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.Powered by Sidelines