Consumer Guide - General Information About Ants
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When it comes to ants, we tend to have mixed feelings about them. While we tend to love them and admire them for their hard work, social skills and their ability to adapt to their environment, we pretty much hate them when we find them inside our homes or workplaces. They can also be a nuisance in agriculture when they attack crop seed beds or when they transport aphids and coccids that are harmful to crops. Don't let ants invade your property. Talk to our team today and we'll discuss how to deal with ants on your property.
What are ants?
Ants are social insects that belong to the order Hymenoptera (Superfamily Formicoidea, Family Formicidae) together with bees and wasps. Most species in these groups are known as social insects as they tend to live in colonies and have the highest levels of communication. Communication is achieved through odour which plays a vital part in territorial and reproductive behaviour. Ants use pheromones to leave trails which other ants can then follow. Ants have antennae and mandibulate mouthparts. Most ant, bees and wasp species have a powerful sting which can hurt pretty bad.
Every ant species is a social species and has a number of different castes, namely:
- fertile females (which are often called queens)
- sterile female workers
Workers which are all sterile females can be divided into two soldier castes: major soldier caste and minor soldier caste.
How do ants reproduce and start a colony?
Ants undergo a complete metamorphosis starting from the moment the queen lays the first eggs in a small underground chamber. From these white eggs, larvae hatch and after pupation, the adult castes emerge.
Female and males are typically hatched at a fixed time of the year, but these may vary from species to species. When both the males and females are winged, there might occur a mass nuptial mating flight. After the mating has taken place, males die and females get rid of their wings and find a suitable location where they will start a new colony.
These flying ants have a high mortality rate, which is basically very convenient for us because, otherwise, we would be neck deep in ants.
Why are ants considered as pests?
Majority of the native ant species in Australia are not considered as pests. However, ant species that were introduced in the country are a cause for concern. The most common ant species considered as a pest are fire ants.
Fire ants make their nests in decaying wood and can cause further destruction. Although most ants stay outdoors, many can still find their way indoors and build nests in places such as roof voids, wall cavities, inside window screens and behind bathroom tiles. Basically, ants like the same places as cockroaches.
Because of their nesting habits, ants often leave piles of gritty matter on flat surfaces including window sills. If you inspect these piles up close, you'll discover that they often contain dead ants. No matter how hard you clean these piles, they will continue to reappear as long as there are ants in the area.
Another issue when it comes to ants is that they can make their way inside pantries or inside food containers. Ants would consume any food you leave out in the open.
If you're suffering from an ant infestation, we recommend that you talk to our Sydney pest control experts.
How to identify ants?
Ants are typically black, brown, red and yellow colour and can vary in length from 1 mm to 3.0 mm. Ants are usually classified based on colour and size. For example, ants can be classified as small brown ants or black ants. Ants can also be identified by checking their food preferences. Some ants are protein food eaters or sugar eaters. Whatever way you choose to categorise them, it is essential to identify them to effectively implement a lasting pest control solution.
Identifying common black house ants
- White-footed black house ants or, as they are often called, black household ants in Victoria (Technomyrmex albipes). These ants nest both on indoors and outdoors. They are 2.5 mm to 3.0 mm in size and have a black colour with pale amber tarsi. Their diet consists of almost everything but they prefer sugary foods.
- Black house ant (Ochetellus glaber), an ant species that normally build nests under the ground or in decaying wood. These ants will also make their nests in roof voids and similar building cavities. Their colour is shiny black. Their size is typically 2.0 mm to 3.0 mm. Their diet is mostly sweet food.
Why is it important to identify Queen Ants?
Ant colonies which have only one queen can be dealt with easily. Ant species which have multiple queens and nests such as Argentine ants, Odorous house ants, and Pharaoh's ants can present a much more difficult task. This is why identifying the ant species is of utmost importance. Many pest controllers do not bother carefully identifying the ant species and simply class them as black or brown. This is why proper identification of ant species is very important and should be done before doing anything else.
Which areas of the house can you usually find ants?
- Kitchens – benchtops, skirting boards, window sills, behind and inside cupboards, back side of the refrigerator where the motor is located, behind kitchen taps and wall tiles and under the sink.
- Interior areas – skirting boards, carpet edges, window sills, power points (watch out for of electricity), electrical cables, taps and tiles. Look for piles of grit, sand and dead ants as these usually form directly near the ant activity;
- Exterior areas – ants can be anywhere as they can be trailing near fence rails, paths, in the lawn or in the garden.
What ant species can you find in Australia?
Today, there are around fifteen thousand known ant species and subspecies in the world from which a tenth of those can be found in Australia. Ants are found in every Australian state and territory. Most of them can be found in bushlands and rainforests.
- Coastal brown ants (Pheidole megacephala), an ant species usually found in buildings, along paths and rocky areas, throwing out piles of soil and debris. They are approximately 1.5 mm to 3.0 mm in length and have light brown or brown colour. Their diet consists mostly of proteins and fats. Coastal brown ants have minor and major soldier castes. A major soldier ant relatively has larger head.
- Brown house ants (Doleromyrma darwiniana) are ants that have similar nesting habits as coastal brown ants. They are brown in colour and can grow from 2.0 mm to 3.0 mm in size. They release a distinct odour when crushed because of the formic acid in their bodies. Their diet consists mostly of high protein food.
- Pharaoh's ants (Monomorium pharaonis) is a rare ant species in Australia, but is very common in Europe and USA. These ants often build their nests inside buildings as they prefer warm locations such as heating ducts. Their colonies are very large and can have multiple queens. These queens ants tend to leave their nests and start new colonies at the first sign of trouble such as insecticides. Pharaoh´s ants are usually 1.5 mm to 2.0 mm in size and have yellow brown or dark brown colour. Their diet consists of protein food, fatty and sugary food.
- Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) is an ant species which first arrived from South America. They are known as a serious pest and were the target of many eradication campaigns since the 1950s. These ants nest in exposed soil or hide in plants or logs. They are 1.5 mm to 3.0 mm in size and have light brown or brown colour. They can be very aggressive and can drive out other ants and other animals from their living/nesting areas. Ther diet consists of sugary food, meat, insects and seeds.
- Odorous ants (Tapinoma minutum) are ants that make their nests inside buildings and in wall voids. They are 2.0 mm to 3.0 mm in size and have a brown or dark brown colour. Their diet consists of sweet foods, meat and household scraps.
- Singapore ants (Monomorium destructor) are ants which have similar nesting habits as coastal brown ants. Unfortunately, they occasionally nest in electrical switch boxes and can bite through plastic and rubber. They are 2.0 mm to 3.0 mm in size and have light brown colour with a darker posterior abdomen. They have a powerful bite and sting. Their diet consists of both sugars and meat.
Avoiding outdated pest control practices
In the old days, ant control measures were really unsophisticated. The pest controller would arrive at the location, unroll his long hose and deluge the front and backyard with approximately 60 litres of insecticide, typically organochlorine. This blanket spray, as often called, would cover all gardens, lawns, pathways and the base of the house. Roof voids would have been covered with a synthetic pyrethroid powder and sometimes with space sprays with Dichlorvos. Was this effective? Well, whatever you think, this method often required a call-back.
So, why was this method ineffective? Mostly because there was no real effort in trying to locate ant nests, and the source of food and water. With this approach, insecticide would kill mostly worker ants, but would leave the larvae and pupae unharmed, leaving them to emerge as adults.
Later on, insecticides were applied in a grid pattern. Organochlorines were still not available at this time and organophosphates such as chlorpyrifos were used. These were highly toxic and had a strong smell. More importantly, they were much more expensive.
The breakthrough arrived with the introduction of ant baits which were available as solids, liquids and viscous gels.
To find out the right ant control method for you, please contact our team!
What can you expect from a reliable pest exterminator?
How do professional pest controllers get rid of the ants? The first thing that professionals do is to conduct a thorough building and pest inspection, which should start with a conversation with the clients.
If you have access to a floor plan, mark all the areas where there are ants. You can give the marked floor plan to the pest exterminator who can analyse ant behaviour. This would help professionals locate the ant nest and determine where to install an baiting systems.
Visit our ant control page for more information.
How should I use ant baits?
Here are some basic rules for using baits:
- Ant bait should be consumed by ants within 1 to 2 days when their palatability and moisture are at the highest levels. After feeding, you can expect ants to die within 3 days.
- Choose the correct bait by correctly identifying the ant species infesting your property. Correctly classifying the ant species also helps professionals locate ant nests and feeding sites.
- Try to locate ant trails because if you place the bait where there are no ants, you would only waste the bait.
- Select the correct bait formula. Some ants prefer sweets while others prefer protein foods. Sometimes, the same ant species can switch diet based on the season or a range of other conditions. Because of this, you should have a range of baits at hand.
- Put the ant bait close to ant trails because ant trails are usually close to the feeding or nesting sites of ants.
- Use adequate amount of ant bait.
- Avoid food competition by removing all other available food and liquids in your home.
- Do not place gel baits near heat sources because gel can become liquefied and ineffective due to moisture loss. Avoid placing them on porous surfaces as they can increase water loss.
- Some baits lose their potency very quickly when exposed to sunlight so make sure that you know what kinds are sensitive to sunlight.
- Some kinds of granulated baits expire after three months, so make sure to write on the package the date when you opened it.
- Another rule of thumb is to not place ant baits on surfaces that have been or will be treated with powder insecticides or liquid insecticides.
Ant Control Tip from Professional Pest Exterminators
Pest controllers often say that applying two different formulations is nothing but waste of money and this can be a good rule to live by. There is a huge chance that you will be able to solve your ant problem without the use of insecticidal sprays and dust. However, using insecticides could help prevent any future ant activity. To find out more, consult our team on (02) 8007 4666.
Some basic rules of using insecticide sprays are as follows:
- Non-repellent formulations are often superior to repellent formulations such as synthetic pyrethroids. This is because ants will go through the non-repellent insecticide unknowingly. Examples of non-repellent actives and formulations are Bendiocarb, Fipronil, Indoxacarb and Chlorfenapyr.
- The sprays need to be applied to the base of walls, fences and garden beds.
- Sprays should be re-applied after the rain.
- Insecticidal dusts need to be applied to roof voids as well.