cause big problems
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Tips for using baits

  • Outside, use granular baits formulated for fire ant control. Use ant baits containing active ingredients like hydramethylnon, indoxacarb or fipronil.
  • Inside, use liquid baits like Combat (fipronil) or Terro (Borax).
  • Apply baits when ants are actively looking for food. If weather is too cool or too hot for ants to be out and looking for food, baits will not work well. If possible, place baits in the shade.
  • If one product does not work, try another. While difficult to explain, some ants prefer one over another.

Over the last several weeks, the Extension office has received numerous calls about tiny ants entering homes, primarily in the kitchen and bathroom.

Often referred to as "sugar ants," the culprit is actually an exotic import — the Argentine ant.

Argentine ants are dark-colored, 1/8-inch ants that crawl in long, well-organized trails looking for food and water. They do not sting, but they do go up tree trunks and into buildings searching for moisture or food.

They especially like sweet liquids, which often attracts them to food in and around the kitchen sink. Argentine ants nest in mulched beds or potted plants. They can move into walls in the winter and can be difficult to control. Even pest control companies have trouble killing these ants.

Once an Argentine ant finds a food source, it spreads the word to all the other ants. The colony forms a trail to the food source. To control these ants, remove food sources and try to keep the ants outside. Spraying ant trails inside will do little to control them and may make them worse.

Thoroughly empty and rinse all containers (especially soft drinks) before discarding. Seal food in insect-resistant containers. Thoroughly clean cabinets. Seal garbage well in plastic bags.

Control insects on plants that create honey dew as this serves as an outdoor food source for Argentine ants. Honey dew is a sticky sweet substance produced by aphids, scales and whiteflies as they feed on your landscape plants. Select plants that are not susceptible to these pests. And, clean up dead insects on window sills and floors; ants use them as food.

Keep plant limbs from touching the outside of your home — ants can enter this way. Seal entry points you see and check your potted plants to see if ants are nesting in them.

Avoid using too much mulch as Argentine ants prefer to nest in heavily mulched beds. Only 2 to 4 inches of mulch is needed to prevent weeds and conserve moisture. Also, do not place excess mulch against the foundation of your home. If you have an ant problem, pull the mulch away from the house a foot or so.

Bait insecticides are one of the best ways to kill Argentine ant colonies. Ants feed on baits and take them to the nest. This will take some time but should kill the colony.

Finally, don't give up. If at first you do not succeed, try again. You cannot expect to kill all the ants in your landscape, but you should be able to keep them from making your house their home.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.