The New York Times recently reported that the Argentine ant has become the most common household pest in Southern California and especially San Diego.
Duh. And they call that news.
For the past two summers, San Diego pest control companies have been beleaguered with requests for information on how to kill these ants. They think that one visit by a service technician will solve everything. But the reality can often be very different.
The Argentine ant is tough. He is like a mix between John Wayne, Martha Stewart, and Wilt Chamberlain — strong, organized, and very prolific. Argentine ant colonies often grow to include thousands of workers and multiple queens. Queens are the reproductive caste and, with so many of then in a nest, there is a lot of reproducing going on.
When confronted with other species of ants, the Argentines go to great lengths to exterminate them. And, egos aside, they’re even more successful at it than we are. Argentines have been know to take on ants the size of, well, ants, but maybe a little bigger. Anyway, the important thing to note here is that they are brave and persistent. They do not rest until a competing species is vanquished. And while a difficult proposition to sell at the PTA meeting, the Argentine ant would make a fine mascot for your child’s school.
If you’re interested in determining whether the ants in your complex are the Argentine species, Scott Crowley, our staff biologist suggests that the Argentine ant appears very similar in physique and color to the Odorous House ant. That is probably true. But, while I may enjoy saying the words ‘Odorous House Ant,’ I also know from experience that Argentine ants look a lot like many of the other 700 species on the planet. So let me give you a better rule of thumb:
If you live in Southern California or San Diego and you see an ant, it’s an Argentine.
Okay, maybe not every time. But a few years from now it may very well be true.
When I was a kid, those Odorous House ants were everywhere. Of course, we called them by a very different name in my neighborhood. You probably remember these ants, they smelled like Windex if you squished them. Regardless, there aren’t too many of them around now. The Argentine ants sent them packing. As their populations spread, the Argentine ants invaded many of the local Odorous House ant nests, killing the queens and workers. Rather than build their own nests, the Argentines simply inhabited the existing networks of tunnels that previously belonged to the defeated Odorous House ants.
At this point you’re probably asking yourself, “What does all of this mean to me? How can I get rid of my ants?”
The answer is simple. You can’t. We might control them, but we will never get rid of them.
The Argentine ants are highly adaptable. We have had to change our products numerous times as the ants developed immunities to our various efforts. Along the way, though, we have found certain constants that have given us an edge in controlling Argentine colonies.
YARD & GARDEN. Yards with severe ant infestations will often host large populations of aphids and whiteflies, too. Aphids and whiteflies, of course, are garden nightmares. Annually they destroy millions of dollars worth of produce. The presence of both ants and aphids is no coincidence. They’re pals. Aphids excrete honeydew, a sugary substance that Argentine ants love. In exchange for free meals, the ants kill large predators like ladybugs. If there were no ants in your yard, the aphids and whitefly larva wouldn’t last a week. A perimeter treatment, especially with a powersprayer (the little metal handtanks don’t achieve adequate saturation) will control the ants in the yard. Many pesticides used for outside treatments are non-systemic, they can be applied directly onto the roots of trees and plants without affecting their growth. Additionally, many gardeners will wrap stems or stalks with a teflon barrier tape manufactured especially for combating insects.
TREES. Trees that drape over roofs and patios present a significant pest liability. As root systems absorb large volumes of water, Argentine ant nests often form at the base of trees. The branches to your roof become like the Bering Land Strait to the ants, and quite often they will expand the colony into your attic or rafter space. Always trim trees so that there is no contact with the roof or exterior walls.
EXCLUSION. The best way to control ants inside your complex is to keep them out. The powerspray treatment mentioned above is one good strategy for keeping ants from reaching the home. Sealing off the ants’ entrances into your apartments is another. To an Argentine ant, a dime-sized hole in your foundation looks like Caesar’s Palace. How many times have you asked yourself, “How in the world did they get in here?”
Probably, too many. And you should stop talking to yourself anyway. But apart from all that, following the ant trails will help you find key access openings so that you can caulk them. Remember, the way that an ant is able to move from room to room is generally through the empty spaces between walls. A proper interior treatment by a pest control company will always include a dust application (generally with a borate product) within these wall voids.
Each year there are new technologies brought to market that offer safer, quicker control of ant infestations. Most of these are scams, but some, like the new attractant and pheromone baits hold real promise. It’s still too early to tell. Regardless, no final solution can be achieved without first conducting a:
THOROUGH INSPECTION. It doesn’t take long. It’s a matter of tracking down the trails to seek and destroy the nests. And, by taking the time to observe the ants’ movements, you will find the unseen openings in your walls, roof, or foundation so that you can fill them.
Let’s face it. There will always be ants. But, with a little understanding and proper diligence, you can coax them to the house next door.
ANT TIP: Ants don’t follow each other, they follow a scented path known as a pheromone trail. If you spray the trail with Windex or any glass cleaner that contains ammonia, the scent will be destroyed.