Published on 06/09/11

Drought drives Argentine ants indoors

By Sharon Dowdy

As Georgia’s drought conditions worsen, you may notice unwanted guests invading your home, literally by the thousands.

The likely culprits, seeking refuge and an easy meal, are called Argentine ants. "They’re the ones that travel in trails into kitchens, offices and bathrooms,” said Dan Suiter, an entomologist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "If you have them, you definitely know it.”

Stowaways in a coffee shipment

Native to South America, Argentine ants are just an eighth-of-an-inch long. They were accidentally introduced into the United States more than 100 years ago in New Orleans coffee shipments. Now, they can be found 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."

Hunting for water, food

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

"When we have 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."

Follow these tips

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

  • Rinse all drink cans before placing them into garbage or recycling bins.
  • 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."

Don't spray for revenge

Suiter doesn't recommend using over-the-counter insect killer to control the unwanted guests. "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,” he said.

Surprisingly, the answer lies in indoor baits. Suiter recommends Combat Ant-Killing Gel or Terro bait, a liquid you can buy at most home-improvement and lawn-and-garden stores. "It's in a syringe, so you can put small dabs anyplace you see ants," he said.

If you are desperate and feel overtaken by ants, Suiter suggests calling a professional pest control company.

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

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