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All About How to Handle Home Garden Ants
Not just pesky at a picnic, garden ants may be causing you to worry in your backyard. Whether they are undermining the structure of your patio or destroying the beauty of your flower bed, there are ways to combat the infestation of garden ants.
Ants are from the same family as bees and wasps, called Hymenoptera insects. They thrive across the continent and range from being black in color through to brown and at times red. Ants commonly grow to a size of 1/6 to 1/4 inch long. You might see winged ants in your yard and often you can catch sight of ant hills dotting the grass or sidewalk. Their mouths are made for chewing and they are constantly on the lookout for food and things to chomp on (cellulose for their nest or home).
Ants, as well as bees and wasps, live in colonies with a structure or class system that delivers efficiency and survival. There is the infamous queen ant, which is basically just a female ant that has larvae and lays the foundation for new colonies. Often the queen ants are winged. Males are around for mating and worker ants obviously carry the weight of food collection and nest building.
The queen will produce eggs without stopping throughout the warm seasons and the entire colony will hibernate in a below ground nest during colder weather. Sometimes garden ants can still be seen in winter months scrounging through garden waste piles, collecting food and generally making you nervous. Keeping your cuttings and any other garden waste in your compost is the best way to control the access and range of such colonies.
If you see an ant population inside your tree, don’t rush to extradite it. Ants help to remove harmful fungi, rotten wood, and organisms that are damaging to trees. They collect it and remove it from the tree, eventually leaving a healthier specimen. If you spot a colony working away at this, chances are they recognized a problem with your tree before you did and are in the process of rectifying it. Leave them to their job.
Contrary to what you may think, ant hills in your grass are not causing harm. Make sure that you set your mower high enough so that it doesn’t catch the hill, potentially causing damage to the mower and a mess on the grass. Then simply mow and let the ants be.
Garden ants in your flower beds may leave you more disturbed. They are often feasting on your aphid population, so taking steps to reduce the aphids will eventually force the ants elsewhere. Also applying boiling water to hills and groups of ants will kill them, although it may not discourage more from taking their place. Pour boiling water slowly and often over a few days to effectively kill the nest. You are looking to eliminate the queen and most of all, as she holds the colony together and once she’s gone, the other ants will scatter or die off.
There is some bait that when used together with ant traps will effectively kill off the insect. Mix one part sugar with one part borax and place in traps around your flower bed. Be sure not to sprinkle borax directly onto your soil as it will harm your plants. The ants will enter the trap and collect the mixture. Once they take it back to the queen, hopefully, she will partake and be eliminated. Diatomaceous earth mixed with pyrethrum is another combination that will poison the creatures and have a little negative environmental effect.
Brew your own ant repellant tea from spearmint leaves, pennyroyal or tansy. Then fill a spray bottle and apply liberally to the species, the hills or directly on the plants to discourage them.
Remember that garden ants are not necessarily destructive pests, but their presence in such large numbers can be disheartening. Use some of the methods above to control them. Otherwise, enjoy the great outdoors with a common insect. Just don’t bring a picnic.
ANTS IN HOUSES
There are many types of ants that may be found in houses. Some are actual household pests, while others occasionally wander in to look for food or water.
Ants are often nuisance pests and just their presence can be upsetting. They often get into foods and feed on them. Some species crawl over refuse, carrion or sewage which may afford them an opportunity to carry the causal organisms of some diseases. Food contamination can also occur and may result in allergic reactions by certain sensitive people. Some ants damage wooden structures, and others undermine slabs or patio stones. But, we should not forget that ants are beneficial in their natural habitat because they help clean up the environment.
Ants have three body regions (head, trunk, and gaster) distinctly defined by narrow constrictions. They have elbowed antennae, and the gaster is attached to the thorax by a waist that consists of one or two small separated segments.
There are three distinct castes of ants – queen, male and worker. There may also be different forms of each caste. Ants always live in societies known as colonies. Workers are wingless, but at mating time swarms of males and females are produced, usually winged.
Adult winged males and females emerge from their cocoons and eventually leave the nests. The emergence of a large number of ants (swarming) usually occurs at certain times, and often this is the only time we notice the ants at all. Males seek out females in the swarm; mating usually occurs in the air. Males die soon after the mating flight, while the female (queen) starts a new nest. She removes her wings, forms a small cell and starts a new colony by laying several eggs. The young queen tends the eggs and the larvae that hatch from them feeding them by trophallaxis. Some of the food comes from the breakdown of the wing muscles, but if there is a shortage of food, a few of the larvae may be eaten also. The queen does not leave the cell to forage for food, except in some primitive hunting ants.
The surviving larvae mature, from pupae with or without spun cocoons, and finally emerge as adult ants. The workers are sterile, wingless females. The first workers are dwarfs, called nanites. When the workers emerge, the queen retires as nursemaid and concentrates on her job of egg production. The nanites take over as nursemaids for the next batch of eggs – they hunt for food outside the nest and do a better job of rearing larvae. Under their care, the larvae produce normal-sized workers. Adult workers may live for weeks, or up to two years or more. Queens have been known to live for as long as 20 years. After a colony is well established, some of the larvae will now develop into males and females which will take off in the mating flight.
Since ants are frequently attracted from outdoor colonies by food odors, store food in tight containers or refrigerate it. Rinse out food containers thoroughly before tossing them into the trash or recycling bin. Ants are often searching for either sweets or grease as food. They do, however, feed on other foods including meats, dairy products, pastries, fruits, animal fats, and vegetable oils as well as on dead or live insects. If ants are found indoors, thoroughly clean areas where ants occur or gather. Search for the routes of entry and seal off with caulking compound. Ants will enter the house in search of food, but if none is present, will leave again.
Traps containing baits of boric acid or other poisons will control some kinds of ants effectively, especially those looking for sweets, but they may be slow or ineffective in controlling others. Traps attract the ants to the poison without the need to apply the poison throughout the environment.
If ants continue to appear after treatment, you should try to locate the ants’ nests. Note the surfaces they crawl over, where the ants come from and where they go after feeding. This will help you determine if the ants are inside, or coming in from out of doors, and is often helpful in locating the nest. It is not always possible to locate the nests – inside ants often nest between floor and subfloor, in walls, behind baseboards, beneath cracked basement floors, in decaying or rotting (often near leaky plumbing) wood or even in piles of papers. In some cases removing part of a wall or floor may even be necessary, but it is not always possible to do so. Sorptive dust or desiccants or boric acid dust can be useful in wall voids where ants are present.
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Spot treatment of the nests and/or foraging trails with an insecticide may be needed in some cases. Indoors household formulations of insecticides are recommended. Many of these are in ready-to-use containers. A small paintbrush may be helpful in treating many areas, especially where drift could be a problem. Follow the manufacturers’ directions carefully when using any pesticide. NEVER USE INSECTICIDES ON FOOD PREPARATION SURFACES OR IN AREAS WHERE CHILDREN OR PETS FREQUENT. Household formulations of bendiocarb, chlorpyrifos (Dursban), diazinon, propoxur (Baygon), resmethrin or silica gel plus pyrethrum are registered for ant control. For nests indoors, apply the material as near as possible to where you believe the nests are located. Apply to nearby surfaces and into any cracks or crevices that ants can use to enter a room. Do not treat entire wall or floor surfaces, but limit treatment to places frequented by the ants. Where you do not reach the nests directly, give the treatment a few days to take effect -the ants need to come out and crawl over the residual insecticide deposit.
If nests are out of doors, boiling water (home remedy*) poured on shallow nests may be effective. If insecticides are needed, either Baygon, diazinon, chlorpyrifos, malathion or resmethrin are recommended. Follow the manufacturers’ directions for rates and application methods.