Do You Have an Ant Infestation?
As a kid, I remember waking up one morning to a floor that was black with ants; about 3 square feet was almost totally covered in a shifting sheet of insects. Until that point, I had only seen the occasional few ants upon the tile floor of the family room or outside in the backyard. Seeing so many of them, right next to me, was frankly kind of horrifying. I could feel them crawling up my neck and around my bare feet. There were only a few of them that were actually on me, but I could feel a hundred others that my imagination placed onto my skin. They scurried around with insect intent, totally minding their own business. Meanwhile, I was having my first mental breakdown at just the site of so many of them.
Know Your Enemy
Speaking of trauma; I assume that you are here to learn how to dish out a little of your own. As the great Sun Tzu once wrote, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” With those wise words, let’s learn a little bit about our how our little enemies operate…Or not, If you’d rather swing your swords and fire your pistols blindly, skip ahead to the various natural “remedies” to your little ant problem.
There are an estimated 22,000 different species of ants. It is really hard to contemplate such an extensive variety. One of the common features of these ants is their incredible ability to maintain order in such massive groups. They naturally organize themselves, and the larger colonies automatically start breaking themselves down into a caste system consisting of either one queen (Monogyne) or multiple queens (Polygyne), workers, and male breeding ants.
This level of cooperative behaviour is a rare sight in the world, and those insects that share it are clumped together in the classification of eusocial insects (Bees, Ants, Wasps, etc.). Ants are a subclassification of this category called Formicidae.
A caste can refer to a social system where the privileges and responsibilities of the citizens of that society are determined by heredity. It can also refer to the individuals of that system. In the case of ants, this system is broken down into the following three castes:
The queen is the linchpin of every colony, and if you manage to regicide her royal butt, you will have destroyed the nest…Unless of course there were multiple queens and you just successfully established a monarchy. Killing the queen eventually ends their little society because the queen ants are the only ones that can reproduce. It will take some time, but the end is inevitable without a queen.
Contrary her regal title, this ant isn’t commanding the other ants, and she largely immobile and is almost entirely dependent upon the service and protection from the workers. It’s hard to call her lazy though. Queens have the capability to produce roughly 300,000 eggs in a few days.
The queen is identifiably larger than the rest of the ants. She has wings…at least she does until the colony is founded. In a bizarre, tradition-like behaviour, the queen will snap off her wings upon the official foundation of the colony. It is almost a promise to the other ant(s) that they have found their home.
The Workers (Eragates) – This caste is fulfilled by the females, and they do everything aside from the one vital task that you kind of need a male around to perform. All of the workers are female.
If the queen needs something, the need is attended to by this group. They are also the nannies of the ant colony. They take care of the eggs, the larvae, and the pupae until they are developed enough to join the workforce.
If they aren’t busy feeding the queen or raising the kids, the workers can be found protecting the hives against its predators…AKA you.
Males (Dinergates) – Lazy. Also, very short lived. One pattern that you will find scattered throughout the insect kingdom is a short lifespan for the males. In the case of ants, the males start dying immediately after they finish inseminating the queen. They will probably die within the hour, but they can sometimes last up to a few days.
Now that you know their incestrial antcestory, let’s talk about how to end this very dedicated family line.
The “Remedies” – Choose your poison
I’m guessing that you probably want to avoid the chemical sprays that you will find at most convenient locations. Those not-so-natural remedies are usually pretty damaging to humans, specifically, to our brains, and in my personal opinion, they should be avoided. If you disagree with me, I am just going to assume that this is your second attempt to get rid of the ants…Jokes aside, I do believe that the natural remedies are best. They are also potentially the cheapest. You probably already have everything that you need. Let’s go through the options
Strike them with confusion
Ants coordinate themselves with their sense of smell. It is a simple language, but pretty fascinating all the same. Through the excretion of pheromones, they lay out directions across their domain and yours. You can counter this with powerfully scented cleaners such as vinegar mixed with certain essential oils. With the power of these cleaners, you can wipe away the directions to your cookie jar while simultaneously attacking the creatures that are pestering your food cabinet. Here are a couple of those recipes:
Clean Spray Bottle
½ cup of Vinegar
20 – 40 drops of essential oils (Essential Oil Selection Below)
You can pick from the list of essential oils to create the desired effect. If you have pets, be careful to not spray them directly. Cats and dogs often have allergic reactions if the oils make direct contact upon their skin. The dilution via the water and vinegar should help to reduce any potential reactions, but you should still do some research into the potential sensitivities of your pet(s).
The Best Essential Oils to Get Rid Of Ants
1. Tea Tree
This is the oil that I was thinking of when I made the warning regarding your pets. Some animals have a common sensitivity to Tea Tree oil, so be careful not to get this oil on them. It is known be an effective ant repellant though, so it’s up to you.
2. Bay Leaf
Whether in oil form or a fine powder, ants will avoid this like the plague. This makes it effective not only for an attack, but also a defense for the foods in your cupboards. Spray this or crumble the leaf anywhere that you see ants, and it should keep them away for a time. Like a spirit supposedly reacts to salt, ants will not cross a line of this stuff. Here is a study regarding the toxicity of Bay Leaves on mosquito larvae and fire ants. Due to the similar structure of one ant species vs another; these remedies are generally applicable across the various ant types.
3. Clove Oil
Clove oil is devastatingly effective against ants. In this study, a small application of clove oil upon fire ants had a 100% mortality rate within 6 hours, and successfully repelled the ants within 3 hours. Spraying this around the house should shut them down.
4. Lemon and/or Orange
Both of these oils have the same benefit, and the D-Limonene is it. It’s cheap and smells great. They are extremely effective against fire ants according to this study. Remember, the effectiveness of one citrus fruit indicates the effectiveness of the others. The reason for this is that citrus fruit contains D-Limonene’s. This will be discussed further in a few paragraphs.
This is a more effective repellent than it is as a final blow. Ants’ don’t like it…It’s just a guess, but I imagine it is due to making it difficult to communicate since they speak with smells. Imagine trying to hear a friend while in a crowded and noisy room. If you want to talk, you will probably move to a quieter location. Good Deterrent.
Essential Oils aren’t the only way to fight the invading horde of ants. There are lots of other very effective natural products that can take them out. Here is a compendium of the best ones that I have been scouring the internet to collect.
Mr Clean’s Death Cocktail
2oz Orange Oil
2oz Castile Soap
One gallon of water
This citrusy cleaner will delight the senses with the pleasant aroma of a Floridian Farm. Meanwhile, the ants will be meeting what they consider to be an untimely demise. Personally, this is one of my go to solutions.
If you find the anthill sourcing out all of these buggers, dump this mixture straight into their headquarters. It is very effective.
No, really, that’s it. Sometimes the simple solutions are best. Ants despise citrus products, and if you clean with this the ants will have a very difficult time navigating your house. Citrus fruits contain an ingredient called D-Limonene which destroys ants’ ability to breathe. Ants have a waxy coating that D-Limonene dissolves. It honestly sounds like a dreadful way to die, but it will do the job. If you don’t have any lemon juice, I’d recommend that you go pick up an unnecessarily large duo of lemon juice at your local Costco.
Borax and Sugar – Extremely Effective to House Ants
Depending on the species of ant, I think that this should be your first choice. The common house ant will deliver the mixture back to the nest, and it unintentionally poisons it. If you are dealing with carpenter ants then you will want to choose a different method. Borax is a poison to house ants, but it does nothing to carpenter ants. Both ants mostly look the same. To tell the difference, find the different points of entry around your house. If you see sawdust, then you are probably dealing with carpenter ants. There are two main methods of delivery
Soaked Cotton Balls
Mix the sugar, borax, and water together in a container. When the borax and sugar dissolves, soak the cotton balls with the mixture. Now, place the cotton balls at the various locations where you have spotted the ants. The ants will take it from there and take themselves out.
½ Cup of sugar
1 ½ – 3 Tablespoons of Borax
1 ½ Cups of Water
Sugar and Borax Paste
If you don’t have any cotton balls on hand, you can always make a paste that you can apply to those same areas of infestation. Cats can be poisoned by borax, so consider that if you are going to use this method…To make this paste, mix the borax and sugar before adding just enough water before things start to get runny.
½ Cup of sugar
1 ½ – 3 Tablespoons of Borax
Baking Soda and Sugar
You can mix up another poisonous treat for the ants by combining equal parts of sugar and baking soda. Place the piles of powder near the ants, and let them do the rest
Every living body has its own ecosystem. It is an environment that must maintain certain conditions to continue living. It those conditions change to drastically, than the creature dies. Diatomaceous earth compromises those conditions by cutting the carapace of tiny insects and soaking in the moisture contained inside…This works on fleas too, so remember that you your pet has any issues. The food grade diatomaceous earth isn’t harmful to mammals, so a lot of people actually eat this stuff as a parasite cleanse.
Plug entrances with Caulking
You will often find little holes in the walls and baseboards near the sources of the ants. Plug them with caulking. It might be enough to end your ant problem, or at the least, limit it.. It is a cheap solution and should have a noticeable effect immediately.
Bait for house ants
Powdered sugar attracts them. Mix borax with 3 parts powdered sugar.
Mix 1 cup of water, ½ cup of sugar, and 3 tablespoons of borax
Vinegar can clean up the trails that ants use to navigate.
Good sniffers for exposed food
They will smell the crumbs on the floor and the sugar on the counter. Clean your house you slob. Geez, if you’d stop dropping food everywhere, and vacuum and sweep once in a while you might not have this problem.
How do I tell the difference between house ants and carpenter ants?
These two ants can look similar, so I find that the easiest way to tell the difference is to look at the surroundings. Carpenter ants will chew through wood and leave little piles of sawdust. House ants don’t have the ability to chew through wood, so they will not make those piles.
If that doesn’t help, there are some physical characteristics that will help you discern which ant is being a pest.
Color: Black carapace with red legs
Behaviour: These ants, as the name suggests, build their homes in wood. They have the capability of biting through your skin.
Color: Black or Brown
Size: 1/16” to ⅛”
Behaviour: Build ant hills, and they do not have the ability to bite.
How long do ants live?
The answer varies from species to species, but the longevity of each ant is primarily dictated by their caste:
Queen – Can live for decades barring any conditions that might end her life prematurely
Workers – The workers typically live for several months
Males – The males only live for a few weeks.
Okay, I hope that this helped to answer your questions! I’ll add more information if I come across anything else that might be useful. Have a great day and good luck with your ant problem!