Published on 08/02/07

Drought driving Argentine ants into homes

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Georgia's drought has had many effects. One little but truly annoying one is to drive Argentine ants indoors.

University of Georgia experts say Argentine ants aren't hard to identify. "They're the ones that travel in trails into kitchens, offices and bathrooms," said Dan Suiter, an entomologist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "If you have them, you definitely know it."

Argentine ants are small, just an eighth of an inch long. Native to South America, they were accidentally introduced into the United States more than 100 years ago in New Orleans coffee shipments. They have since spread across the Southeast and into southern California and Hawaii.

"They're one of the most pestiferous and most difficult-to-control ants in the U.S.," Suiter said. "A single colony can consist of hundreds of thousands of ants."


Suiter says the tiny pests travel indoors in search of food and water. Although they're much more of a problem in the summer, they do come indoors in the winter, too.

In the winter, Argentine ants move inside to survive the cold. They live inside closed spaces such as walls until spring, when they move outside. By fall, their colonies have grown to a peak.

"When we encounter a drought, like now, while the colonies are growing, they will readily come inside," Suiter said. "As temperatures begin to cool, they will re-enter structures to survive the cold. And next spring, the process will start all over again."

You can reduce your chances of having these ants in your home by following these tips:

  • Rinse all drink cans before placing them into the garbage or recycling bin.
  • Empty garbage containers often.
  • Don't leave food or drinks out.
"These ants can find a Coke can with just a little syrup left in it," Suiter said. "They love sugar, and they'll show up by the thousands literally overnight."

When it comes to controlling the tiny, unwanted guests, Suiter doesn't recommend any over-the-counter insect killer.

"There aren't a lot of good products out there for homeowners to use," he said. "You can spray the ants and get what we call the revenge factor. You kill a lot of ants that way. But you'll never get rid of them, because you haven't hit the nest, where all the queens are."

The answer

Surprisingly, the answer lies in indoor baits. Suiter recommends Terro bait, a liquid you can buy at most home-improvement and lawn-and-garden stores. Another effective bait, he said, is Combat Ant-Killing Gel.

"It's available in a syringe so you can put small dabs anyplace you see ants," he said. If you're desperate, call a professional pest control company for help.

"There is one product, Termidor, that professionals have access to that performs well against Argentine ants," Suiter said. "It's a spray for use outside the home and is not labeled for indoor use."

For more information on controlling pests, call your local UGA Cooperative Extension agent at 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.