They may start off marching one by one in search of food, but if pavement ants discover your home is the meal hub they’ve been looking for, expect them to return with hundreds, even thousands, of their friends. If you find yourself in that situation, read on for the lowdown on how to get rid of pavement ants.
More than 1,000 species of ants live in North America, but only a small percentage become nuisances to homeowners. Preventing their trespass through exclusionary methods and by eliminating your house as a food source is the best way to avoid an ant invasion. If they still find their way into your home, try the tactics discussed in this article to get them out.
First, though, let’s make sure the ants you have are actually pavement ants, as proper identification is key in choosing the best elimination option.
What Are Pavement Ants?
One of the most common ants found in and around homes, yards, and driveways, pavement ants (tetramorium caespitum) live in large colonies made up of several queen ants, worker ants, and swarmers (ants with wings whose purpose is to reproduce and expand the colony).
Also known as sugar ants because they’re drawn to sweet foods (like honeydew, dessert crumbs, soda spills), these particular insects are often confused with odorous house ants. Both types have a sweet tooth, are tiny (coming in at less than one-eighth of an inch long), are dark brown (almost black) in color, have two antennae, and live in colonies.
Unlike the odorous house ant, though, pavement ants are not native to the United States (they probably hitched a ride on European ships centuries ago), have grooves in their heads and thorax, and have two nodes (instead of one) by their abdomen. Pavement ants also have stingers; although, they typically only use them to release pheromones to alert other worker ants to where a food source has been found.
Besides sweets, pavement ants also enjoy feasting on just about anything else, including pet food, leftovers, chips, other insects, grease, vegetables, seeds, and trash.
An easy way to know you’ve got pavement ants? Look to see if there are any ant trails or dirt mounds near driveways, concrete slabs, sidewalks, gravel, crevices, baseboards, or entry points to your home. These mounds are a telltale sign of the location of the ants’ nest. You may also see swarmers flying about nearby.
While male swarmers only live a few months (they kick the bucket after mating in spring and summer), queen ants can live up to 20 years, and worker ants can live five to seven years. One nest can house upwards of 10,000 worker ants alone, so when ridding these pests from your home, it’s important to ensure the entire colony is eliminated.
How to Get Rid of Pavement Ants
If it’s too little too late to prevent their invasion, stop things from getting worse with options like these:
While not the best method — due to low efficacy and increased danger of burns to yourself — boiling water can be poured into the outdoor nests of small pavement ant colonies before they’re able to invade your home. If the ant colony extends far below the surface into a wide, underground network, however, this method will not suppress them much at all.
Safer to use around children and pets than sprays and dusts, bait stations keep the poison contained. And, since ant baits are filled with an attractive food source made of slow-acting poison, it’s your best bet to kill the entire colony. The ants will take this “food” back to their nest, share it with other ants, and then, die off.
If you’ve only got a few ants roaming around your house, go ahead and use a pesticide spray, as it’s most effective when killing individual pavement ants, rather than an entire colony.
Sprayed on top of a nest, the insecticide will temporarily reduce the number of ants, killing the ones on the surface and surrounding area. Pesticides like these will not reach deep enough into the nest to eradicate a large number of ants. Also, once the ants become aware that their main entrance/exit has been compromised, they can simply make an alternate route to avoid coming into contact with the insecticide.
A substance created from the remains of aquatic organisms, food-grade diatomaceous earth kills insects by dehydrating their exoskeletons, absorbing the oils and fats from their bodies.
Sprinkle a thin layer of this dust along ant trails, baseboards, and entry points. You can also pour it directly on top of large groups of ants you find and use it to treat your outdoor perimeter to keep more ants at bay. Once the ants have disappeared, be sure to thoroughly clean up the dust from inside your home.
How to Prevent Pavement Ants
Pavement ants are really only a problem if they get inside your home. And, the only reason they’ll come inside in droves is if word gets out your home has the best food around.
To prevent a colony of pavement ants from setting up shop behind your baseboards, underneath your concrete slabs, or in your flooring, wall voids, or insulation, try the following:
Seal any gaps and crevices in your foundation, siding, doorways, windows, and other entry points with caulk or weatherstripping. Or, if needed, replace the entire door or window.
Eliminate food sources
If your home no longer provides the nourishment the ant colony needs, the ants will move on to a better location. Keep dry goods in sealed containers, and regularly clean and disinfect your entire home to be sure there are no spills, crumbs, dirty dishes in the sink, nor overflowing trash cans for ants to feed on.
FAQ About Pavement Ants
Technically yes — by drowning them. But, then again, you can drown ants with any liquid. And, really, this will only work on individual ants or a small number of ants you may find near their nest.
What vinegar can do, at least temporarily, is act as a repellent. If you wipe up ant trails or spray white or apple cider vinegar around your baseboards and entry points, it will cover the smell of the pheromones ants use to communicate with each other and find food. Because of this, the ants may move on to a new location. However, once the smell wears off, if you haven’t disinfected your home, eliminated their food sources, or put in place any exclusion methods, the ants will just come back.
Pavement ants, as well as other ant species, can not only spoil food directly, but they can also spread food-borne illnesses. When they walk across floors, countertops, and other surfaces, pathogens like e.coli are often left behind. Consequently, if you prepare food on an infected surface, you can get sick.
Pavement ants are not aggressive, except with rival ant colonies (they have been known to throw down, battling each other for territory). They have stingers, but they’re not strong enough to pierce a person’s skin, and the ants typically won’t even try to sting you unless you blatantly interfere with them, for example, by picking them up. Pavement ants mostly use their stingers to spread pheromones that alert other ants in their colony as to where food is.
When to Hire a Professional
Fortunately, it’s not impossible to control a small invasion of pavement ants on your own. But, if you have a major pavement ant infestation on your hands, call in a local pest control expert to handle it. They’ll locate the nest(s) and come up with an elimination plan that suits your family’s needs.
And, if you need those cracks in your driveway or walkway filled to help prevent pavement ants from building a new home, landscaping pros can help with that, too.