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Outsmarting ants: control tips that work.

Ants are frequent and persistent pests in many areas. They contaminate food, build unsightly mounds in lawns and along walkways and, in the case of carpenter ants, cause structural damage by hollowing out wood for nesting.

"Ant control can be frustrating. Repeated attempts often are required to maintain ants at tolerable levels," said Mike Potter, Extension entomologist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

The mistake most people make when trying to control ants is only spraying the ones they see. This approach usually fails because the ants seen foraging over exposed surfaces are only a small portion of the colony. Typically, there will be thousands of additional ants, including one or more egg-laying queens, hidden somewhere in a nest.

Ants build their nests both inside and outside of buildings. Most species prefer to nest outdoors in soil or wood, entering homes in search of food and water. Certain ants, however, establish nests within structures, using hollow spaces behind walls, cracks beneath floors, and structural wood.

The key to control

"The key to ant control is the elimination of queens and other colony members," Potter said.

Preferred sites for nests include spaces behind walls, cabinets, light switches and receptacles, within window and door frames, and beneath floors.

The nest's general vicinity can be determined by tracing the ants' movement back to where they are entering and exiting the hidden location.

"One way to entice ants to reveal the location of their nest is to place small dabs of corn syrup or diluted honey next to where ants are seen. After the ants have fed, they soon will head back to the colony," Potter said.

Nests in hollow spaces such as wall voids or under cabinets can be controlled by applying an insecticide dust into the suspected nest area. Dust formulations of either boric acid or carbaryl are effective and usually produce better results than liquid or aerosol sprays.

Accessing hidden spaces behind walls or cabinets may require drilling small (1/8 inch) holes through which the insecticide can be injected.

Drill and inject dust at least three feet on each side of the point where ants are disappearing to maximize the chance of contacting the nest, the entomologist said.

Insecticidal ant baits, such as Raid, Max and Combat, also are effective in eliminating ants nesting indoors. Baits are especially useful when the location of the nest cannot be determined, or the nest is inaccessible.

Foraging ants take the insecticide back to the nest and feed it to the queen(s) and other members of the colony; within a week, the entire colony is destroyed. Some baits come prepackaged with the insecticide and food attractant confined within a plastic, child-resistant container.

Do not spray other insecticides or cleaning agents around bait stations, as this will deter ants from feeding on the bait.

"Initially, you should see an increase in ant numbers around the bait station. Do not spray them, since it indicates that the ants are feeding on the bait and transporting the insecticide back to the nest," Potter said.

If prepackaged baits prove ineffective, use small dabs of corn syrup or diluted honey, mixed with boric acid (one level teaspoon of boric acid powder per five ounces of syrup or honey). Apply dabs of the bait onto small (one-inch) squares of waxed paper, or onto the back (nonsticky side) of masking tape.

Position along ant trails but away from children and pets.

Replenish dally with fresh bait until ant activity ceases.

"Insecticidal baits will not control carpenter ants, although the location of nests can be determined using diluted honey (without an insecticide)," he said.

Ants noticed inside the home may actually be nesting outdoors in the yard. Trace the ants back to the point where they are entering from the outside.

Nests are usually located in the ground where they may be marked by a mound or anthill. Other times, the nest will be concealed under stones, stumps, landscaping timbers, pavement, or beneath tall grass adjacent to the foundation wall.

Once discovered, the outside colony can be eliminated by spraying or drenching the nest with carbaryl, diazinon, or chloryrifos.

Large ant colonies will require greater amounts of liquid to move the insecticide throughout the network of underground galleries (a bucket is an effective method for applying the diluted insecticide). Follow label directions for treating ant mounds, paying particular attention to precautions for mixing and application, Potter said.

Spraying insecticide around the outside perimeter of the building will help prevent their entering the home. Apply a three-to-six foot swath along the ground adjacent to the foundation, and a two-to-three foot band up the foundation wall. Be sure to treat points of entry into the home, such as around doors and where utility pipes and wires enter from the outside.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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