Understanding Ant Infestation

Ant problems? We've got answers. Here's what to know about ant infestations

What you should know about ant infestations

The phrase “unwanted summer guests” takes on new meaning when you discover an efficiently organized ant parade on a campaign to transport crumbs from your kitchen counter back to their nest. According to researcher entomologists at Cornell University, by the time you spot ants inside your home, you may already have hundreds of them. The ants that cause an infestation are usually less than an eighth of an inch long, and are merely a nuisance pest. They don’t sting or bite. Some exceptions are in places where weather conditions may cause fire ants to attempt to relocate indoors.

Whether or not the ants in your home bite, they are not guests that you want to entertain for long. How did this happen, and why?

Ants are Food Foragers

Food is the number one answer to this question. Ants will eat nearly anything, with some species showing a preference for certain foods over others. Keeping your kitchen counters free of open food containers, unsealed cookie jars, open fruit bowls, etc. will help to prevent an ant infestation. Crumbs and unwiped spills may seem like an open invitation to an ant colony. Some ant species prefer sweet foods, and others enjoy greasy, protein-based foods. Once a couple of ant scouts have decided that your home is a banquet, they mark a trail with pheromones so that the rest of the ant army can find their way in and out.

Ant Guests and Weather

According to a study from Stanford University, many ant infestations in our households occur because of weather conditions. Florida residents notice that ants like to come in out of the rain when long periods of summer storms flood their nests. When their homes are destroyed by weather, they seek out other food sources and places to rebuild their colony.

In California, the Stanford team surveyed 69 households while also collecting data on weekly temperatures and rainfall levels. The results demonstrated a clear relationship between weather and ant infestations. Ants in California were more likely to enter homes during cool, wet conditions, with a smaller peak in infestations during hot, dry months.

Ants can enter your home through minute cracks in foundations, window seals, and cracks. Allowing overgrowth of vegetation close to your home, or keeping mulch close to foundations, can increase the likelihood of ants finding their way into your home. Ants are attracted to moisture, so eliminating any leaks or water-damaged wood, will help to keep them from becoming attracted to your home.

While you can use sprays and natural methods to temporarily rid your home of invading ants, the reason they keep returning is because as long as the queen of their particular nest is alive, the worker ants will continue to forage for food to ensure the survival of the colony. The queen does nothing but stay deep inside the cover of the nest and lay eggs to continue to replace the ants that you are killing with your home defensive measures.

Following the trail of ants back to the nest may help you to end an infestation of your home by allowing you to kill the queen.

Ants That Take up Permanent Residence in Your Home

Most ant infestations are temporary, with worker ants arriving to forage for food to take back to their nests, but other ant species can move into your home and take up residence there, leaving you with hundreds of unwanted roommates. Pavement ants, carpenter ants, Odorous house ants, pharaoh ants, and thief ants can actually build nests inside a residence. Inside ants are generally found in moist areas, behind window frames under appliances and beneath floors.

Besides being an annoyance, ants can do damage to structures and spread bacteria.

No matter how or why ants ended up invading your home, the key to removing them permanently is to find their nest and eliminate the entire nest, including the queen. It’s important not to spray ants until you’ve located their source and rid the entire area of ants.

Resources—Stanford News Service, The Spruce, Consumer Reports