How To Get Rid of Sugar Ants In Your Home

In Florida, distinguishing tourists from locals can be as simple as observing their lunchtime habits. Leave a half-eaten banana on the picnic table? Likely a tourist. Swiftly clean up a drip of jam? Probably a local.

However, that tiny drip of jam could attract invasive sugar ants, causing a significant nuisance if they invade your home. Here are some methods to eliminate them.

But it’s essential to remember that beyond your household, numerous species of native ants play vital roles in the ecosystem. Some even safeguard endangered butterflies and plants. Josiah Kilburn, overseeing an ant research project at Morehead State University in Kentucky, advises leaving native ants alone.

“Killing native ants only perpetuates the invasive pest species they compete with,” Kilburn emphasizes. To identify native species, Kilburn suggests reaching out to the iNaturalist community or sending him an email. “I will gladly answer!” he assures.

Meet the Experts

Mark Hoddle, Ph.D., an entomologist at the University of California, Riverside, spearheads a research program focused on managing sugar ants in commercial citrus orchards.

James Trager, Ph.D., an entomologist associated with the Myrmecological News Blog, is crafting a comprehensive guide to Missouri’s ant species.

Eric Braun, a board-certified entomologist, serves as the technical service manager for Terminix.

Walt Cline, licensed in pest control in Georgia since 1982, operates DIY Pest Control.

Josiah Kilburn manages a research project at Morehead State University dedicated to studying the ants of Kentucky.

Understanding Sugar Ants

The term “sugar ant” encompasses a variety of small ants commonly found scavenging spilled soda, honey, and leftover birthday cake on our countertops. Globally, thousands of ant species are known to consume natural sugars produced by plants and aphids. Among those frequently encountered in homes in search of human-made sweets are:

  • Carpenter ants;
  • Argentine ants;
  • Crazy ants;
  • Ghost ants;
  • Odorous house ants;
  • Immigrant pavement ants;
  • Valentine (aka acrobat) ants;
  • Pharaoh ants;
  • Fire ants, although these are less common.

“The Argentine ant is a well-known sugar ant, notorious for its global invasive tendencies,” remarks Hoddle. “These ants establish extensive, linear trails from their underground nests to the food source.”

What Leads to Sugar Ants Indoors?

Sugar ants are drawn to sweet-tasting and protein-rich foods, as well as water, particularly during hot weather.

“During summertime, most ants favor starches [sugar], while proteins become more appealing in spring,” notes Cline. “Spring ants must replenish and fortify the colony after a lengthy winter, necessitating protein intake.”

Do Sugar Ants Inflict Bites?

Generally, no. While all ant species have the potential to bite, and some may even sting, it’s improbable that those found in your home will engage in either behavior. One notable exception is fire ants, which are known to bite.

“Most small ants typically don’t bite, and even if they did, their mandibles are usually too small for you to notice,” explains Braun. “However, larger ants like carpenter ants may deliver a slight pinch.”

Additionally, certain house ants emit unpleasant odors. “Nevertheless, the majority of ants that enter homes tend to be timid when disturbed during feeding and typically flee rather than display aggression,” notes Trager.

How to Eliminate Sugar Ants

Frequently cleaning counters, regularly emptying trash cans, and storing food items that attract ants in airtight containers, including pet food, can often suffice.

“As long as these practices are maintained, the presence of a solitary ant wandering in one’s home shouldn’t cause alarm,” remarks Trager. “Most likely, she — yes, all forager ants are genetically female — is simply scouting for a food source, which she won’t find, or perhaps has become disoriented.”

If these methods prove ineffective, here are alternative strategies to consider. Tailoring your approach based on the ant species can also enhance efficacy, as not all methods are equally effective for every species.

Bait Pesticides

Numerous pest-control specialists utilize slow-acting, non-repellent liquid or dust-based baits such as Termidor or Taurus, which are applied externally to the home. Additionally, certain species may respond to indoor bait traps like Terro.

According to Hoddle, “Ants consume the toxin-infused sugar mixture, carry it back to the nest, and feed it to nestmates, including the reproductive queens. Within a day or two, if the ants are actively taking the bait, colonies collapse and perish as the toxin reaches lethal levels within the nest.”

When opting for small liquid baits, Cline advises frequent bait changes as the liquid tends to solidify rapidly.

Additionally:

  • Select a base of starch (sugar) or protein, depending on the ants’ preferences.
  • Apply along the interior or exterior perimeter of the property.
  • For certain species, non-toxic diatomaceous earth may also be effective.

Baits that act swiftly may provide temporary relief. However, they often exterminate worker ants too rapidly, preventing the pesticide from accumulating to lethal levels within the nest.

Most of these products claim to be safe for pets and children if used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. This typically involves outdoor application only, avoiding skin contact, inhalation, and keeping children and pets away until the products are dry.

“It’s crucial to always exercise caution regarding where materials are applied,” advises Braun. “Adhere strictly to labels, ensuring safety remains the foremost priority when using such products.”

Exclusion Techniques

Conduct a thorough inspection of the exterior perimeter of your residence to identify potential ant nests and entry points. Utilize caulk to seal any holes found. “When searching for areas accessible to ants, keep in mind that you’ll be dealing with very, very small openings,” advises Braun.

Upon sealing an ant entry point, pour a 50-50 solution of dish soap and water over the ants’ trail to eliminate those in transit and erase pheromone trails. This method, passed down from Kilburn’s father, prompted Kilburn to investigate the scientific rationale behind its effectiveness.

“You can also establish an insect slip barrier [using Fluon, a Teflon-based chemical, or a mixture of baby powder and isopropyl alcohol] on surfaces the ants would need to climb to access the sugar,” suggests Kilburn.

FAQs

Which Aromas Repel Sugar Ants?

Essential oils like mint, catnip, and cinnamon, along with common household disinfectants, vinegar, air fresheners, and insect repellents, may offer some deterrent effect. However, according to Hoddle, their effectiveness tends to be mild and short-lived.

Can Vinegar Eliminate Sugar Ants?

According to Hoddle and Kilburn, vinegar only kills sugar ants by drowning them in the liquid. However, it can serve as a repellent. Additionally, in certain instances, it may disrupt ants’ ability to recognize each other.

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