Ants
Understand ant biology, types of ant invasions, and effective treatment methods for eliminating ant colonies.

Basic Ant Biology

Ants live in colonies of thousands of individuals centered around or several queens. They are divided into several castes of workers, soldiers, and drones which look different from one another. Another notable characteristic is that most of the ants you see are actually female. Male ants are rarer and do not fulfill many functions within the colony besides reproduction.

What Do Ants Look Like?

Ants are insects, which means they have a head, a thorax, and an abdomen. Their bodies remain divided into these three sections, and they also have a pair of large antennae attached to their head. Most species are smaller than 1/2 an inch, and many are even tinier than 1/4 of an inch. Some have wings but do not fly far.

They range in color from black to brown to red to yellow to white. Ants have compound eyes and mandibles designed to crush and chew food. They often live in mounds they create out of dirt, but can also live in wood and around homes. The workers carry food back to the nests to be enjoyed by the others.

What Are The Different Types of Ants?

There are over 1,000 species of ants in the United States. The types vary be geography and climate, but can cause similar problems for home and business owners. Some are known for interrupting picnics, but others cause serious problems by invading buildings and destroying wooden structures.

Here's a basic guide on the most common ants you might encounter:

Acrobat ants live throughout the United States and were named because of the weird way the workers curve their abdomens. They like to infest wood and can be found in door and window frames, structures damaged by carpenter ants, or decaying tree stumps. They eat honeydew, not wood.

Whether you live in a palace, a matchbox, or a regular house, you might fear the carpenter ant. They burrow into the wood of homes and other buildings and form large colonies Surprisingly, they actually don't eat wood and will look for proteins and sugars instead. Some of their common foods are dead insects, honeydew, and the jam from your fridge. Click here for our recommended carpenter ant killers.

You are not safe from cornfield ants if you live in the city! Cornfield ants were named because they eat the young of corn aphids and are found around cornfields. They can also invade homes in search of sugars from fruit, jellies, bread, and other human edibles.

When you think of house ants, you probably think of this small pest. Little black ants are also called the common house ant and live in most of the environments around the United States. They can eat just about anything, including sugars, meat, vegetables, honeydew from plants, and other insects!

This is another type of ant with a self-explanatory name. Pavement ants are a sluggish species which live in and around sidewalks. During the cooler winter months, they congregate in and near houses for heat, and they eat a lot of standard food indoors. Like other ants, they seek out sugars and proteins and eat human food as well as other insects.


What Do Ants Eat?

Because there are so many species of ants, they actually eat a variety of foods, but the majority of ant's diet preferences can be grouped up into two main categories.

  • Sugar Rich Foods: Most ants fall into this category loving the sweet succulent taste of sugar rich food. The sugar itself can come from pretty much any normal house hold food item.
  • Protein Rich Food: Proteins in foods like peanut butter will attract ants in droves. Other types of protein foods are usually other bugs! A common "protein ant" most homeowners have come into contact with are fire ants!

The sugars that ants like to feed on can be found in plants or many standard foods in your pantry like bread, cereals, candy, peanut butter, and jam. In contrast, the proteins can come from your food if its left on the counter, like ground meat and chicken. However, an ant's main source of protein are dead insects and even other ants! Honeydew is a sugar-packed liquids produced by aphids when they digest leaves. It can leak down tree trunks or plant stems and can be collected from the ground.

Some aphid populations even form symbiotic populations with ants and trade honeydew production for protection from larger predators. If you have an ant problem and you're not sure what the diet preference is for the ants in your house, then a common trick is to layout two different baits. One bait is a plate with penut butter (protein bait) and the other bait is a plate with jelly (sugar bait). Sit them both down and check to see, which your ants go after. You should see a definite preference over one or the other. Depending on which they choose, you'll want to pick up a gel bait for sugar ants and a granule type bait for protein  favoring ants.

Do Ants Eat or Kill Grass?

You might wonder whether your lawn is in danger from these voracious pests. Will they eat your precious grass? Usually, whenever ants are present, you will find bald or dead patches of grass throughout your yard. Ants actually don't eat it!

Most grown ants will not eat grass, but they might carry grass seed back to their colonies as food. Ant mounds can also cause the death of grass because they disrupt the system of roots by moving soil and dirt. If ants remove the seed, then you will be unable to grow new grass.

Do Ants Eat Leaves?

If you have a garden or trees, you might be concerned that ants are eating your leaves. Sometimes you might see black ants scurrying along tree branches and wonder if they need to feast on the leaves to survive. You might even see an ant carrying a leaf! But, in the United States, ants don't actually eat leaves. If you live in South America or Mexico, there are 47 different species of leafcutter ants which carry leaves for food, but not in the U.S. These ants use leaves as the base to grow fungus gardens for nutrition, but they don't actually eat them. Instead, they use the building blocks of the leave's structure to produce a new food source.

Today's Homeowner Tips

If you have an ant problem and you’re not sure what the diet preference is for the ants in your house, then a common trick is to layout two different baits. One bait is a plate with peanut butter (protein bait) and the other bait is a plate with jelly (sugar bait). Sit them both down and check to see, which your ants go after.

Will Ants Eat Poisoned Bait?

If you have an ant problem, you're in luck! Ants do eat poison bait and will bring it back to their colonies. They are attracted to its sweet taste, will munch on a little bit, and will then bring it to share with the others. Most poison baits are slow-acting, so the ants have time to spread it throughout the colony, eventually killing the soldiers, the workers, and even the queen.

Final Thoughts on an Ant's Diet

Ants will eat almost anything they can find, excluding common items like grass, leaves, and woods. If you are struggling with an ant infestation, the main course of action should be to identify the location of the colony. Once you do, you can lay poisoned bait or call a professional pest control company to help you fight back before the ants enter your home.

You may be able to exterminate ants without calling in a professional, though more severe infestations will require a stronger approach. Some ant species, like carpenter ants, can cause structural damage to your house if not treated immediately. Other infestations might be harder to eliminate due to a colony resisting natural and chemical extermination solutions.

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So, How Do You Get Rid of Ants In Your Home?

Take note of where you’re seeing the ants. They may run along your baseboards, emerge from holes under cabinets, or pop out of cracks in your walls or floors, particularly if your house is older. There may be other exterior entry points to your home, including visible ant colonies in your front or back yard or cracks in your driveway.

The key to getting rid of ants in your home is to take out the colony, and finding the colony is easier when you can identify the type of ant invading your space. Here are some common ants, their differentiating characteristics, and where you might locate their colonies:

  • Sugar ants—These ants typically feed on sweet or greasy foods and can be found around your kitchen or places where you store food. Once they find food or water, they’ll distribute it to the rest of their colony. Sugar ants have brownish-black bodies with black heads and their nests are typically found in old wood or dark, moist areas.
  • Carpenter ants—Carpenter ants are either black or red and typically ½ inch long. They prefer to build colonies in moist wood, such as tree stumps, around bathtubs, showers, or dishwashers, or behind bathroom tiles. They are most easily identified by their thorax, which is rounded and smooth. Carpenter ants will tunnel in wood, creating smooth channels and leaving behind wood shavings, so if you notice wood shavings concentrated in a specific location, the colony may be close by. If you investigate and find tunnels that are dirty and filled with material, the culprit may be termites.
  • Pavement ants—Pavement ants are also black or reddish brown with pale legs and antennae and are typically ⅛ inch long. These ants prefer to nest in soil covered by solid material like rocks or pavement and are often found under driveways, sidewalk slabs, or concrete foundations of houses. Pavement ants are most likely to enter your home through cracks in the wall.
  • Moisture ants (yellow ants)—These ants are longer and yellow or reddish brown in color. When crushed, moisture ants give off a citronella scent. They tend to build their colonies against the foundation of homes or outdoors under rocks and logs. As their name suggests, they are attracted to high-moisture areas and are often found in bathrooms.

When you locate the colony—the source of your ant infestation—the next step is to eliminate any pheromone trails made by the ants. Pheromone trails are basic scent trails that ants leave behind for other ants to join them in finding food and water. When you identify the source of the ants, you can eliminate the entire ant colony by getting rid of the existing trail.

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Natural Remedies for Ant Infestation

Natural methods are safer for your home environment than traditional chemical solutions—especially in highly trafficked areas or family spaces like the kitchen or playroom. Here’s how to get rid of ants naturally.

  • Clean the ant trail—This method is a quick fix against any ant species. Once you find where the ants originate, make sure to clean their trail to prevent future ants from traveling along this route. Mix one part apple cider vinegar with one part water to make a cheap and natural solution to get rid of ants. Spray all of the possible entrance paths and the entire duration of each trail. Wipe up the dead ants and discard them once they’ve been sprayed. To maximize your home remedy, spray in the morning or late afternoon when ants are most active.
  • Use peppermint and clove essential oils—Peppermint is another natural remedy that can deter ants from entering your home. Mix 35 drops of peppermint essential oil and 35 drops of clove essential oil with four ounces of water in a spray bottle. Spray window sills, baseboards, or door frames to alleviate an infestation. Shake the bottle before each use. You may have to do this for a few days until the ants are completely gone.
  • Place used coffee grounds or baby powder near entrances—Ants are repelled by the strong scents given off by used coffee grounds and baby powder. The acidity of the coffee will burn ants’ bodies, causing them to avoid the coffee ground barriers.
  • Lay out cinnamon—Place cinnamon sticks or ground cinnamon anywhere you’ve seen ants. To prevent ants from coming into your home, put the cinnamon by doorways and cracks. This creates a barrier that ants refuse to cross. You can also use a solution made with water and cinnamon essential oil if ground cinnamon does not prove effective.
  • Draw chalk lines—Standard chalk used on chalkboards is all you need for this method to work. The powder from chalk works similarly to Diatomaceous earth. Ants won’t cross chalk lines because it interferes with their ability to follow scent trails.

Chemical Remedies for Ant Infestation

Chemical remedies will work effectively, though they can prove harmful children or pets. When using chemical solutions, make sure to read instructions carefully and consult a professional if you are covering a large area.

  • Liquid ant baits—If a natural solution like vinegar and water is not strong enough for your ant problem, use an ant bait. Solutions like TERRO contain sodium borate—commonly known as borax—a natural ingredient that has a low level of toxicity for humans, yet is detrimental to ants. Ants will digest this product and carry a lethal dose back to the colony, wiping out the rest of them. Keep ant baits away from food prep areas, children, and pets.
  • Bifenthrin insecticides—Bifenthrin comes from chrysanthemum flowers and affects an ant’s nervous system. Ortho’s Home Defense MAX is often recommended to get rid of ants both inside and outside of your home.
  • Ant control granules—When granules are placed in direct pathways, ants will absorb the granule and carry it back to the colony. This method works similarly to liquid ant baits. Solutions like AMDRO or TERRO Ant Killer Plus work well against an ant problem.

How Do You Keep Ants Out of Your Home?

Once ants are in your house, they can become a pesky and recurring nuisance. Now that you’ve learned how to get rid of ants in your home, follow these tips to prevent ants from infesting your home in the future:

  • Keep your house clean—By putting food away, cleaning off countertops and floors, and emptying the trash daily, you reduce the risk of ants in your home. Try to regularly vacuum, mop, and wipe down counters, especially in areas of your house where you prepare or store food.
  • Be vigilant during the hotter months—Ants are more prevalent in warm and humid conditions than they are in colder temperatures. They tend to appear more often during the summer months than they do in the winter months. Keep your house clean, especially during warmer periods.
  • Find possible entry points and seal them offSpray natural pesticides along the perimeter of your home to prevent ants from coming inside.
  • Fix leaks in your house—Ants are attracted to food and water sources. By fixing leaky pipes and cleaning up damp areas around your house, you’ll lessen the chance of allowing ants to find a source of water for the whole colony.
  • Kill ants in the yard—If you see nests outdoors, spot-treat the area with an insecticide. Spray in the morning and late afternoon when ants are most active. Insecticides that contain bifenthrin work especially well in dismantling ant mounds and getting rid of most ants.
  • Call in a professional exterminator—Some colonies are extremely hard to eliminate despite your best effort. In this case, call in a professional to get the job done. Exterminators have tougher chemicals to get rid of the ants and can save you the time from checking every crack and crevice.

Common Ant Infestation Locations

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