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So many ants…

Ants are pests around the home because they feed on and contaminate human foods, infest structures and build unsightly mounds in lawns. In some cases, ants are able to inflict painful bites or stings. Ants do not attack or eat fabrics, leather or wood in houses; however, some species can establish nests in decaying wood in structures.

Ants can be recognized from other insects because they have a narrow waist called a pedicel, with either one or two nodes (joints) between the thorax and abdomen. Also, ants have elbowed antennae. Winged reproductive ants have four wings with the first pair being much larger in size than the hind pair. Ants are frequently confused with termites. However, termites have a broad waist, straight antennae and four wings of equal size.

Ants are social insects. They live and work together in colonies made up of three castes. The three castes within an ant colony are the workers, queens and males. Worker ants are sterile females and seldom have wings. The size and appearance of worker ants will often vary with the species. The function of the worker is to construct, repair and defend the nest, feed the immature and adult ants of the colony, including the queen, and to care for the brood.

Queens normally have wings but lose them after mating. The primary function of the queen ant is reproduction. In some of the highly specialized ants, the queen cares for and feeds the first brood of workers with her salivary secretions. The queen may live for many years and is usually replaced by a daughter queen. Ants may have only one queen. These colonies are called monogyne ants. Depending on the species, many ants may have more than one queen. These colonies are called polygyne.

Most ants eat a variety of foods, although some have specialized food habits. Fire ants feed on honeydew, sugars, proteins, oils, seeds, plants and other insects. Pharaoh ants feed on sugars, proteins and oils. Crazy ants like sugars, proteins and insects. Carpenter ants prefer sugars and insects. Ants locate food sources by random foraging. When a scouting ant finds promising food, she carries it back to the nest. Other workers become excited and follow her to the nest. Then they follow scent trails back to the food source. Ants will travel great distances to get water. Workers are able to carry water to the colony in their stomachs.

Ant Problems??

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Photo of Bermuda Home Woodwork
The best approach to ant control in the home is cleanliness. Any type of food or food particles can attract and provide food for ants. Food should be stored in tight containers. Remove plants that attract ants or control aphids, whiteflies and other insects that produce honeydew. Reduce moisture sources, including condensation and leaks.
Location of the nest is the key to control of ants because they are social insects. Killing large numbers of individual ants may never solve the problem. It is important to identify the species of ant before trying to control the problem. Knowing the species will give you important clues to the habits of the ant and potential sources of the nest. Keep records of where ants are seen. Some ants establish definite trails that can be followed to their nest. Placement of attractive materials, such as jelly, oils, or proteins can attract numerous ants that can then be followed to their nest. Find the ant nest by watching movements of the ants. Look for ant mounds in the ground. Look for nests near foundations, sidewalks, patios and driveways. Check decaying logs, tree stumps, tree trunks and under rocks. Indoors ants may nest in walls, behind a baseboard, under insulation or under the house. Ant trails often enter through cracks, but the actual nest may be quite a distance away. Look for moisture sources and decayed wood in the house.

Chemical control of ants can be applied as barrier treatments, drench treatments, direct application to nests, or bait treatments. The purpose of a barrier treatment for ants is to prevent outdoor nesting species from foraging indoors or to cut off an indoor nest from food and water sources. Barrier treatments are usually applied behind baseboards, door and window frames, around chimneys, into cracks and crevices, around sinks and toilets, and between walls and flooring.
Drench or injection treatments are useful for the control of mound dwelling ant species outdoors. For instance, fire ant colonies near homes can be destroyed by pouring drenches onto ant mounds or injecting the mounds directly with an insecticide. Nest treatments are the most effective way of controlling ants. If the nest is located, or suspected of being behind a wall, apply an insecticide directly to the nest. If the nest cannot be located, pay particular attention to places where ants are gaining access into the structure. Dusts are the best formulation for this type of control because they can be puffed into voids that contain nests. Dusts will provide the longest residual control in dry areas and can be tracked into the nest by foraging ants. Bait treatments are effective on many types of ants if the ants eat them and sufficient quantities are used. Make sure the bait you select is labeled for the particular use. Baits should be located as close to trails as possible so that foraging ants can easily find them. Identify the ants’ needs when selecting a bait formulation. Baits are readily available as pre-packaged stations, gels, liquids and granular forms.