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Dealing with Ants

Ants represent a large portion of the insect kingdom. Outdoors they assist in the decomposition of organic matter and help control many insect pests. But indoors, ants quickly become a nuisance. This guide answers common ant questions and includes a glossary of common prevention methods.

Get rid of ants in the kitchen.

Preventing Ants

Here are some things you can do to reduce your chances of an ant infestation.

  • Keep trees and shrubs from touching your house. These provide a ready avenue for ants to access the home.
  • Remove logs and stumps. They are an irresistible housing source.
  • Fix moisture sources in and around the house.
  • Seal openings (wiring, plumbing) that allow access from the outside. Applying a bead of caulk or foam sealant is an efficient method of protection.
  • Keep gutters and downspouts free of leaves.
  • Clean kitchens after cooking and eating. Cleaning also removes the pheromone trail left by foraging worker ants.
  • Don’t leave food out. An ant's idea of a food source is different than humans. A mere crumb can be a feast, so look closely.

Indoor and Outdoor Ant Control

Commercial Ant Baits
These are designed to attract foraging ants. When the bait is taken back to the nest, it becomes contaminated. Baits only work if the area they are placed in is clean. Otherwise the ants will continue to feed on “real” food.

Sprays provide an immediate knockdown and can help deal with the infestation until the nest or source is eliminated.

Dusts, Powders and Granules
When placed in direct pathways, they are absorbed by ants and brought back to the nests for direct treatment of colonies. Some of these products can be used outdoors as barriers as well.

When dealing with ants, the sure-fire way to eliminate them is to find the nest. Queens lay eggs constantly, providing a steady supply of fresh ants. Getting rid of the nest and the queen should solve your problem. To locate a nest, place a dab of jelly or peanut butter out where you’ve seen the ants. Watch the ants, (most are more active at night) and see where they go. It's likely that they are leaving the house for a nest outdoors. Treat the perimeter of the house to keep them out or treat the nest itself. The area along the foundation is relatively protected from the elements and a good place for ants to nest.

Ants Outdoors
Ants on landscape plants or houseplants often coincide with the presence of aphids. Check houseplants for ants before bringing them indoors.

Anthills in the lawn can be treated with ant-specific pesticides. Some choose to apply boiling water to anthills. While boiling water is a good remedy, it takes a lot of water to kill a good-sized anthill and it kills everything it touches, including grass.

If your problem is carpenter ants, control is a little different. Carpenter or wood-boring ants will be detected by the presence of frass. Frass is a deposit of sawdust and other tiny debris left near the nest. Carpenter ants prefer moist wood (which may also indicate a moisture problem). They do not respond well to baits. Find the nest and apply the appropriate insecticide.


When using pesticides, make sure you choose and use them wisely. Read the label to see if the product is restricted to indoor or outdoor use or can harm beneficial insects. Follow all manufacturers' instructions.

Fire Ants

Fire ants can be very harmful as they disrupt cultivated agricultural areas and endanger livestock. Their mounds interfere with turfgrass maintenance. They are also the most notable and notorious stinging ant, therefore posing a direct human threat. When disturbed, swarming fire ants bite and sting repeatedly and in numbers. These stings are quite painful. Children, older adults and those with severe allergic reactions may be at mortal risk.

For treatment, find a product specifically for fire ants and apply exactly as directed. If your infestation is severe, contact a licensed pesticide applicator or your local Cooperative Extension Office for help.

It's tempting to "stir up" a mound before applying treatment. But remember that ants are more likely to accept the treatment when it is applied quietly. If fire ants are sufficiently disturbed you'll likely instigate their aggressive behavior. Additionally, if agitated, their natural response is to move the colony (only to reappear elsewhere on your lawn).

Flying Ants vs. Termites

The presence of termites can be serious. Learn to identify termites and find a professional pest control remedy if necessary.

  • Ants have a constricted or narrow waist. Termites have a broader, almost undetectable waist.
  • Both have 2 sets of wings. Ants have longer wings in front than in back. Termite wings are the same size.
  • Ant antennae are bent. Termite antennae are straight.

Flying Ant

Flying ant.



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For more information on ants and other insects, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site.