There are over 12,000 species of ants worldwide and about 1,000 here in the U.S. They’re social insects so they live in large colonies, some with millions of ants depending on the species. Ant queens can survive for several years and have millions of ant offspring, compared to many other pests that tend to have shorter lifespans and lower reproduction rates. So it’s likely you have several ant colonies around your home with queens that are reproducing, male ants to mate with the queens, soldier ants to protect the queens and babies, and worker ants to gather food and build anthills, mounds, and nests.
So where are these nests? Larger ant colonies require complex nests that often take up large amounts of space, often covering an acre of land or more! Their nests are usually underground with mounds or anthills that they use to gain access to the nest, in walls, and under fallen trees, rocks, or debris.
The most effective way to get rid of ants or prevent ants is to go after the colony’s queen. An ant colony will usually only survive for a few weeks to months, depending on the colony’s size, after a queen dies since the queen is the only ant in the colony able to reproduce. And colonies rarely replace a queen, therefore the entire colony is dismantled and without purpose. This process can happen naturally, when other ant colonies invade one another, or through targeted, integrated pest management (IPM) techniques. While on-contact pesticides can be effective in killing the ants you’re seeing, they do nothing to eliminate the thousands of ants you don’t see, hiding out in the colony. But because ants work in an organized system, we can “feed” the worker ants traveling to and from the colony poisonous baits. These baits usually contain a sweet substance that ants are attracted to and will take back to their colony to feed to the others (queen included). And because most baits are slow-acting, the ants have time to distribute the poisonous food to the colony before the bait begins to work. When the ants begin to die, the bait continues to work to eliminate other ants in the colony since the dead ants will be eaten by the colony, thereby continuing the spread of poison throughout the colony. This process of colony elimination can take a few days up to 2 or 3 weeks, depending on the size of the colony.
In order to get rid of ants through colony elimination, it’s important that baits are placed in the right areas and that you allow enough time for the bait to work before cleaning up dying or dead ants. If you’re unsure which products to use or how and where to use ant baits, contact your local exterminator. A pest control professional will inspect your home for ant entry points and provide you with a treatment plan that works now and for future ant prevention.