Ants have been around for as long as we could remember, with their origins dating back to as far as 50 million years ago, way before the dinosaurs even thought of becoming extinct. Today, these little insects are one of the most populous insects on the face of the earth, and can easily be found almost anywhere that is habitable by humans. Ants can sometimes be a nuisance if left uncontrolled however, with some species making their way indoors and burrowing their way through food, wood and other important materials, but in order to understand how to get rid of these pests, we must take a detailed look at these little insects.
What are ants?
Ants are small, invasive creatures that are normally identified by their elbowed antennae, as well as their slim waist which is usually formed by very distinct node like structures. There are many different species of ants, but most operate in the same way by forming colonies to both survive and thrive. One very distinct feature about these colonies is that the female ants are the workers, and generally makeup the majority population of the colony, but in order to understand how the colony works, we must look from the head.
Ant colony is a term used to describe the structure where ants live, as well as aspects of their social life, how they interact and relate to each other and how the work is divided. One of the most obvious signs of an ant colony around or near your property is an ant hill, but this structure is only the surface level of a nest that can become up to 25 feet deep. These mounds mark the entrance and exit to the ant colony, and are normally made of whatever structure the ant builds its nest under such as dirt or sand.
This colony is normally home to four different types of ants namely, the queen, the drones, worker ants and the smaller ones called the alates. The alates, also called the reproductives are the smaller ants whose main purpose is to leave the nest to form new colonies. These ants leave the colony in swarms, and are produced as both male and females, with most males dying after mating and some females surviving to become the queen in other colonies.
In most colonies however, the queen is the founder and leader of the colony, with her main job being to reproduce so the colony can grow. The Queen’s location can normally be found deep in the colony to protect her from harm and predators, and most Queens live longer than both the drones and the worker ants, some living up to decades at a time before dying.
Followed by the Queen are the drones and worker ants, which are male and female respectively. Drones are male ants who only survive to mate with the Queen so the colony can be populated. After they have fulfilled this purpose, most drones die. The worker ants are normally females that make up a majority of the colony. Most ants encountered outside of the colony are females, as they normally venture out to search for food and allocate and divide these resources to feed the rest of the colony. They don’t lay eggs but instead, they are responsible for protecting, feeding and building an maintaining the colony. Depending on the type of colony, worker ants may live anywhere from a couple weeks at a time up to a year. 470
What do ants look like?
An important part of the ant that rarely gets any attention is the formulation and makeup of their bodies. This structure is made in such a way that it allows them to withstand any attacks from both human and other insects. Ant bodies can vary slightly based on species and the type of worker, but most are made up of three core parts. These three main parts are the head, the thorax and the abdomen.
The head of the ant houses most of its sensory faculties. Ants normally have two elbowed antennae close to the front of their heads. These antennae are strategically placed in this location for sense of smell and touch. For sight, most ants in different species have two main eyes that contains hundreds of lenses that form an image when combined. They also have three eyes between the two larger compound eyes, known as the ocelli, which help to detect light and shadows. Finally, the head of the ant also contains their mandibles/jaws, which they use to both forage for and carry food. It is important to note that ants are very strong creatures that can carry up to 10 times their body mass when hunting for food.
Scientifically referred to as the mesosoma, the thorax makes up the middle part of an ant’s body. It is very muscular, and has the six jointed legs that the ants possess attached to it. These legs are made specifically for running which describes why many ants move so quickly, as they contain two hooked claws at the end of each leg, allowing the ant to be able to grip most surfaces, climb and hang. In most species, Queens and males generally have wings attached to the thorax for flying, but these wings generally get torn off during the mating process.
Also known as gasters, the abdomen of the ant houses all their vital and reproductive organs for daily function. This includes their digestive system which is normally used for regurgitation when feeding other ants, and a tiny heart that pumps colourless blood throughout the body. Some species of ants also have stingers on the backs of their abdomen to attack any enemy by injecting them with venom. It is important to note that all ants have an exoskeleton which is very important for the protection of the ant. This structure is a hard, waterproof covering made of a material known as chitin. The main purpose of the exoskeleton is to protect the muscles and tissues of the ant.
An important structure of an ant’s body that is normally left out is the petiole, which is a body part that makes ants distinct from a lot of other insects. This section can be found between the thorax and the abdomen, and it functions much like a human’s waist. It’s main purpose is to allow the ant to be more flexible by allowing it to twist and burrow underground, improving movement and agility.
Do ants bite?
The short answer is yes, ants do bite, with some leaving more of an impact than others. Most ants tend to bite, and some may even sting depending on the specie, while there are others such as the fire ant that may both bite and sting but the fact that ants bite is not as important as the type of ant that may have bitten you. Some species of ants cause harmless bites, leaving a little irritation for a few minutes that goes away quickly, while other species of ants may bite and cause an allergic reaction, resulting in very serious symptoms that may need medical attention.
Ant bite symptoms
Depending on your body’s reaction to an ant bite, you may have a variety of symptoms ranging from mild to severe, and you may even develop an allergic reaction. These symptoms can be normally characterized as:
- A mild reaction – This is the most common and most harmless reaction to an ant bite and may happen even if you don’t feel the ant bite at the time. In this case, the area that was bitten tends to swell up into a thickened red weal that may be itchy, painful or maybe even painless.
- A large local reaction – This is reaction is a notch above the mild reaction, and tends to cover more of the skin’s surface area (usually 5 to 10 cm). It is normally more painful and itchy and may develop into a blister. Fortunately, this condition only lasts a couple days and heals in 1 to 10 days, depending on your skin and the ant that bit you.
- A mild systemic reaction – This reaction falls in the rare percentile and only happens in about .04% to .08% of ant bites. When this reaction happens, victims tend to develop more severe issues such as nausea, hives, cramping and swelling under the skin. If this happens, seek medication/medical help immediately.
Ant bite allergic reactions
Some ant bites are so severe that they may cause an allergic reaction that can become fatal if left untreated. Normally, fire ants are the specific specie to blame for this issue as they both bite and sting when disturbed, releasing a venom meant to cause harm to their enemy. Fire ants, also referred to as the red ant, is normally distinguishable by their bright reddish brown colour and thick, dense structure. Fire ant symptoms and allergic reactions normally require medical attention as soon as possible, and can be pinpointed by the following:
- A swollen red spot with a blister on the area
- Severe pain on the area that was bitten
- Irritation and itchiness on the area that was bitten
- Anaphylactic shock which describes a situation where the venom expelled by the fire ant causes allergic reactions such as a swollen tongue, swollen throat or even shortness of breath when it enters the system.
Ant bite treatment
There are many ant bite treatments, both medical and home remedies that are effective in reducing the symptoms caused by being bitten. For more serious issues such as allergic reactions, while medical attention is best, there are also over the counter creams that may be able to treat the issue. Some of the most popular and most effective remedies for ant bites are:
- Antihistamines – As the name suggests, this treatment aid by stopping the production of histamines in the body. Histamines are compounds released by the immune system to rid your body of allergens. This is a defense mechanism meaning it is automatic once an allergen is present, and in aiming to expel this allergen, it may cause swelling and burning. Antihistamines removes the venom from your system without the natural responses of swelling and burning that normally occur.
- Antibiotic ointment – This treatment is highly effective as it impedes the growth of bad bacteria, killing them. This in turn prevents the wound from becoming infected, helping it to heal quicker than normal.
- Raw honey – This home remedy may be one of the most convenient as honey is already a staple in many homes, and while many use honey for culinary purposes, it’s medical purposes are not as popular. Honey contains antibacterial properties, helping to heal your wound quicker than normal, and the thickness of the honey allows a shield to prevent further infection. Simply apply raw honey to the wound and leave it on for about 15 – 20 minutes before washing off.
- Lemon juice – Another convenient but relatively unknown home remedy for ant bites, lemon juice proves to be very effective. The acidic juice of the lemon works to literally pull the venom from the wound. To use for ant bites, simply cut a raw lemon in half and squeeze the juice on the ant bite.
Are ants dangerous?
Most household ants tend to be relatively safe as they tend not to disturb humans, and cause little to no effect when bitten. For the most part, the large variety of ants are not harmful, but there are some species that you must look out for that can cause more harm and damage than others.
The most dangerous and well known specie of ants are fire ants, which both sting and bite especially when disturbed. If these types of ants re spotted in or around your home, make sure you search for the mound, and destroy the fire ant population from their nest. In this way, a majority (if not all) of the ants in the colony dies, including the Queen. In more severe cases, you may need to retain the services of an exterminator.
Signs of an ant infestation
An easy way to identify an infestation is by seeing ants in your home. They may be crawling around, but once you spot a trail whether on your kitchen counter, to your food or anywhere, you should be weary of an infestation either inside or outside your home. In the case of carpenter ants, a colony may have formed in the walls of your home without you realising it, and this is normally characterized by tiny holes in your walls, ants crawling out of vents or small piles of wood shavings in your home. Other ants may form colonies outside your home, and these may be identified by small ant hills or mounds in areas outside your home. Some of the most popular ants can be identified by specific signs.
- Little Black Ants – These creatures may build a nest inside your walls or any wooden structures in your home. They are small ants but they have very large colonies, and can cause problems over time.
- Carpenter Ants – These ants have a preference of building inside wooden structures, an tend to easily burrow their way in to make a nest. They can be identified by their colours, which are normally, black, red or yellow.
- Fire Ants – Easily distinguished by their dense structure and reddish brown colour, these ants tend to build nests outside the home fortunately. It’s important however to get rid of these colonies as fast as possible, to prevent injury.
Why you may have an ant problem
While most people tend to blame food as the number one reason that ants are present in their homes,this is not the only contributing factor. Ants tend to venture indoors for a variety of different factors, with food being just one cause of this. In order to effectively get rid of and keep ants out of your home, you must first understand why they are present and solve the root issue, rather than aiming to address the small crawling insects you may find on your kitchen sink. Here are three of the main reasons why you may have an ant infestation.
Perhaps the most obvious reason that ants are present in your home is because of leftover food particles or crumbs that are present in your kitchen. All it takes is one worker ant to find a small piece of food, maybe just a crumb, and it will come back with a trail of other ants foraging for more food.
Adverse weather conditions
An important fact about ants is that they depend on the environment to regulate their internal temperature. Because of this, when it gets close to the winter, you may notice ants slowly venturing inside in an effort to stay alive.
The structure of your home
For specific species of ants such as carpenter ants, wooden structures are the perfect structure to build a nest. If you’re not careful, or if you don’t pay attention, you may even find that there is a carpenter ant colony in your home in a very short period of time.
How to get rid of ants
As great as ants are, they can easily become a nuisance if an infestation occurs. Most people however fail to recognize the signs of an infestation at its initial stage, and end up not realising until it’s too late, leaving them surprised and uncertain of how to treat the condition. Though may it seem like an uphill battle, getting rid of ants may be easier than you imagined. Here are a couple of tactics that are sure to remove all the ants from your space.
Step 1 – Diatomaceous Earth
There are many natural remedies that can be used when it comes to getting rid of ants, ant control and ant prevention. Some of the most popular and effective remedies include natural home items such as Diatomaceous Earth, which is loved mostly because of its chalky texture that is easy to sprinkle in crevices and corners of the home. Another reason it is a favourite is because it is safe for consumption by humans, but it is toxic and harmful to all insects. It works by piercing through the exoskeleton of insects to cause suffocation and eventually, death.
Step 2 – Peppermint Essential Oil
Essential Oils have been lauded by the public not only for their potency and thickness, but mostly for their efficacy in most areas of use. Peppermint essential oil especially has a scent that prevents ants from venturing into your home, but that also disrupts the pheromone trail that ants use to communicate.
Step 3 – Apple Cider Vinegar
Much like the peppermint oil listed above, the vinegar acts in a similar way to rid our home of those pesky little ants. The Apple Cider Vinegar contains a specific scent that both disturbs and disrupts the plans and path of the ants, causing them to stay away.
Store bought remedies
- Terro T300 Liquid Ant Baits – Revered as one of the best ant baits on the market, this product is one of the top sellers when it comes to getting rid of ants. Made with borax among other ingredients, this bait is specially formulated to lure ants in with its sweet taste, while the borax and other ingredients decimate the bodies if the ants from inside out. Reviewers laud this product as one of the best ant killers on the market.
- Orange Guard Home Pest Control – This brand is known for its eco friendly capabilities, making it ideal for homes with pets and small children. This spray is a water based organic extract that can be used in any environment and is ideally sprayed on any place where ants are present. It not only gets rid of the ants present but it also prevents others from returning.
Perhaps the best way to ensure you never get an ant infestation is by making sure they never enter your home in the first place. Ants are very strategic insects, and with some knowledge of how they operate, you’ll be able to not only get rid of them initially, but to keep them out of your home for good. Continue reading for the best tips to prevent an ant infestation or the presence of ants in your home.
Cut off their food sources
The best way to do this is by keeping your kitchen clean and crumb free. Ants feed on the tiniest of particles, and if they can continuous find food in an area, they will continue to go there. They especially love anything that is sweet or starchy, which makes not only crumbs a problem, but also spills from anything sweet and sticky such as honey, soda or syrup. In order to get rid of these ants in your kitchen or dining area, wipe these areas with bleach and other cleaning agents after use. You can also take the initiative to ensure that the trashcan has a sealed lid, and ito dispose of your garbage on a regular basis.
Remove water sources
While food is a major determinant of an ant infestation, so is water. Ants need water sources around them to help care for the colony, so ensure that you repair any leaky or faulty pipes that you may have. You should also routinely inspect your home for areas of moisture, especially in places with crawl spaces. Cutting off water sources may just be one of these effective methods in getting rid of ants for good.
Limit accessibility to your home
Because ants are so small it is very easy for them to enter your home through little cracks or crevices that are present. One of the major ways to identify their entry points is by looking at trees and bushes around your home that may provide an easy way for them to get inside. If this is the case, be sure to trim branches of trees and bushes that are too close to the home.
Use an ant repellent spray
One of the most tried and true methods of getting rid of ants to date is using an ant repellent spray, whether homemade or store bought. Using this spray on entry and exit points that ants use to enter the home ensures that their pheromone trail is not only thrown off, but that the scents in these sprays will keep them from entering. Ants are very strategic creatures however, so they may find another way to enter your home if they do believe that food is inside, so be sure to spray an ant whenever you see one.
The truth is that getting rid of ants may not necessarily be easy, but it is possible. Following these detailed steps will help you to get rid of your ant problem sooner rather than later, and help to keep them out once and for all.