Ant Information & Exterminator Cost

Red Ant

Ants are familiar to everyone as they seem to be everywhere. No one knows the true number but estimates suggest that from 100 trillion to 10,000 trillion ants are living on the planet today.

Over 700 species of ant can be found in the US with new ones arriving regularly. The majority are harmless and even beneficial. Some feed on a range of other pests, including termites.

Despite these benefits, the National Pest Management Association reports that ants are viewed as the number one nuisance pest in the country. This is due more to their constant presence, attracted by anything sweet, than the aggressive and destructive nature of some species. Fortunately, only about 25 species cause enough trouble to be classed as true pests.

Ants are complex insects, with distinctive habits and behaviors. They employ a variety of defense techniques and are often at war with other kinds of ant. New invaders occasionally push out established species. Even they can be threatened by more recent arrivals, such as the newly introduced Fire ants now losing ground to an influx of Crazy ants.


Description

Ants, especially winged ants, may be confused with termites but can be distinguished by their thin ‘waists’. Termites are a uniform width the full length of their bodies, whereas all ants have a distinct narrowing between the thorax and the abdomen.

In the US, ants can range in size from less than 1/16 inch to 3/4 inch long. They live in colonies that may contain hundreds of thousands of individuals.

Colonies comprise a queen, some males, and many sterile female workers. Workers forage for food and water, bringing it back to the nest. The queens and males of most species cannot feed on solid food. Pre-digested food is passed from the workers to these by a method called trophallaxis.

Generally, ants eat a variety of foodstuffs. A few, like leaf-cutter ants, have specialized tastes. Most are drawn to sweet things, such as sugars, and leave pheromone trails so others can find the source easily. Their food preferences may vary during the year as the colony grows and its dietary needs change.

Although many types can be recognized easily, the majority are difficult to identify correctly without experience.


Life Cycle

Like other insects, an ant goes through various stages during its life: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The time it takes to develop depends on the species, food availability, and temperature. For many, the cycle takes six to eight weeks.

Ants are social insects, with a fixed caste system. The queen is central to the colony. She lays the eggs and produces the pheromones that determine which larvae become workers, males or future queens.

Queens can be long-lived, some reaching fifteen years. Even workers may live for several years. Periodically, the queen will lay eggs that develop into other fertile females and additional males, both of which have wings. Winged ants are called alates. They leave the nest to form new colonies. A mass emergence is often triggered by spring rains or thunderstorms.

Colonies can spread either by alates founding new nests after swarming or by budding. This is when one or more queens leave a nest with workers who help to establish a new colony. Many of the kinds that spread by colony budding, such as Fire ants and Argentine ants can be difficult to eliminate.

Carpenter Ant

Bites and damage

Ants may carry bacteria and contaminate human food as they walk across it, but there is little recorded of them spreading any diseases. But they do cause trouble in other ways.

The various defense mechanisms of ants can be harmful to people. Some ants have formidable mandibles which they use to give painful bites. Others can inject a mild venom. Stings from venomous ants can be painful and for people with allergies, potentially lethal. One group spray jets of formic acid to ward off attackers.

Carpenter ants and a few other species are responsible for property damage. Unlike termites that eat the wood, these ants burrow into wooden structures to make their nests. If left untreated, the damage can be extensive. Should they encounter electrical wiring, the insulation may be chewed leading to a risk of fire.

Several types of ant are attracted to electrical wiring. If ants receive an electric shock they often release pheromones. These attract more ants until the sheer volume of bodies causes short circuits and system failures.

The cost of damage to grasslands and wildlife, caused mainly by introduced invaders runs into billions of dollars a year. It’s estimated to affect over 300 million acres.


Identifying an Infestation

As ants may nest almost anywhere, inevitably a few will find their way into premises through tiny cracks or under doors. A small number of individual ants in the kitchen does not mean an invasion is underway.

A real infestation is normally easy to spot. Depending on the species, the number of ants in the home will be the first tell-tale sign, with persistent lines of ants moving to and from a food source.

Carpenter ants are likely to be seen wandering around the home before the damage they are causing becomes obvious. However, this is not always the case. These and other destructive species may be present, but entering and exiting the property without being noticed.

If sawdust is seen at the base of wooden structures or any flat wooden areas sound hollow when tapped, ants may be present.

Large numbers of dropped wings may indicate a colony on the move. Visible nests, indoors or outdoors, are an obvious sign but some nests may be hidden or underground.

If there is any doubt, an inspection from a professional exterminator may be needed.


Treatments

Treating ants successfully relies on the proper identification of the threat. The wrong treatment or even the correct one applied improperly can cause the colony to relocate quickly before the queen is harmed.

Poisoned baits are popular, as the pesticides are carried back to the nest and fed to the rest of the colony by the workers. Some baits are species specific. Feeding requirements can vary according to the time of year and colony development, so the attractants used may need to be changed.

Baits may not work against every species because of their preferred feeding and nesting habits. Certain types of ant can sense the chemicals and avoid them.

Nests inside a home may need a different treatment to those located in a yard, which may extend some distance underground. Finding the colony can be difficult. Those that spread by budding can be particularly hard to exterminate as each nest needs to be discovered and dealt with.

Aggressive ant types are best tackled by professionals. If drenching the underground nests with pesticides is needed this requires the expertise of professionals to avoid harming the environment.

Trapjaw Ant

Do-It-Yourself Treatments

For non-aggressive species in easily accessible nests, DIY treatments prove effective both indoors and out but only when the ant species is known and treated accordingly.

Once the target has been identified, suitable baits can be placed near the ant trails. Liquid, gel, and granular types are popular. However, if the ants have a good supply of food, baits may not be effective. Only use fresh bait as ants ignore it once it has gone stale.

A non-repellent insecticide can be used in conjunction with baits. These sprays do not have an immediate effect, which allows the poison in the bait to be taken by the nest’s inhabitants. Sprays do not work with every type of ant.

Spraying lines of ants with standard pesticides will normally only kill the visible ants. It won’t affect the thousands still in the nest.


Professional Treatments

Serious or persistent infestations will require the services of a professional pest exterminator.

These experts will identify the ants and know which insecticides and baits will be the most effective. To eradicate certain species, a variety of techniques may be used in conjunction.

Nests may be large, underground or under building foundations. Or they might be in wall cavities, basements or attics. Only pest controllers will have the experience to locate the colonies and be licensed to use the pesticides that are sometimes needed.

A pest exterminator normally arranges for an inspection following treatment to confirm its success.


Prevention

Ants are opportunistic feeders, so removing their source of food and water will discourage them from nesting. Ways to do this include:

  • Storing food in sealed containers
  • Clearing up all food spillage
  • Emptying waste bins each night.
  • Fixing any dripping taps, indoors and out, to deny ants a source of water.
  • Trimming branches from trees and bushes in contact with the property to remove pathways into the home.
  • Mowing the lawn regularly to keep the grass short.
  • Removing mulch or dead organic material adjacent to the property.

Residents should be vigilant for signs of nesting in the yard or in trees. As the nests themselves can be difficult to spot, look for lines of ants traveling along specific pathways.


Costs

DIY bait stations and sprays can be bought individually and are relatively cheap for indoor use. They can be effective but depending on the type, may only kill the visible ants while leaving the colony and the queen untouched.

Kits for indoor and outdoor use are typically priced between $70 and $180.

Professional treatment may cost between $150 to $300 depending on the ant type and size of the property. Treating carpenter ants is usually more expensive, perhaps costing $500, but this is subject to the extent of the infestation.