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Stack the odds in your favor for effective ant control

Austin M. Frishman, Ph.D. 

You may be able to control ants for a while, but keeping them down permanently can be a challenge. For instance, once ants are eliminated from a habitat, new colonies or competitive ant species can emerge, following trails established by former ants that secreted pheromones.

Understanding some basic facts about ants can help you determine if your control program is working:

  • Some ant species are more active at night, making ant trails difficult to locate. Go to the property at night if you are having a problem and want to learn more.

  • The ant larva (immature) is the belly of the colony. The last instars digest solid food brought back by worker ants. The digested solids are then regurgitated to feed adult ants. Thus, your ant bait should have a slight delay in mortality so it can control the larvae and reach the queen.

  • You have to have plants to have ants. In addition to providing harborage and nesting sites, some plant species attract aphids, which are food sources for ants. A systemic insecticide can help eliminate aphids, which may be why the ants are present.

    Learn more about the relationship between aphids and ants below:
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  •  Most ants swarm to disperse. Winged ants inside a structure means ants are harboring somewhere indoors or under the foundation. They may be attracted to lights and windows, so swarmers may actually be many feet away from the source.

  • Ants are not easily discouraged and will continue to look for a way to get indoors. A proper sealant can help block potential ant entryways. 

  • How quickly can ants reinvade an area you just declared ant-free for a customer? Depending upon the ant species, adjacent populations and environmental conditions, it could be hours or months, but it most likely will happen eventually. This is why an ongoing preventive service is so essential.


Identifying conditions conducive to ants

Ants are opportunists. Give them a chance to nest near, on or in a structure, and they will. Here are a few examples of conducive conditions that can enable their survival:
  • Leaf debris accumulating under shrubs adjacent to a structure

  • Rain gutters clogged with leaves

  • Leaks in a roof or wall pipe

  • Live plants housed indoors with healthy soil

  • Tree or shrub branches touching the side or roof of a structure

  • Pet food left in open dishes when pets aren’t feeding

  • Thick mulch around a structure

  • Lines above and below ground that lead to a structure, such as branches, sidewalk edges, large tree roots or sprinkler systems


You can use this list to create an inspection worksheet to point out what customers need to avoid or minimize on their properties.

Ants might make your job difficult, but fortunately, entities like Syngenta provide ant control solutions and strategies that can help tilt success in our favor. For more information about ant control, you can also refer to a former Doc's Dialogue article I wrote in 2015, titled “Why are ants so successful at creating callbacks for PMPs?” 

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