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Ants and Disease



Hello, this is a very strange situation but I have a 10 month old baby in my home and I am concerned.

A couple of weeks ago I went in to the backyard and noticed my dog was playing with something unfamiliar. As I walked towards it I realized that it was a bird. This bird must have been there for awhile because it was unable to move, and had defecated so much that ants were (I'm sorry for the graphic details) actually crawling inside of this poor bird and apparently eating the fecal matter. This poor guy was obviously in a significant amount of pain so we had to do something very sad to stop it from suffering any longer.

This just so happened to have occurred next to a wall in our home that is the exterior wall to our dining room where we eat and where my 10 month old's high chair is. Today, I was eating at our table and some of my paper work and pens were sitting on top of it. As I was picking up my plate I noticed the same species of tiny little ants crawling all over the table and my paper work. There was not even any food or anything on the table that could have lured them there. I instantly took my son upstairs, and began disinfecting the table, vacuuming and such.

I do not know anything about ants but my concern is that these ants might be carrying disease from the bird. Can you please tell me if I need to be worried about this? They are the tiniest little transparent orangish colored ants. We live on Oahu, in Hawaii. Thank you very much for your time.

Alix

Ok, Alix. I've got good news and bad news.

The bad news: Ants (just like any animal that moves from one place to another) can transmit infectious bacteria, including Salmonella and Staphylococcus. (I'm not trying to throw your dog under the bus by any means, but your dog is definitely more of a vector for bacteria coming in from outside than these ants.) As indicated in a quick literature search (click here ), it's been reported at least as far back as 1914 (Wheeler) that if an ant walks through an area densely populated with infectious bacteria, they track it along in quantities large enough to show up in a petri dish.

The good news: Petri dishes don't have immune systems. The quantities of bacteria ants transport and slough off as they saunter across your counter tops will probably be small compared to the infectious dose for healthy humans. The quantities of bacteria that remain on the ants' feet after taking the thousands of little ant-steps between a source of infection and your table would presumably knock off the vast majority of the bacteria, leaving too few to constitute an infectious dose.

So what I'm trying to say is: thought it is theoretically possible for ants to transmit infectious bacteria to humans, as far as I'm aware (other members of this blog, please speak up if you know better!) there are no records of ants being definitively implicated in someone catching a disease. As best as I can tell, all of the articles that reference ants' potential to be vectors for infectious bacteria are based upon laboratory studies in which nothing besides some agar in a pertri dish got sick. Ants, as you know, are quite common, so it seems to me that if they were serious actual (as opposed to potential) disease vectors, we'd have heard about it.

A well-intentioned tangent: This is, of course, neither a child-rearing nor a health advice blog, but I think this recent article on the "Hygiene Hypothesis" makes a good case for not keeping too sterile a house:
http://time.com/2828841/why-you-should-let-kids-eat-dirt/
Some arguments, both pro- and con- Hygiene Hypothesis haven't been rigorously scientifically tested, so take everything you read with a grain of salt...or a pinch of dirt.

Hope this helps!
Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

Ants in concrete foundation



Hi - and help!?

We live in Northern Alberta, Canada. Over a year ago, we discovered ants - lots of ants - coming up into our furnace room through a crack in the concrete foundation of our basement. My husband put poison down the crack and seemed to work very well, getting rid of them and not coming back. Until now.

Last night he went to check - as he does periodically - and now they are large ants coming from the same crack in the concrete. He again put poison down the crack, and vacuumed up the few dozen (he may have been lessening the amount to avoid my freak out). My daughter's bedroom
is right beside the furnace room. She went to bed last night - only to be woken up by something flying and hitting her in the forehead...my guess is a flying queen ant.

Please tell me what we should be doing to ensure we have gotten to the bottom of this ant problem. Should we get the crack filled? Will they find another place to come in? In order to get access to this part of the foundation concrete, they have to be coming in very deep under the back yard as that part of the foundation must be at least 6 feet underground.

Help.

Cathi


Hello Cathi,


Thanks for writing to the AntBlog!

Ants are an important part of the natural world, and play a great role in an ecosystem. Their extreme diversity and abundance, wide spectrum of biology and interaction with other groups of organisms, make them affect the pattern of distribution and abundance of plants and other animals. The good news is that this is also applicable to your home environment: ants will control populations of other housemate arthropods, like spiders, fleas, clothes moths, bed bugs, and so on. We can also learn a great deal with ant behavior (to see how ants have inspired human societies, take a look here).


Full face view of Polyergus breviceps, a slave maker ant species that occur in your area (image by Shannon Hartman/AntWeb.org). See more on how it makes slaves here.

So, if it were my home I would just control their population, prevent them from accessing my food, and marvel myself with them crawling around. Procedures like proper food storage and waste management, and daily surface cleaning, will reduce the number of ant workers indoors.

However, if you really cannot live with those wonderful creatures, I think the most effective way to prevent them from accessing your home would be to seal the cracks (you can use clear silicone, or other sealant).
Please, note that commercial sprays are ineffective against ants, killing just the foragers, while the rest of the nest (deep underground) continues intact. Poisoned baits generally work well to eradicate ant colonies (workers feed on the bait and take it back to the nest where they share it with their nestmates), but this approach may take several weeks to several months to produce an effective result. You can read more on baits here.

We hope it helps,

Flavia Esteves & the AntAsk Team

Neighborhood ant farm?!


I have an ant infestation in my house and I have just begun terro traps. I have already attempted an ant killer by black flag but unfortunately that failed because they weren't attracted to it. I was speaking with one of my neighbors today and it seems that they have the same issue. Also the same issue for a neighbor that lives a street over. I'm worried that the traps are nothing compared to the abundance of ants. Any advice on getting rid of them?

Cortney


Dear Cortney,

Thanks for writing! Regarding your question: since your traps are not attracting the ants living in your house, I would try something like a cafeteria experiment. It consists of offering them an array of food items that they might eat on (e.g. peanut butter, jam or jelly, and tuna). Once you discover which item works better, add the appropriate poison, and set the traps. You will find really important information on traps and baits here.

However, ants are quite important for our surrounding environment, providing services like bringing nutrients to the surface of the soil, aerating the soil, dispersing seeds, and predating pest species. Many of them are beautiful too (like our special guest here). I hope you will fall in love with them while observing their interactions on your baits, and find a way to coexist with them!

I hope this helps,

Flavia Esteves & the AntAsk Team

Battleplan


Hi,

I stumbled upon your site while googling 'how to make peace with your ant infestation' (there seem to be no suggestions on that, by the way). I thought perhaps someone could offer advice for our particular situation.

I live in south Florida. In March, my husband and I bought our first house. Before closing, I did see a pile of dead ants in a corner of the family room, but the home inspector's report didn't find signs of any infestation, or at least 'wood destroying organisms'.

Once we moved and settled in, I began to realize that there were serious ant colonies on the property, and noticed ants in the Florida room, also in one of the bathrooms. I think in the beginning, they were all dead ants on the window sills and in that bathtub. As summer progressed, the problem got a bit worse. They can walk right through our windows and front door.

I did a bunch of online research, and I'm thinking they are carpenter ants. Not as big as the ones up north, but carpenter seems to fit the description. Because I have a toddler and two cats, my first line of defense was a borax/powdered sugar mix. I scored a big hit when I found old timbers half buried in the front yard near the walkway and removed them, and also pored boiling water at the foundation under a window in the back. We also replaced the weather stripping at the front door, and I've been caulking baseboards and around windows. For about a week, maybe two, it seemed like I was making some real progress, however this morning I saw ants swarming again out front in the morning. Late this afternoon I noticed ant hills surrounding potted plants in the back (near the house). I shook the pots a bit, and ants also started swarming out of the pots, up the trellis, and carrying eggs up into a previously unseen hole in the eave. Great.

I'm not positive, but I think the ants I've seen over the last few days are smaller than the originals, so maybe these little guys have stepped in to fill the void of the bigger ones. Regardless, we have ants in our walls, and apparently in our attic. I know that to truly keep these guys out we have to replace some rotting wood at the door in the back, but our windows are so old that they can literally crawl right through them - the windows themselves, not gaps around them. I have a little one and a couple critters that prevent me from putting down serious poison, and our budget is falling a bit shy of relaxing the doors and windows.

Is there any advice you can give on how to begin to win this battle? The house was empty for a long time, and the responses of ants in different areas let me know that's it's a big ass colony, or that the satellites have close communication.. Any hope you can give me is greatly appreciated-

Alyssa

Dear Alyssa,

Thanks for writing! I am glad you are still trying to make peace with ants that live in your house. Most ants are beneficial for our surrounding environment (including yards) - they actually rule our terrestrial world: cycling and bringing nutrients to the surface of the soil; aerating the soil; dispersing seeds; predating pest species, among many other "services". Also, children generally like to spend time observing ants just pass by, or being attracted to a bait, and it can stimulate their curiosity towards our natural world. You can read more about how good ants are here.

If after all you think its better to get rid of your crawling roommates, you should know you are already doing some of the most effective things to eradicate them from your home, and here you will find important information on baiting. Further, you can drown ant colonies in the plant pots, using warm water, and leave some clove sachets in strategic areas of your home (like in the food shelves) to repeal them.

If you really have carpenter ants, this may indicate you have a more serious problem, because they often build nests in compromised wood. I would first be sure they are really carpenter ants - try this and this for identification; and, if positive, you can try this to eliminate them from your place.

Please, look for more tips here, and have a good lucky in your endeavor!

Flavia Esteves & the AntAsk Team



Hi-
We have a huge colony that has seems quite mature. Has been there for a long time. They are small black and red ants and they have a nasty little bite. Unfortunately we need to place a structure right over the ants colony. We do not want to harm the ants and would prefer to somehow move the colony.

It may a good time of year to do something with a deterrent, as they are very active. I thought we might be able to lift the whole colony, using some sort of bucket, during the night, so they are not away from the nest. I imagine this would cause havoc and might not succeed.

We live in Victoria, on Vancouver Island.
Any suggestions? Any input would be appreciated.

Thanks!

Joan

Good afternoon, Joan!

Interesting question! It sounds like you have a colony of the quite charsimatic Western thatch ant, Formica obscuripes, in your yard. Fortunately I have experience with this species, given that there is considerable variation in the construction of thatch nests among the species in North America. Unfortunately, it may not be possible to relocate the colony without destroying it. The above-ground thatch---while impressive in stature, especially in the Pacific Northwest---is not the primary housing-unit of the colony. The thatch is like a compost pile which is warmed internally by the decomposition of the organic material used to construct it. In this way the above-ground component of the nest functions like an incubator, where the ants will place their developing young during the late winter and early spring months, allowing the young ants to grow even when there is snow on the ground. Now, the problem is that the most important members of the colony---the queens---don't like to stay in the thatch part of the nest. The queens are usually encountered in underground chambers which may extend several feet beneath the thatch. Thus, in order to relocate the colony you would need exquisite timing so that way you may move the thatch with the queens in it. Perhaps the best time of day for this would be in the morning or late afternoon when it is cooler out as the queens may migrate up into the thatch (although this idea has not been tested).

If you were to attempt to move the thatch there would be no way to do it without upsetting the workers as they are very territorial and aggressive about their mounds, and there is no guarantee that even if a queen were in the nest that she would be able to successfully excavate a new nest once moved. However, if you wanted to go through with the move I would recommend bringing a few 5-gallon buckets, a shovel, gloves, and duct-tape. What you could do is tape the gloves over long sleeves and your socks over your pants (trust me on this one!), then take the shovel and transfer as much thatch and soil from beneath the mound as fast as possible into the buckets (which hopefully you have lids for). You could take these and dump them together in an area very similar to where the colony is now, presumably near some Douglas firs. You might not have to dig too far down into the ground, as I have found queens at the soil surface and just below---less than a foot. I'm pleased with how considerate you are about these colonies! They may live for over a decade and house several thousand busily working individuals, let alone the fact that this species is ecologically important in your region.

Good luck with the ants, and I hope I helped answer your question!
Best,
Brendon Boudinot & the Ant Ask Team


We have been battling ants for about a month now and I'm just curious if we need to take it to the next level (ie- call in a professional) or if we are on the right track.

First, some background, we live in the Kansas City area, and we've had a fairly mild winter up until about a month ago. We have had 3 snowstorms in the last month, all producing more than 6" of snow (two with more than a foot!). The first two snowstorms were 5 days apart and we first noticed the ants between those two storms.

We have a split-level home, and I first noticed the ants in our dining room area, and as I started looking around more, I realized they were everywhere. In the dining room (which is connected to the kitchen, but they weren't trailing to any food in the kitchen), they were also in our front living room near the window and the fireplace, they were also in our walk-out basement. None were noted in the storage room (where the dogs and their food are), or any of our bedrooms which are on the same level as the kitchen/dining room.

Initially we sprayed indoors which I now realize was foolish. We couldn't spray outside because there was collectively 2 feet of snow after the first two storms. After doing a bit of research I decided that the terro traps were the way to go (because we were still seeing live ants every day). We went out of town on March 1st, and we laid terro traps in the areas we'd been seeing the ants. We were gone for 10 days, and when we returned, there were THOUSANDS of dead ants all over. The most concentrated areas were near our fireplace, the front window, and near the door to the walk-out basement. I vacuumed all of the dead, and continued to see new live and dead ants each day, but the numbers slowly dwindled over the following 2 weeks. I also sprayed the perimeter of the home (outside) once the snow melted. I felt like we were finally getting ahead of the game because it seemed like we weren't seeing any more accumulate.

Then out of the blue this morning (after our third snowstorm happened overnight last night) I noticed a few more near the front window, however they were different. Instead of being small, black (what I think were odorous house ants), there are a fair number of dead, larger, winged ants. They have a good waist to them, so I don't think they are termites, and they are all dead, or almost dead, no swarms.

My question is, is this a good sign? Have we killed enough that the end of the colony is coming out dead? Or is this a bad sign that more breeding ants are coming out and developing new colonies? We continue to have the terro traps in place and have not given up the battle yet. I just need to know if it's time to call in a professional, or are we making progress and just need to keep at it?


Dear Christina,

It is hard to say but it is very possible that you are on the home stretch of ridding yourself of these ants. Oftentimes, when ant colonies are on the verge of death due to depleted resources, disease, or attacks from other ants, they will devote their remaining resources to producing winged reproductives in a last ditch effort to reproduce before dying. Therefore, the colony occupying your house may be teetering on the edge of collapse.

Good luck! Hopefully an exterminator will not be necessary!

Ben Rubin & the AntAsk Team


Hello,

I stumbled across your very interesting blog whilst searching for an answer about ants.

We live in the sub-tropics (Queensland, Australia) and just over a week ago experienced severe wet weather (flash flooding) due to an ex-cyclone passing over us. This was after an extended period of dry weather in a hot Summer. We have had a steady stream of various ants come in due to the weather, mostly heading for the kitchen. This is quite normal for us and has been managed mainly by keeping minimal accessible crumbs etc.

The unusual ant activity we've had is in the last couple of days. One night we suddenly realised that there were clumps of tiny black ants all over the house. There were thousands of them in the laundry, on the top of the wall and cornice - not many down near the water sources at all. There were also about 6 big clusters of them located on cornices throughout our living room and hallway - far from any food source and/or water. The next day another cluster appeared on the door frame of our bedroom en suite - these ones were near some artwork and some were feasting on the glue used in it, but most were in clumps on the doorframe. I took some pictures and have attached them.

Ants1 is to give you a reference point for size and the shapes of all the small clusters these ants are forming - these are very small ants compared to most others we get locally.
Ants2 is a closer shot - when I was later looking at the photos I noticed that the ants appeared to be clustered around some sort of larvae or white-fleshed ant? I suppose this is why they are clumping, but am wondering what the white things are. I am hoping it is not termites! I am also curious as to why these ants all suddenly appeared in such unlikely places (and so many times) particularly given that it had been about a week since the wet weather. I would also like to know what we can do to try and discourage them from invading our house in such a huge and sudden manner.

I've done some searching on ant identification pages etc. and the closest ant I can come up with that they may be is the "black house ant". Although I am not sure they have the right number of joins in their body.

Any answers to my questions would be much appreciated!

I can send a bigger sized picture if you require it, just let me know if you do need it. I just didn't want to unnecessarily overload your inbox with a large sized file.

Thank you,

Anna.


Ants2.jpg

Ants1.jpg


Dear Anna,

Thanks for the question and the pictures!

First off, these are definitely not termites. Note the "elbowed" antennae and distinct rear part of the body (called the "gaster" in ant literature).

These ants probably belong to the genus Technomyrmex. They're very common in forests in tropical Southeast Asia and Australia. I used to work on a small group of islands called Palau, and there were parts of the forest where it seemed like nearly every tree had this density of Technomyrmex on them. Although it's tough to say for certain, it's likely that these ants belong to a group of very similar-looking species that would have all been identified as Technomyrmex albipes a few years ago, but have since been shown to belong to several distinct species, including T. difficilis (guess why it has that name!). Here are some close-up pictures of the ants I think you have (although this this ant is fairly widespread, these pictures were actually taken in Queensland). In your region, many common household ants can be identified using a key developed by Eli Sarnat for the Pacific Invasive Ants program out of New Zealand (assuming you have a good microscope). For more complete information on ants in your area, check out our Queensland section on AntWeb, and Steve Shattuck's Ants Down Under.

We've written a few posts about getting rid of ants in and around your home (for example: here, here, here, and here), but in your case, one of the more important actions might be keeping vegetation from touching your house. I've actually seen a house in Palau that was entirely on concrete stilts, and each stilt rested on a concrete block that had a small moat of water in it - this is essentially the house-level equivalent to putting the legs of your kitchen table in tuna cans filled with water to prevent ants from climbing up. However, the house got electricity from an above-ground wire, and there was a steady stream of Technomyrmex coming in on that wire all the time! So....I guess there's only so much you can do!

Hope this helps, and good luck!
best,
Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

I am a typical mom who knows only three things about ants: they have structured colonies, they carry 3x their weight, and they invade our home during the rainy season. I had never noticed this behavior before and came upon your website in trying to research if what i think is happening is true. The black ants that I see in my bathroom are scouting for food and I don't kill them because I know they will not find any and will eventually leave, but some lone ants have become lost or stranded and I will see them roaming in the same area for a day or two and then they seem to die. Is it from starvation or cold temperature at night, or emotional distress at being alone with no way back to what they know as home?
Also, when they first invade there are many following a trail but soon I see that some break into groups of a dozen or so that scatter when they detect me, do they communicate in this way? I thought they were more like little robots following programmed instincts so they used chemical scent trails, but it almost looks to me like they are having a meeting to discuss their options. I use Clorox wipes to clean and have looked at the spot were they grouped to make sure there wasn't anything that could have served as food like my son's bubble gum toothpaste. I hope to learn more as I respect these tiny hard workers.

Thank you!
Claudia from central California


Hi Claudia,

Rather than thinking of ants as robots following programs, it might help understand what they are doing by imagining them as small people with a limited view of the world and very short-term memories. Contrary to popular belief, no single individual is in charge of an ant colony, not even the queen. Instead, an ant colony's behavior is accomplished through the independent action of each individual together. So every ant has to use the relatively small amount of information available in the immediate area to figure out what she should be doing. Oftentimes, this means "asking" other ants what they are doing and if they have an opinion on what everyone else should be doing. This type of communication is usually accomplished through antennal contact and scents and could certainly result in the formation of groups of ants all "talking" to each other, figuring out what they should all do next. Of course, it is always a possibility that they just found something interesting on the ground.

The ants that you find in your house are almost certainly looking for food. They could also be exploring for new nesting sites and, as your house is probably relatively warm, it might appear ideal at first. Unfortunately, no matter the reason for their exploration, foraging ants have very high rates of mortality around 15% per day. Many of these ants are the victims of predation or, in hot and dry areas, dehydration, but many simply get lost, as some of the ants in your house seem to. A scent trail may be too faint, may get disturbed, or the ants may get separated from it inadvertently and be unable to find their way home. Their eventual death is likely the result of starvation or dehydration although cold temperatures could certainly be a factor as well.

Deborah Gordon's book, Ants at Work is about how ants get all of their work done and it sounds like the subject might be of interest. You may want to check it out.

Thanks for your question,
Ben Rubin & the AntAsk Team

Hi there!

I've recently observed a bunch of ants on my desk at my lab that seem to "freeze" in movement, in a group, usually in a straight (but not linked) line against the wall, completely stationary for hours at a time. They're usually gone by morning and they tend to return again, usually in the afternoon and the cycle repeats. I've been trying to read up for info on this online but I haven't found any information that explains this. These are small brown ants, common to households, but I'm unsure as to the exact species.

I apologise in advance for the lack of information but I'm extremely curious as to what causes this behavior.

Hope you can shed some light on this.

Thank you
Felicia
**********

Dear Felicia

The ants you saw are most likely Tetramorium bicarinatum, a species that occurs in houses world-wide. One of the other contributers has observed the "freezing" behavior in other ants, but we really don't know why they do this. It is possible they are responding to vibrations in the object they're standing on, and that freezing might make them less visible to predators. This is a behavior we really don't understand.

Hope this helps!
Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

Dear Ant Experts,

I have a large colony of ants in my yard (or possibly many colonies) in Surprise, AZ. These ants are becoming a small problem because they love to bite my family. So far I have tried many "ant baits" and found that they ignore all of them except for amdro pellets which contain Hydramethylnon. Boiling water works great on them when I can locate their hills, but they always return. Any information on what kind of ants these are and how to eradicate them will be very appreciated! Thank you in advance!

-JJ
*********

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for CRW_8103.jpg

Dear JJ,

I wish I had some encouraging news for you, but it's likely you have Solenopsis xyloni, a close relative of the Red Imported Fire Ant, Solenopsis invicta. You're already doing some of the most effective things: Amdro was developed specifically to target S. invicta (or RIFA, as it's sometimes called in the invasive species literature). It works best if you pour about 1/4 cup directly onto the mounds, and re-treat every 2-3 weeks. In general, poisoned baits usually kill at most about 90% of the colony, so re-treatment is essential. Boiling water, as you said, is also great when you can find the colonies. Just don't pour it over the Amdro! It doesn't work when wet!

The problem is, unless you and your family live on a 1,000-acre ranch, miles away from town, surrounded by a moat and a flying-ant-proof fence, you'll always risk re-infestation from the surrounding area. Therefore, the only further advice I have is to get organized with your community. It might make sense to bring this problem up with your neighbors, at your children's schools, and any local organizations you're involved with. The "School of Ants" is a citizen-science project that would be a fantastic way to gather information about where other colonies of these ants occur in your area...and the students might even learn a thing or two about the biology and ecology of ants!

One critical bit of information you can get from collaborating with the folks at "School of Ants," or other experts, is a positive identification of these specimens. Solenopsis invicta and Solenopsis xyloni are difficult to tell apart from pictures, but one is a native ant that can be a nuisance, and one is an invasive ant that costs the USA more six billion dollars a year to control nation-wide. More information on Solenopsis invicta, and some advice about distinguishing it from related species, can be found on this excellent site.
Either way, you have the opportunity to raise awareness in your community about ants, so that you can more effectively solve the problem you have now, and be prepared for future ant invasions.

Good luck!
Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

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