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DALY: Argentine ants are troubling area homeowners

Timothy Daly

Timothy Daly

Many homeowners have observed significant numbers of small ants invading their homes. These are Argentine ants, which are can be a rather troublesome pest. Fortunately, they do not sting; however, their presence can be a nuisance.

Argentine ants are originally from South America, and they became established in the United States over a century ago when they arrived through coffee shipments. Controlling Argentine ants can be difficult but can be accomplished through a two-step process: eliminate the source of the ants outside and control those that have entered your home.

Argentine ants are roughly one-eighth of an inch long, brown, and are often found crawling in long, well-organized trails foraging for food. A mature colony can have one million or more worker ants and many queens. They can travel over 200 feet with thousands of foraging ants following each other from their nest to a food source. Outside, they prefer to feed on the sugar-rich honeydew, produced by soft body insects such as aphids and scale insects, on your trees and shrubs that are. Inside your home, they go after sugary drinks and food.

In the outdoors, they prefer to nest in leaf litter, compost piles, firewood, vegetation, mulches, and other areas that provide plenty of moisture and organic material. Thoroughly inspect the sides of your home and remove any nesting sites that you observe. Also, trim the vegetation and pull back mulch at least 18 inches away from the structure. Remove any vines growing on the side of the house.

Check for cracks, crevices, and other sources of entry on the sides of the structure and then seal them. Clean out your gutters and fix any leaking pipes or faucets. Make sure you put the household garbage in sealed containers. Outside, apply insecticides labeled for controlling these ants.

During the fall, ants seek protection from cold weather and begin migrating indoors seeking a warmer environment and food. Inside the house, clean up and eliminate food sources that are attractive to the ants. Make sure all food products are stored in the refrigerator or in airtight containers and bags top keep the ants out. Additionally, clean up drinks and food spilled onto the floor and furniture.

Baits, which are composed of a poison incorporated into a food source that the ants consume, is the preferred method of treating the ants inside the house and poses little risk of poisoning humans if used properly. Place small bait stations on or near the ant trail. It may takes several days for the ants to take the bait back to their nests, where they share it with other ants and the queens eventually killing the colony. Remember when using chemical insecticides, to follow all label directions and safety precautions.

In certain situations, Argentine ants can be quite persistent and may keep returning year after year. In such cases, contact a licensed professional pest control service to control the ants. They have the experience and knowledge regarding control measures and have access to specialized application equipment and resources that are only available to certified professionals. To find a pest control professional, go to the website of the Georgia Pest Control Association at www.gpca.org/.

Winter is a good time to decide on what to plant in your yard. The 2014 Gwinnett County Extension plant sale will be offering a variety of flowering plants, fruit trees, and other plants of interest. Details will be on the Extension website www.gwinnettextension.com soon.

Timothy Daly, MS is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu.