Ants can wreak havoc on your home. They can infiltrate your food and furniture and even cause structural damage to your house. You’ve probably heard of home remedies that promise to eliminate or deter ants around the house, but, unfortunately, these are mostly myths. Though some tips and tricks have roots in science, the only sure way to rid your home of these unwelcome visitors is through the help of a professional pest removal service.
Here are the facts behind popular myths about ants.
Common Facts About Ants
First things first — ants are a very common pest and not at all indicative of a messy home. They are nothing to be embarrassed about. They are, however, challenging to eliminate. Before we dive into the myths surrounding ant infestations, let’s take a look at the facts.
Types of Ants
Several types of ant species could be lurking around your property. Some of the most common are:
- Carpenter ants: Carpenter ants, or Camponotus, are black or deep red. Some workers can reach as much as half an inch in length. They form mating swarms around June, which is when you’re likely to see most of them.
- Cornfield ants: Cornfield ants, or Lasius alienus, are common ants that thrive outdoors and indoors. They are light or dark brown with large heads and mate from July through September.
- Pharaoh ants: Pharaoh ants, or Monomorium pharaonis, are usually a light yellow or red, with a dark thorax. Though they don’t have a mating swarm, they are known for their tendency to create multiple nests in a process called “budding.” They are especially common in shared spaces, like schools and apartment buildings.
- Pavement ants: Like the name suggests, pavement ants, or Tetramorium caespitum, gather near sidewalks, driveways and under home foundations. They are a deep reddish-brown, sometimes black, and mate through July.
- Odorous house ants: Odorous house ants, or Tapinoma sessile, are immediately recognizable when smashed because they leave behind a foul odor. They are various shades of dark brown and are known for nesting inside floors and walls. They mate during June and July.
Ants vs Termites
Most ants share the same basic anatomy — a head with antennae, then a thorax, then the abdomen. Though they share similarities with termites, there are a few key differences to watch for. Termites have no narrow waist, while ants have a constricted one. Termites’ antennae are straight with small beading, while ants’ antennae are more bent and angled. The most notable difference is color. While most ants are black, brown or red, termites are typically a translucent or off-white color. If you have an infestation but have yet to spot the culprit, inspect any wood tunneling. Smooth tunnels are an ant’s handiwork, while termites leave behind jagged, mud-filled tunnels.
Common Ant Behavior
Ants live and work in colonies, which house the workers, males, and queens. If you’ve seen ants scouring your kitchen for crumbs, they are likely worker ants, searching for a food source to supply the colony. Ants are drawn to any area that can offer food and shelter. They eat starches, sweets, fruit juices, fats, meat, decaying wood, and even other insects. Aphids and scale insects, in particular, secrete a honeydew liquid that acts as a magnet for hungry colonies.
Once in your home, ants will hide where they feel safest, usually not too far from their food source. You might find them around your moldings and baseboards, in corners or anywhere where there is a leak or moisture-damaged wood. When ants hunt for food, they leave behind a scent trail for others in the colony to follow. This is what you see when you spot lines of ants marching down the sidewalk or across your floor.
Common Myths About Ants
Now that we’ve covered the facts, let’s go through some of the common myths about ants:
Are Ants Blind and Deaf?
Ants typically have poor eyesight. Colonies that live in perpetually dark places may never develop sight, rendering them blind. However, most ants can still detect light and some images. They communicate through powerful vibrations, which produce sounds. These vibrations are unique to the species and colony. Their antennae allow them to sense all surroundings. Ants also have a heightened sense of smell, with nearly five times more odor receptors than other insects.
While ants don’t have the best eyesight, they are not necessarily deaf nor helpless. What they lack in vision, they make up for with their focused senses of smell, sound, vibration, and touch.
Can Home Remedies Get Rid of Ants?
There are many home remedies said to deter or eliminate ants. Unfortunately, most are ineffective, and some can even worsen the problem.
- Cinnamon: “Pouring cinnamon on an ant colony will kill them.” Many homeowners have heard this advice, rummaged through their spice cabinet and tossed some cinnamon on an ant line only to find nothing has changed except for the addition of a new mess to clean.This myth likely stems from a study conducted in a laboratory that found large doses of cinnamon oil effectively repelled ants. However, the amount of concentrated cinnamon oil used in the experiment is nothing like the cinnamon you top your apple pies with. Plus, scientists found repellent properties — not elimination ones.
- Lemons: Citrus has such a bright, strong scent that many believe it’s a natural ant deterrent. But before you start squeezing lemon juice or cleverly concealing citrus peels around your house, we have some bad news — it probably won’t make a difference. It may even worsen the problem. While some lemons, limes, and even oranges may temporarily throw an ant off its scent trail, it could also attract other insects that will bring more ants to your home. For example, certain scaled bugs love the taste and smell of lemon and could leave behind that tempting honeydew residue. When you consider the fact that leaving lemon peels around your kitchen will also create a sticky mess, this is one myth worth debunking.
- Vinegar: Despite its stringent qualities, vinegar does not kill ants nor prevent an infestation. What it can do is help remove traces of their scent from a scent trail, making it a great option for cleaning up residue after thorough extermination.
- Uncooked grains: It’s a long-standing belief that if ants consume uncooked grains like oats and grits, their stomachs will swell and explode. While excess grain consumption may hinder or encumber their movements, that’s about the extent of it. Some ants might even avoid grains altogether.
- Soda: One ant removal theory is that the carbonation in club soda and soft drinks can displace an ant’s oxygen and suffocate them. Many people swear by this method because they’ve seen it work, but any ant extermination was likely due to drowning rather than oxygen displacement. While drowning insects is a form of eradication, it’s not a feasible, long-term solution. It’s also highly impractical and does nothing to address the root of the issue.
- Boiling water: Just like the above myth, boiling water may drown ants, visibly killing a few of them, but it’s not a long-term extermination plan. Even if you pour boiling water directly on an ant mound, many survivors will burrow their way to safety, leaving you with the same problems as before. Plus, handling boiling water is dangerous and could cause severe burns.
- Chalk: This myth has made recent rounds on the internet, complete with video footage of ants seemingly avoiding chalk lines. However, what’s happening here isn’t really a result of the chalk — though ants generally prefer to avoid treks through powdery substances — but likely a result of the scent trail being interrupted. Anytime a substance breaks the scent line, ants must scramble and relocate, attempting to pick up the scent again before carrying on.
Can a Clean Home Prevent Ants?
As we said before, ants are not a tell-tale sign of a messy home. They are not picky about the places they seek shelter. Think about it — when an ant or colony finds an entry point into your house, whether it be a crack in the doorway or a gap in the foundation, they have no idea what’s waiting on the other side. All they care about is that there is possible food, warmth, and shelter.
That said, a messy or disorganized house does make it harder to spot and eliminate an infestation. It can also provide easier access to food and shelter sources, like overflowing or unsealed trash cans and excess clutter.
Can Ants and Termites Coexist?
Ants have been known to eat termites, leading many homeowners to believe the two cannot exist in the same household at once. In reality, a dual infestation is entirely possible. While ants do eat termites, that doesn’t mean they necessarily will, or even can. Especially not if they’ve identified a more plentiful or tasty food source elsewhere in your home. Even if they do feast on a termite infestation, they won’t eliminate it all at once — they’ll take their time, leaving just enough termites to repopulate and continue their food supply.
It’s very possible to have both an ant and a termite problem. In some cases, one infestation might even encourage another. Termites, for instance, can eat through walls, allowing ants easier entry and vice versa.
Is One Ant a Sign of Infestation?
While there are exceptions, this is usually not the case. Even a few stray ants can indicate a much larger problem, particularly if you’ve experienced other warning signs of an infestation, such as:
- You hear a subtle, abnormal rustling sound coming from your walls, particularly at night.
- There are unexplained wood shavings or debris scattered around your home.
- You’ve seen ant mounds around your property.
- You have pest issues elsewhere on the property, like in a nearby garden.
- You have rotted or water-damaged wood somewhere in your home.
- You can visually identify possible entry points to your house.
How to Prevent Ants in Your Home
Save yourself the hassle of an infestation by taking preventive steps that minimize your chance of an ant infestation, including:
- Seal entryways: Take a walk around the inside and outside perimeters of your home and note potential entry points. Pay special attention to the foundation, doors, window frames and plumbing. Seal areas with caulking, if possible.
- Clean scent trails: Remember those scent trails we talked about? Even once the ants have left the room, it’s essential that you thoroughly erase any trace of that trail to avoid attracting more. Use soap and water, vinegar or a baking soda paste and scrub the area where the ants were traveling in a line. Mop your floors with a floor cleaner afterward.
- Seal food containers: Whenever possible, use sealable food containers to store pantry items, including potatoes, cereals and bread.
- Wash trash cans: Trash cans harbor a lot of bacteria and leftover food residue, which is a beacon for hungry ant colonies. Avoid this by regularly washing and drying your trash can.
- Inspect potted plants: Potted plants can bring pests into your home or attract existing ones, especially if you brought them from inside or purchased them from a big box store. Keep a close eye on all indoor plants and perform regular inspections of the soil and leaves for any signs of ants or other bugs. Try to buy potted plants from greenhouses or florists who know the proper procedures to protect plants.
- Fix leaks and moisture damage: Wet wood and cardboard can attract a host of unwanted pests. Fix leaking pipes and sinks immediately to avoid water and pest damage.
- Store firewood away from home: Instead of storing your firewood in your home, on your porch or against your foundation, keep it somewhere away from the house. Otherwise, you’re providing traveler ants easy access indoors.
- Keep pet bowls clean: Always wash and dry pet bowls to avoid build-up that could attract ants. This is especially important if you feed your pets wet food with strong scents and residue.
What To Do if You See Ants in Your Home?
Ants are a part of life, but with our help, you can keep them out of your home. Our Ultimate Care Program includes a comprehensive, defensive strategy that focuses on creating barriers around the outside of your home to keep ants out while quickly and safely eliminating any existing infestations. For other seasonal pests, the professionals at Spectrum Pest Control will work alongside you to develop a four-step Annual Pest Control Program that fits your needs.