Question: I have noticed very small ants on my kitchen counter recently. Where do they come from? How do I get rid of them?
Answer: Ants are social insects that live in colonies usually located in the soil near the house foundation, under concrete slabs, or in crawlspaces. In late winter, worker ants become active and begin to search for food for the queen and her young.
There are two things to consider when ants enter the home. Reckless spraying of pesticides does more potential harm than good. Colonies of ants are often difficult to find and completely control. Based on your description, you probably have pavement ants located either under your concrete slab or near the foundation of your home. Since foundations and slabs develop cracks over time, the ants have easy access to the kitchen or bathroom. Ants, like most insects, prefer areas higher in moisture. Even tiny leaks or sweating pipes can draw ants.
If hundreds of ants are seen each day, or the problem persists for longer periods than just a few weeks in late winter, then utilizing a pest professional is usually the best option. These licensed professionals can properly identify the species of ant you are dealing with, help determine where the nest is, and deal with the issue. Try to utilize a company that uses an Integrated Pest management (IPM) approach.
Many homeowners attempt to handle the problem themselves. One needs to follow the same IPM guidelines to help control ant populations.
Try to locate where the ant nest may be. Ants leave chemical trails for other ants to follow when they find food sources. It doesn't take long to observe what room in the house is the ant favorite. Sometimes one can even find a specific area where a crack or crevice is, or an area with a moisture issue.
Eliminating areas with moisture issues, and caulking cracks can also help reduce ant entry into the area.
Bait traps are one of the best ways to control ants. They work because the ants feed on a bait attractant, and then carry the bait back to the nest. Boric acid is a common last-toxic bait, usually placed in sweet syrup or gel within the trap. It's a good idea to place the baits inside a container (like a disposable plastic container used for food storage) punched with holes large enough for ants to enter and exit. This helps prevent access to the baits by small children or pets.
Orange Guard is a concentrated orange and lemon product that works well in kitchen areas as a contact spray. Don't use this product near cats or if you are allergic to citrus.
Food grade Diatomaceous Earth sprinkled along baseboards or on colonies can help control ants.
Since some ants can contaminate food sources, potentially spread disease and damage foundations and structural wood, it is necessary to control them in certain situations. Make sure to read the label before applying any product.
The Plant Medic, written by Ricky Kemery, appears every other Saturday. Kemery retired as the extension educator for horticulture at the Allen County Purdue Extension Service.