Outdoors

Cockroaches, fleas, bedbugs: There are plenty of pests but only one is the No. 1 household pest

A graphic of pharaoh ants
A graphic of pharaoh ants Special to the Sun Herald

With creatures such as cockroaches, fleas and termites bedeviling our lives, it might come as a shock to you that ants are the No. 1 pests in homes.

Of the 550 species of ants in North America, most can be ignored and just be left to themselves to do their duty as nature intended. However, there are some that can make the lives of us humans miserable in the extreme. One of those is the pharaoh ant, which is quite small, between 1.5 and 2.0 mm and with a light reddish color. They are believed to have originated in Africa.

They are now found distributed throughout the entire world. They develop large colonies that are made up of a number of different nests and are particularly troublesome because each nest can “bud off” and form new colonies.

Because of this budding phenomena, the pharaoh ant requires a special kind of treatment. The traditional method of spraying pesticides just scatters the nests into the farther reaches of your home.

When a pharaoh ant colony invades your home, it is for one primary reason: food. They are quite fond of sweets but will readily retreat to proteins and fats as well. In drought situations, they will often congregate around water sources.

Treating them involves using their taste for sweets. Controlling pharaoh ants can be time-consuming and, unfortunately, not always successful. Our only advantage: they are a tropical species and won’t survive our mild winters outside. They rely on us to supply them with the warmth, food and water they need.

Given sufficient time, baits often work. There are baits specifically designed for pharaoh ants (Max Force and Terro brands). Some general ant baits will work to some degree.

Read and follow the label directions and place the traps wherever the ants are active. In most instances, when you return to the bait stations in an hour, you’ll see them feeding on the bait. Replace the depleted stations as needed. Depending on the size of the colony, a successful baiting program could take months to complete.

Besides baiting, you’ll need to do a few other things to bring the infestation under control. Look for routes the ants follow from their nests to food sources. Try to seal off the access points. Repair leaky pipes to eliminate as many water sources as you can.

Most important, keep your kitchen as clean as possible especially around your oven, refrigerator and trash can.

Thoroughly rinse out containers before you place them in the trash. Wipe down your counter tops and don’t let your dirty dishes pile up. One of the worst infestations I ever saw was inside a dish washer.

If the pharaoh ants don’t respond to your attempts, you may need to contact a professional pest control company.

Tim Lockley, a specialist in entomology, is retired from a 30-year career as a research scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For answers to individual questions, please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Tim Lockley, c/o Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535.

  Comments