That lone ant roaming the kitchen counter may not seem like a big deal. Maybe it’s even kind of cute. But think again.
A few random ants can actually mean a major problem if not treated at the source: the nest. Your solo ant may be giving the green light for other ants to join it. Next thing you know, you’ve got a conga line of ants making their way through your home.
“While a few ants crawling around the kitchen or bathroom might not seem like a big issue, they are actually coming from, and communicating with, a larger colony that could be hidden beneath the soil on your property, or even within the walls of your home,” says Michael Bentley, an entomologist for the National Pest Management Association.
Don’t bug out over ants this summer. Stave off an infestation and send ants packing with the following tips for protecting the spaces in and around your home.
Seal all cracks
Use sealant around the home to address any potential entryways for ants, and pay close attention to where utilities come into your home.
“Pest-proofing the home includes checking windows for gaps, checking to make sure screens are secure without holes, making sure that caulking is tight on seams and pipes, and checking doors for gaps,” says Jonathan Larson, extension entomologist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment.
Hide the sweets
You’re not the only one with a sweet tooth. Carefully seal and store sugar, syrup, honey, and other sweets in airtight containers, and make sure to wipe the outside of the containers to get rid of any sticky residue.
“For example, a bag of marshmallows without a bag clip can be an attractant,” says John Longino, an ant expert in the department of biology at the University of Utah.
Larson says if ants do enter and discover easy access to food, they will keep coming back.
“The initial finder will go home and tell her sisters she found a pack of Oreos or a dog food bowl and bring them to it,” says Larson.
Close garbage receptacles
One person’s trash is another person’s, or ant’s, treasure. Make sure all garbage cans have a secure lid, and dispose of trash often.
“Emptying trash cans regularly minimizes food or moisture sources,” says Bentley. “This step is especially important now, when many families are spending more time at home and creating additional waste.”
Clean up messes
We know you like your midnight snacks, but keeping your kitchen spotless is key.
“The best piece of advice to keep ants from getting into your home is to keep it clean,” says Godfrey Nalyanya, entomologist and technical services manager with Ehrlich Pest Control.
Promptly clean up grease, crumbs, and spills to remove potential food sources.
Larson says to sanitize surfaces, and don’t forget to clean the cracks and crevices in pantries and cabinets. Also, keep pet food secure.
Ants need moisture to survive, and sometimes “a bit of moisture around a leaky outdoor faucet, or the seals of tubs or sinks, can create a place where ants like to come get water or make a nest,” says Longino.
Repair leaking pipes to avoid moisture buildup, and use a dehumidifier in damp basements and attics.
Nalyanya says repairing pipes is important because ants can use them to get into the interior of the home.
Manage your plants
Check potted plants inside the home for signs of nesting, and remove plants at the first sign of an infestation.
“Some ant species like to make their homes in quiet, dark places, which can be difficult to spot,” says Nalyanya. “A nest site can look like a small pile of soil or dirt.”
Nesting can also happen in your outdoor plants. Get rid of potential nesting sites by tossing excess vegetation and debris from the backyard.
Bentley says it’s important to keep your landscaping well-maintained to discourage nesting in overgrown foliage.
Call in the professionals
Getting your ant problem under control can be a big headache, especially if that one ant has now welcomed its siblings, cousins, and BFFs into your home.
Longino says you should be worried when you have a lot of large ants (a half-inch long or so) that come out at night and run around your kitchen floor. They could be carpenter ants, which can do damage to the wood inside your home.
“But any smaller ants are not a problem, just a nuisance,” he says.
While you may be tempted to try a DIY treatment to get rid of ants, Bentley advises against doing so.
“Ants are complicated social insects, and it often requires a thorough understanding of their biology and behavior to locate the nest. Attempting a DIY treatment without the proper training can be ineffective, unsafe, and can even make the problem worse,” he says.
Instead, Bentley recommends contacting a licensed pest control professional trained to properly handle an infestation.
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