Rover ants are more common in Southeast

A graphic on ants
A graphic on ants

It may surprise you to know that ants are the No. 1 pest. And, of course, here in the South, that ant is…the rover ant. Now, that did surprise you; didn’t it?

Rover ants (genus Brachymyrmex) are very, very tiny ants. Twenty or more could fit, snout to tail, along an inch. Most rover ants are dark and rather pudgy-looking.

There is another species (Monomorium minim) that is tiny and black. But, they’re shiny and sleek-looking. For the most part, rover ants make their homes outside in leaf litter, under sidewalks or potted plants. They seldom live in houses. When they do, it’s because of a moisture problem in the house that supplies them with the humidity level they need to survive. Rover ants are not “sugar ants.”

They will consume sweets if they’re hungry enough, but it’s protein they really crave.

As a rule, you’ll find them clustered around a small bit of beef, some spilled spaghetti sauce or in your pet’s food bowl. Though hosing them down with bug spray may give you some satisfaction as you watch them suffer and die, baits are probably the best way to control them in your house.

Unexpected result

If you have an indoor colony, spraying them with insecticide may cause the colony to split in two, thus doubling your problem. It doesn’t take a lot of bait to get rid of a rover ant colony. There are only a few hundred or a couple of thousand workers in a colony at any given time.

So, a little of the proper bait placed strategically will go a long way. As mentioned earlier, rover ants do not have a sweet tooth — or fang, in this case. They like protein. If the ants don’t seem to be attracted to the bait you set out, try another one. Set the bait out where the ants have been the most active but keep it away from pets and inquisitive children.

It helps to give the area a thorough cleaning as well. The worst infestation I ever saw was in a dishwasher that hadn’t been used for more than a week. The plates and silverware were covered by thousands of ants. In this instance, there were both rover ants and pharaoh ants happily munching away inside the unused machine.

Most liquid baits are sugar-based. So are many of the gels. Most solid baits are protein-based. The less food you leave about for the ants to find, the more bait they’ll take with them and the faster you’ll get rid of the colony.

Follow the line

After you’ve eliminated the ants, try to seal up any cracks, crevices or other possible points of entry. The first time you see a line of ants in your kitchen, follow them back to where they’re getting in.

Rover ants don’t carry any known diseases that can affect us, and they don’t sting. They’re among a large group of ant species that spray a noxious gas when disturbed. Don’t worry — they’re too small for you to notice the smell. Their pest status is more esthetic than anything else.

Nevertheless, they are the No. 1 ant professional pest-control technicians are contacted about. These are persistent ants and can quickly re-establish.

So you have to get them under control and maintain vigilance. Keep your house clean so they won’t be tempted to move back in, and don’t leave pet food out overnight . Without the temptation, the ants will go elsewhere to find their daily bread, and you can relax.

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.