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Archive for Thursday, April 19, 2007

When ants invade, follow them home

April 19, 2007

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Most of our homes are safe, warm and just perfect for raising a family. And with the rainy cold weather of recent days, many insect pests have come to realize this as well. As we move into the nicer days of spring, ants are becoming a problem. Actively searching for food or a new place to nest, they are ending up in our home, office or other indoor facility. So if you turned on the lights this morning and found ants covering the countertop, here are some control strategies:

We typically think of ants as outdoor pests that invade the picnic table when we leave to play a game of volleyball. However, there are more than 100 common species recognized as household pests that nest indoors behind molding, baseboards and countertops. Whether you're dealing with an indoor or outdoor ant, control begins with finding the nest - a task much easier said than done. Ants typically follow regular routes or chemical trails between the food source and their nest. Watch the ants to locate their trail. Try to follow them back to the nest. I once followed a trail from the kitchen counter to a nest located 20 feet out in the yard. The journey took them through a tiny hole in the kitchen window, across the roof of a covered porch, down the drain spout of the gutter, over a small concrete walk and into the grass another 5 feet!

If you're not so lucky and can't find the nest, you might consider treating the exterior of the house using an insecticide labeled for use as a lawn treatment. Apply the treatment in a 2-to 4-foot-wide area around the entire building. This treatment is temporary, and retreatment may be necessary. Some examples of exterior-use chemicals are carbaryl (Sevin), Acephate (Orthene) and various synthetic pyrethroids such as cypermethrin, cyfluthrin, lambda cyhalothrin, bifenthrin and permethrin.

Inside efforts should center around the use of baits. Foraging workers feed on the bait and take it back to the nest, where they share it with the rest of the colony. However, baits are slow-acting, and it may take several weeks to see a reduction in numbers. Likewise, not all ants are equally attracted to baits. Experiment with foods that are attractive to the ants. Try peanut butter, sweets, fruit or meat products. A homemade bait can be made by mixing two parts boric acid to 98 parts food attractant (1/4 teaspoon boric acid to about 4 tablespoons food attractant). These baits should be placed on small jar lids, pieces of cardboard, in straws or something similar and located in places where ants are commonly observed.

It is generally assumed that careless cleaning habits will make the area more attractive to ants. Of course, it's hard to be specific about how clean is clean enough. However, when faced with an ant problem, increased efforts of proper food storage, waste disposal and cleaning of surfaces will be needed. Crumbs, dried liquid drops and uneaten food scraps make perfect meals for foraging ants.

- Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

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