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Argentine Ants Must DIE!

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I’m here to talk about the scourge of the universe, the Argentine Ant. These recent invaders of the US are the most pernicious species of super-ant I’ve ever encountered. They are relentless, unstoppable and obnoxious, and we must find ways to fight back.

You may not have encountered this plague yet. They’ve only just arrived in the southwestern US after having already invaded New Zealand and Australia. Even if you have run into them you may not yet be aware of what you’re dealing with. Prepare for the horror.

The Argentine Ant is tiny – less than 1/16th of an inch in length, but their strength is in their numbers and their unique organization. Unlike other ants who spread slowly and have a centralized nest with a single queen, the Argentine Ant has highly mobile colony outposts with lots and lots of queens in the same community, about one queen per hundred ants. This allows them to spread rapidly and reproduce in huge numbers. Unlike most other ants they actually like human homes and will even nest inside homes when it’s convenient – usually behind baseboards or under appliances. Also unlike other ants tthey are opportunistic explorers. They will ride on animals or people undetected because of their small size and then drop off in an area where there is food. From there they track back to their colony, leaving a scent trail to follow back to the food source.

They will eat almost anything, including caulk and adhesives, but they particularly like greasy materials. In fact, they nested in our kitchen drain at one point feasting on the grease trap. They are accomplished aphid herders, but because of their huge numbers they also need a lot of food from other sources. What’s really scary is what happens once they find a food source and set a trail back to the colony. At that point they swarm. Literally thousands of ants descend on the food and either devour it on the spot or haul it off to feed the queen. A swarm can appear in your house almost instantly in a spot where there were no ants minutes before. They will also nest and swarm in cars and other vehicles and there’s nothing more annoying than getting swarmed by a billion tiny ants while driving. Swarms are also known for shorting out electrical outlets and appliances with zillions of dead bodies when they come in to eat adhesives and glue.

There are two good things about Argentine Ants. First, they don’t sting. They can bite, but they aren’t aggressive and being so small their bite is negligible. Second, they dominate all other insects. They will kill all your fire ants and carpenter ants and termites. If you had a problem with these destructive pests the Argentine Ants will take them out. The catch is that afterwards you have Argentine Ants instead, and while they may not be as painful or destructive, unless you LIKE having ants everywhere they become very annoying very quickly. The other problem is that they kill EVERYTHING, including desirable bugs, frogs, snakes, birds, whatever they can overwhelm and devour.

In their native environment in South America there are predators who keep the Argentine Ant in check, but in more urbanized and civilized nations like the US there are no native predators so there’s nothing to stop their spread and domination of the environment. It’s up to us to stop the little monsters.

So far in my battle against them I’ve learned a few things. They’re pretty easy to kill, and if you taint or destroy their scent trail after you kill the forager ants then you can stop them from swarming. This requires you to literally carry ant spray around with you all the time. Ortho makes a couple of good products for this. Ortho Home Defense and their orange oil based Indoor Ant Spray both kill them and destroy the scent trail. In addition both of these are not harmful to humans unless you spray yourself in the eyes. The Indoor Spray is even safe around food or even in food. What’s more, the Indoor Spray makes a fairly good furniture polish and glass cleaner as well. The only catch is its orange scent which not everyone likes. The shortcoming of these sprays is that although they theoretically destroy the scent trails for up to two weeks and deter further ant explorations in the areas where they are sprayed, in actuality the duration of their deterrent effect is less than a week, so constant spraying is necessary. Supposedly inch-long clips from a flea-collar will keep them out of enclosed spaces like fuse boxes and outdoor lights, but you can’t use these near food so they’re no help in the kitchen.

Traditional commercial ant sprays and bait poisons do not work on the Argentine Ant. Your local Orkin man is at best going to drive them off for a couple of weeks. The reason for this is their high level of mobility. Once a perimiter treatment has faded a bit they come right back into the house. And if you leave out traditional poisons for them they are so small that they die before they get any of the bait back to the nest, so there is no long term elimination of the nests. Effective elimination apparently requires specialized baits which work more slowly and can take out entire nests. I am just starting to try some of these products out, but you can get them at Pro Pest. I’ll post a followup when I’ve had time to see if they work at all.

So, if you’ve been wondering why there are thousands of little tiny ants crawling up your leg or infesting your car stereo, now you know who they are and why they’re there.

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About Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle is Executive Director of the Texas Liberty Foundation, Chairman of the Center for Foreign and Defense Policy, South Central Regional Director for the Republican Liberty Caucus and an advisory board member at the Coalition to Reduce Spending. He was Texas State Director for the Gary Johnson Presidential campaign, an adviser to the Ted Cruz senatorial campaign, Communications Director for the Travis County Republican Party and National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. He has also consulted on many political campaigns, specializing in messaging. Before focusing on political activism, he owned or was a partner in several businesses in the publishing industry and taught college-level history for 20 years.
  • Tony

    How’s your problem with the Argentine Ants going? Any luck? I know exactly how you feel…I thought I had odorous house ants, but realize that my house has been taken over by these nasty little things. The terro liquid baits haven’t worked for me. After a week, some of the the ants are still going after it but, it’s now drawing out the invasion force who has on interest in the food, but only in marking every horizontal inch of the house, and after that ever vertical surface inch of the house. I think I’m ready to sell my house, but that probably won’t work, as they’ll soon take over the entire city!

  • Dave Nalle

    The cold weather has more or less subdued them, and I’ve stocked up on some specialized baits to deal with them this Spring. I’ll keep you updated.


  • Silas Kain

    After devouring all the information you supplied, Dave, I am fascinated. Have they started to hit the Northeast yet? Also, is there a way these nasty little things could be incorporated into military weaponry?

  • Dave Nalle

    I don’t think they’re farther north than Oklahoma yet, and they don’t seem to like cold weather, so you guys may be safe up north.

    The weird thing is that my wife actually likes them. She’d rather have the periodic insane swarms in the house than get bitten by fire ants while working in the yard. Of course she’s not the one who has to clean up all the bodies and figure out how to stop them from getting in.

    I also have to admit to having eaten an awful lot of them. With the scouts everywhere I’ve become less sensitive to the occasional tiny visitor on my hot dog bun or milano cookie.

    As for military applications, the only actual use they seem to have is eating glue in obscure locations. I think this might have industrial value but I’m not sure about the military. Plus they do seem to be the ultimate cure for termites and carpenter ants.


  • bobby b

    I’m battling an army of ants with Terro as we speak, seems to be attracting a s#itload of them, but we live next door to an ice cream shop and I’m not so sure something this simple can tackle the problem. I hope I am wrong as I’ve heard nothign but good reviews with Terro Liquis Bait. God speed to you all.

  • Dave Nalle

    What kind of ants are they? Our Argentine Ants have just emerged for the first time since last year, so I’m in the process of deploying two different kinds of bait. We’ll see how it works out.


  • Dave Nalle

    What kind of ants are they? Our Argentine Ants have just emerged for the first time since last year, so I’m in the process of deploying two different kinds of bait. We’ll see how it works out.


  • Dave Nalle

    What kind of ants are they? Our Argentine Ants have just emerged for the first time since last year, so I’m in the process of deploying two different kinds of bait. We’ll see how it works out.


  • Anty

    Actually, the Argentine Ant in the U.S. is not a recent occurance.

    It has been in the US since around 1891, and moved into CA in 1905, but they have more recently reached “pest” levels in the SW U.S.


    In my place the Daddy Longlegs Spiders Photos do a great job of feasting on Argentine ants.

  • Victor Plenty

    Daddy Longlegs spiders are great for pest control. They’ll even eat other spiders. Unfortunately that won’t help people who habitually destroy any daddy longlegs they find in the house.

  • Dave Nalle

    Mud Dauber wasps are also good for spider control and they don’t sting, but the problem is that they build nests inside your appliances.


  • Nancy Peterson

    I’ve lived in San Diego in the same house for about 18 years but these little bugger have only become a serious problem for about 5 years now. I understand they destroy all the indigenous ant populations as well as every other kind of insect. The one thing in your posting I would seriously debate is the following, “First, they don’t sting. They can bite, but they aren’t aggressive and being so small their bite is negligible.” No way! Their bite is the worst insect bite I’ve ever experienced. If they don’t sting, they emit an acid when they bite because it burns like hell for several minutes afterward! Interstingly, they don’t seem attracted to most people but when they are, they can make life most miserable. If all they did was crawl on me I could maybe deal with that, but their bites make me long for the days when I lived in New York and all I had to contend with were cockroaches! They even seem to overcome repellant sprays within such a short time that I’ve taken to taping up all the base boards in my bedroom. The base boards look terrible but my need for a decent nights sleep causes me not to care. I used to think that after a nuclear holocaust all that would remain would be roaches and fleas. I’ve since added the Argentine ant to the equation.

  • Richard Brodie

    In their native environment in South America there are predators who keep the Argentine Ant in check

    So why not start importing these predators?

  • Nancy Peterson

    It seems in Argentina there are individual colonies with differnt DNA which attack each other and keep each other in check. Not so in CA. Or in Europe–there is a colony which starts in Spain and runs all the way thru France. The CA colony occupies the entire state. Take an ant from San Diego and put in down in San Fransisco and it will be recognized as a member and not attacked. One big colony! Pretty scary.

  • STM

    Dave: Good piece. The buggers have been in Australia since the fifties and are absolute pests …. literally and figuratively.

    They get into every bloody thing: even screw-top jars and packets of unopened foodstuffs.

    But here’s the best one. Because they are so small, they can actually get into your refrigerator, usually through tiny breaks in the magnetic seal.

    Whenever we find small ants in the cupboards, fridge, etc, over the long-hot summer, you can bet they are argentines.

    However, the fire ant, despite having been introduced somehow in the northern state of Queensland (where it’s very hot, like the southern states of the US), so far hasn’t thrived here.

    (Lucky, because imported species have a habit of going out of control here: take the rabbit and the cane toad, both prolific. You almost can’t walk around at night in Queensland and now parts of far northern New South Wales without treading on a bloody cane toad. I recommend carrying a five-iron.)

    In regard to the fire ant, I’m extremely glad … and it is probably down to that wonderful nuisance, the argentine ant. I know which I’d rather have – one’s a pest that gets into your sugar container, the other’s a bastard of a thing that has a painful bite and causes an awful rash.

    Sitting on an argentine ant nest at a picnic just means losing a sandwich. Sitting on a fire-ant nest at a picnic potentially means losing part of your anatomy.

  • Nancy Peterson

    Dave, this is interesting. you mentioned they get into your cookies. I’ve heard a lot about them liking sweet things. But ours are strictly carnivors and grease lovers.The tiniest particle of meat or a dead insect will get them swarming. But they don’t bother sweets or starches or anything else. We used to have a problem here with another kind of ant which was strictly carniverous too. But the Argentines wiped them out. Do you suppose they can absorb some of the DNA preferences of their prey which will determine what they like to eat? Because just from these postings I can see that their behavior seems to vary with the geograhical location. Say, STM maybe the Argentines are keeping the fire ants under control. At least they’d be good for something! :-)

  • STM

    I’d also like to reply to the people who recommend natural control … by spiders.

    As you’d probably be aware, just about every second species of spider in Australia is highly venomous, and others can just give you a nasty bite.

    However, given the humidity in Sydney over summer which creates the perfect environment for swarms of mosquitoes, leaving spiders around the place is the lesser of two evils. Yes, they do eat ants too. They also eat flies and moths, which also plague us over summer.

    Some of our friends think we’re mad to leave the spiders around the joint, but some are starting to come around as we have been able to show that it really cuts down on mossie bites.

    We have one really nasty looking black one that lives behind a painting near our front door. It’s been there a long time and scuttles off when it sees us.

    As it often gets into the door jamb, it is now affectionately known as the “door-crack spider”.

    We’ve had visitors from overseas almost suffering heart attacks when coming or leaving when they spot it. Tee hee. We always have such good sport with Brits and Americans.

    I usually tell them that if they get bitten, there’s an anti-venom available and it’s not a problem provided you can get to the hospital within four and half minutes.

    The mormons and jehovah’s witnesses now walk straight past our place as a result.

    So there’s extra pest control as well.

  • Scott

    I hate those Argentine ants. I was gloriously free of them for the past six months or so, but it’s now Indian summer in the San Francisco Bay Area (the warmest time of the year here). When it gets warm they go wild and they find ways into my apartment (not that hard since it’s old and has a good number of crack and holes). I had a small trail tonight I hope I figure where they’re coming in. I hope I wiped out their scent trail and they’ll give up for a while.

    Don’t pay any attention to most of the natural/organic/green kinds of remedies you’ll read about on the Internet since they mostly won’t work as deterrents. You’re not going to keep them out with peppermint leaves or red pepper or any of the rest. They’ll just laugh at you for being a sucker. I never tried diomatacious (sp?) earth, but did try some commercial borax-based bait which they seemed to love, but didn’t seem to do much to kill the colony. Spraying them with Windex or vinegar-based cleaner seems to kill them and wiping with it might conceal their scent trail slightly. Don’t let Windex dry in puddles, it leaves blue stains.

    If you can find where they’re coming in you want to seal it up if you can. I didn’t have really huge infestations, but hot glue (like the craft-y kind) seemed to work reasonably well for me and I never noticed them eating it. Though it might stick to the paint and look like someone filled the cracks with golden snot.

    Once I filled in their favorite cracks they managed to crawl through the walls and come out power outlets and from behind the face plates. I had previously discovered that about the only household product they didn’t like to cross was mounds of cleanser like Ajax, Comet, or Old Dutch. If they got daring enough to crawl over it then it seemed to kill them or dehydrate them or something shortly after contact. They also didn’t seem to like the nasty bleachy scent. I chucked some cleanser in the plug housing and hot glued around the edges of the face plates. That seemed to make them think it wasn’t worth it and about that time I think they began visiting other apartments in my building instead since I had neighbors who mentioned having ant problems some time after that and they had mostly abandoned my apartment.

    Rumor has it that you can get magic bug chalk in Chinatown and that it works pretty well. I guess you make chalk lines with it and they won’t cross the lines (or if they do, they die). From looking on the Internet it seems the magic chalk is probably pretty toxic, though. I think they don’t want people using it since there have been cases of kids getting it confused with regular chalk and playing with it and getting poisoned. I also wouldn’t want to use it near food. I never tried it, but my Chinese and Chinese-American friends say it works pretty well.

    Those ants are EVIL.

  • Dr Dreadful


    So the Dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding was right…

  • STM

    Sounds like you’re dancing a merry dance there Scott – the Argentine ant tango.

    Mate, you will just drive yourself nuts trying to stop the bastards. I recommend living with it.

    Ruined sugar has to be better than piles of bleach, Ajax, what have you, and hot glue all over the joint.

    Failing that, bring in the spiders. Yours aren’t venomous, so it could work.

    One way or the other, though, you are well and truly buggered by the sounds of things. And you and Dave are right – they are evil ants. :)

  • Dave Nalle

    In my experience Windex isn’t so effective. What DOES work and damned well, is a geranium based and scented cleaning liquid made by a company called Meyers (Whole Foods carries it). It doesn’t have as much of the lasting deterrent power of the synthetic permethrin based spray made by Ortho – which does a damned fine job – but it’s safe for just about everything (except for goldfish for some reason) and can even be sprayed in the vicinity of food with no problems. It also smells nice and cleans quite effectively.


  • Christopher Rose

    If humankind becomes extinct, ants will probably take over the planet. I hate them all!

  • Dr Dreadful

    Whole Foods? Man, Dave, your ant problem must be truly horrendous if you’re prepared to make that kind of investment.

    My wife re-christened Whole Foods “Whole Paycheck”.

    Chris, did you ever see that old sci-fi movie (I think it came out in the mid-70s) called Phase 4? It was about ants* taking over the world. Scary stuff.

    * Not giant ones either. Regular-sized ones.

  • Dave Nalle

    Your wife’s got that about right. It’s impossible to go in there without spending $150, which gets you at most 2 sacks of groceries.


  • anti ants

    I made my daily coffee this AM. About 3 minutes, into the process of my coffeemaker doing its thing, a swarm of Arg. Ants covered the machine. Many of them looked like they were carrying eggs in their mouths (little white things. I think they built a nest in the machine?! I killed them with Formula 409 household cleaner spray. But new ants were appering out of the bottom of the machine all day. Should I get a new machine, or will they just reside in the new one too?

  • Dave Nalle

    If you use the Ortho spray with synthetic pyrethrin it has a lingering killing effect which will eventually eliminate the whole colony. You’ll probably want to flush the bodies out somehow though.


  • STM

    I’d be tossing the coffee maker and buying a new one.

    Nothing’s guaranteed to turn you off your morning coffee than an argentine ant body or 10 floating around in it.

  • Dave Nalle

    They’re small stan, you might not even notice them. And they’re packed with vitamins and protein.


  • STM

    Lol. If suppose if you didn’t look closely, you could easily mistake them for coffee grounds.

    However, somewhat closer inspection might reveal the coffee grounds had legs.

  • Lazza

    Ok … So now I know what they are called. We call them Phantom ants in our house because as soon as you disturb them, they disappear. Little honey and borax baits left by the exspensive “Fick” company had absolutely no result. Meat out to defrost has them swarming. They like the inside of the electric jug/kettle. Lately they have taken to the sugar bowl. I have followed them, sometimes, for days to find the nests. There is nothing more satisfying than watching BILLIONS of the little buggers crawl out and die. BUT I can assure you as soon as I have wiped out one nest, they make 2 more. What really confuses me is, … Why the bathroom? They are always all over our sink in the bathroom. Is it the toothpaste?

    Slowly I am learning to live with these little pests. They do bite and leave a little red dot that is quite itchy. Very similar to the bites left by bird mites. Had those with a nest of Indian Minors in NSW. However I have just built a new deck in my rear yard (Townhouse living in Townsville) and “Green Ants” have moved right on in. These little buggers sting! I have destroyed 3 nests in the last 24hrs but can see they have more somewhere high in the palms. I will not give up I will win this war of Terror!

  • STM

    Time to get the Flick man out again Lazza.

    Wait till they start getting in your fridge. That’s when it becomes a drama.

    What are green ants BTW? Are they native to Queensland???

    You’ve had fire ants up there recently haven’t you. They are a problem, ’cause they have a very nasty bite – worse than bull ants.

  • laura

    hi im laura…yeah im pretty cool…..selina isnt tho


  • Shelley

    Did you have any luck with any of the slow release baits from Pro Pest? My kids can’t play in the yard anymore without getting attacked. They’ve even invaded the sandbox. We’ve been here 10 years and never had problems and now we’re under siege. I’m normally a sucker for all things organic, but these things must die by any means necessary!

  • Jose Guerrero

    Ms. Nancy Peterson, could we have a different kind of ant? Those that infest my house and garden also bite and love greasy foods, and also ignore sweets. The baits I’ve used seem to have a sweetener, and the ants mostly ignore them.

  • Jose Guerrero

    The people who came to take care of termites in my house used something that they alluded was illegal in California, but it eliminated them for exactly the eight months that the company said they would. The company said it would also eliminate the ants of at least half my block, and it was true!! Of course, though, they Would Not tell me what they used. These tiny things rarely bite, but when they do, it’s a Good One.

  • desperate in So Cal

    Okay Dave, three years later…. have you found a solution? bait, anything that works to get rid of them? Did any Borax bait work? You mentioned you were going to try some pro baits.

    I am ready to burn down my house. They have just infested over 40lbs of dog food in the garage(contained in a sealed tub) and they are working on my last hot summer nerve.

    thnks for this forum, if only to vent.

  • Carolyn

    I killed ants years ago and got termites. Now I know Argentine ants kill termites. I love Argentine ants and love to see them.

  • Verno

    Unbelievable population crash of Argentine Ants in the Los Angeles area. I live in La Crescenta and I can not find hardly any. This is unbelievable. I’ve lived here 34 years. Has the Ash from the Station Fire killed them ?

  • MRS

    We have them in southeastern Massachusetts. I know of a field with over 50 huge Argentine ant hills. I first saw some a few years ago and just recently found out what they are. I’ve been thinking of using quarter sticks on them.

  • Vrenn

    Hey Verno! Unfortunately that may not be the case. We live near you in Tujunga and we are getting massive amounts of them flooding our area. I’m planning to actually build a pond in our backyard, partly to give it aesthetics, but also to tempt the argentine ants this crazy summer. Once that is done, hopefully with the help of our professional pest service, we can have them spray around the pond area for the ants to carry the chemical back to their nest. Basically baiting them to their death. Has this worked for anyone else?

  • Maradonna

    This ants are a problem like anything that comes from that darn country…

  • Dr Dreadful

    Ah, yes, the tango, fine wines, beautiful scenery, superlative beef and several of the greatest footballers ever to play the game. Definitely among the most pressing problems facing the global community right now…

  • Lisa Marie Frazee

    Im having a horrible time with these things in my kitchen right now. When making my twin girls bottles or food they chase after it and Im forced to play musical counters. It has been over two months of dealing with this and my house has been sprayed inside and out 4 times ( commercially ) in two weeks and nothing has changed. Im so frustrated it has brought me to tears. I have seen them in my girls hair! I keep my house clean and I scrub my kitchen every night. Doesnt matter. They are coming out through the cabinets, electrical outlets, and baeboards. I dont know what to do anymore!

    • Stephanie

      I’m having the same problem with ants that you seem to be having. They pop-up everywhere in my house. I keep my house clean, put out ant bait, spray, and they still manage to find new areas in my house to annoy me! They have even taken-up residence in my clean microwave oven! I, too, am at my wit’s end and don’t know how to get rid of these annoying ants! Have you found a solution yet? If so, I would love to hear what it is.

      • BigV

        Try the Terro Bait traps or the Terro Liquid. I have had great success with it here in NC.

  • Steven Varner

    Your article is correct on all points. A third good thing about the ants is that they make you keep your house clean, as Lisa points out.

    UC Davis recommends no more than 1% solution of boric acid with some sort of sugary water. That’s 5 mL per half liter, or one teaspoon per pint. Many recipes call for too much acid, which as you say, kills the workers before taking the food to the queens. I used about 8 teaspoons (40 mL) of sugar or Karo syrup with a teaspoon of boric acid. Poured in some hot water, mixed, then filled to one pint. It will get denser as it evaporates outside, which is why I no longer use pure Karo syrup. I put it inside small jars with small holes in the lid, and cut-up sponges to let the ants crawl around.

    These ants go through cycles. Right now at the beginning of summer, they are obsessed with finding water. Even though my neighbors water their lawns like rice fields, they still come in my house to find water in sinks, glasses, etc.