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Improve your baiting average: Why ant baits sometimes fail

Austin M. Frishman, Ph.D.

The term “ant” refers to thousands of species — each totally unique with its own differences and variations – which means, you can’t expect one bait to fit all situations. If it were that easy, the public wouldn’t have to rely on pest management professionals to tackle tough ant jobs. I sum this up in the following video:



Understanding ant biology and the basic principles of ant baiting is essential for ant control success. Always know what species you’re dealing with first. Collecting target ants in a container with alcohol is a good way to confirm the species to bait for.


When you’re ready to choose an ant bait, look for a product that:

  • Works slowly enough to give ants time to bring it back to the colony
  • Can be brought back to the colony by older foraging ants
  • Is solid enough to be ingested and shared by all members of the colony

Think about where you’re placing the bait:

  • Can it be washed out?
  • Is it in a hot, dry area where it will dehydrate?
  • Is there competitive food, debris or dog feces the ants may favor instead?
  • Will landscapers be treating the area?
  • Is there potential for different ants to move in after the target colony is controlled?
    • Pest proofing can keep exterior ants from entering a structure

If you’ve been unsuccessful using baits in the past, let’s take a look at why ants may not have liked the bait:

  • The ants were trailing below ground or high above ground and your bait was nowhere near them
  • The bait turned rancid, making it non-palatable
  • You used a granular bait that was too large or small for the target ants
  • The wrong ant species ate the bait before the target ant species could get to it
  • The bait got contaminated in a vehicle or storage room because it was not kept in properly sealed containers
  • You smoked and handled the bait without using gloves — tobacco is highly repellent for ants
  • The ants preferred a carbohydrate bait and you selected a protein bait, or vice versa
    • When cicadas emerge, they can be a protein source for several ant species, so protein baits may not be effective at certain times of the year


​​​​​​​It’s always possible the bait worked, but that a large volume of ants ate it all and others survived. Make sure you use enough bait for the job you’re working. On rare occasions, we may never learn why ants refuse a bait. We are dealing with living creatures, and sometimes they deviate from the rules. That is what makes our jobs interesting.


Do not use this list as an excuse for failure. Be a hunter. Take time to inspect and place bait in the right location.


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