The only ants you care to see in your home are the animated ones parading across your screen in that retro ‘90s movie. But a troop of live ones strutting around your floors, countertops, walls, and ceilings? Immediately no. And, if they’re pharaoh ants, they can be particularly tough to do away with. Fortunately, we’ve got the scoop on how to get rid of pharaoh ants.
The easiest strategy to avoid an infestation of pharaoh ants is to utilize habitat modification and exclusion techniques. Sometimes, though, despite your best efforts, these insects manage to sneak inside your space. To choose the most effective method of eviction, it’s important to confirm whether or not the type of ants you have are indeed pharaoh ants.
What are Pharaoh Ants?
Named for the misconception that these ants were one of the ancient Egyptian plagues, pharaoh ants (monomorium pharaonis) dwell in vast colonies that can contain upwards of 300,000 ants, including sterile worker ants, hundreds of queens, winged reproductive ants, and offspring in various stages.
Not to be confused with thief ants (which generally live outdoors and have a 10-segmented antenna with three-segmented club, or end part of the antenna), pharaoh ants:
- Prefer the indoor life
- Have antennae with 12 segments ending in a two-segmented club
- Are just 2 millimeters long
- Have six legs and range in color from light yellow to orange to reddish-brown
- Have a two-noded abdomen darker than the rest of their bodies
- Pharaoh ants also have stingers, but they don’t tend to use them on humans
While these insects have a shorter life cycle than some types, pharaoh ants reproduce through a process known as “budding”, rather than by swarming. Budding is when a queen and a group of workers leave one colony to start a new one in a separate location, typically in another part of a home or other building. Their nests are typically difficult to reach, and they use electrical wiring and plumbing systems to travel throughout a building. This makes controlling pharaoh ants tough, as they can reproduce and spread quickly.
This is also why correctly identifying an ant infestation is crucial to eliminating the problem. For instance, if you opt for a treatment not specific to pharaoh ants, you could end up making the infestation worse.
How to Get Rid of Pharaoh Ants
Infestation already in full effect? Avoid matters growing worse by taking the following steps (and a bonus step not to take):
Set ant baits
The best option to treat a pharaoh ant invasion, bait stations solve the problem of not being able to easily access the various nesting sites concealed in cracks and crevices around your home.
Pharaoh ant baits work by tricking the worker ants into thinking the bait is food. And since it’s slow-acting, it gives the workers time to take the “food” deep into the nest and share it with the entire colony, killing them. Be sure to place baits wherever you’ve seen ant trails, as each trail could lead to a separate nest.
Since pharaoh ants sometimes switch up their food choices, test different types of baits to see which ones they prefer at that time, and then, commit to using those.
Note: Ants that are still in the egg, larval, and pupal stages don’t eat yet, so you may still see some stragglers a few months after setting baits. Keep putting out new ones until there are no more signs of ants.
Lay non-repellent dust treatments
Use a non-repellent boric acid dust to kill pharaoh ants. Apply a small amount of this dust in wall voids, attics, crawl spaces, ceiling cracks, and other crevices you find.
Unlike fast-acting insecticide dusts, which the ants can quickly detect as toxic, non-repellent formulations ensure the ants won’t ditch their regular ant trail. They’ll walk through the dust, covering themselves in it, and consequently, take it back to the nest, killing other ants.
But avoid insecticide sprays
When it comes to pharaoh ants, pesticide sprays are a no-no. In fact, spraying insecticide on foraging pharaoh ants will more likely make your infestation worse. Sure, the spray will kill a handful of worker ants you see, but it will also signal to the rest of the colony that a particular route to a food source is unsafe.
Not only will this lead them to find a new route, but it can also encourage budding, causing even more offshoots of the main colony.
Here’s what the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture has to say about pharaoh ants and fast-acting insecticide sprays:
- May repel for a short time, but won’t damage nest
- Affects bait acceptance
- Can trigger budding, exacerbating your infestation
- If sprayed outside, may force ants to only look for food in your home
How to Prevent Pharaoh Ants
“If you can’t survive outdoors year-round, why even try” might just be the mantra of pharaoh ants, as they do not do cold climates. All jokes aside, these invaders usually choose to nest indoors in:
- Floor and wall voids
- Cracks in cabinetry
- Paper and cardboard clutter
- And in pretty much every humanly inaccessible crevice they can find.
Ensure your home isn’t on their list of nesting options by trying the following methods:
If they can’t get inside your home in the first place, they most definitely can’t build a nest there. Use caulk to fill in any cracks in your foundation, around pipes, near switch plates, in attics, and other areas you may find crevices. Replace old weatherstripping around doors and windows, and if necessary, install brand-new ones.
The ant colony will relocate if your home is no longer able to supply it with the food it requires. To prevent leftovers, spillage, crumbs, unrinsed recyclables, and garbage — all of which serve as food for ants — from attracting these bugs to your living space, frequently sanitize your whole house and keep dried foods in airtight containers (pharaoh ants are adept at chewing through cardboard and sterile packaging).
Signs of a Pharaoh Ant Infestation
Like a few other types of household ant pests, pharaoh ants are also referred to as sugar ants. Not only do they consume sweets (think sugar, fruits, candy, and desserts), pharaoh ants eat just about anything else, too, including:
- Fatty foods
- Greasy foods
- Pet food
- Other insects
To alert the rest of the workers in their colony of the location of food, they secrete pheromones along the ant trail to the food. This is how you will know you’ve got a potential infestation on your hands: You’ll see these worker ants foraging for food.
What Causes Pharaoh Ants?
An invasion of pharaoh ants is mainly caused by human behavior — uncleaned spills and crumbs, dirty dishes left in sinks, and dried goods stored in their regular packaging (rather than airtight containers).
Besides being attracted to sweet, greasy, and protein-rich foods, pharaoh ants are also drawn to warm, moist areas of a home, such as bathrooms, laundry rooms, and basements. To reach those areas and ultimately nest in pipes, cracks, and vents, pharaoh ants will break through inadequately sealed entryways like windows and doors.
FAQ About Pharaoh Ants
Yes, but not in the way you may think. They have stingers and the ability to bite, but they typically don’t attack humans. Instead, they’re harm comes in the form of spreading pathogens, such as streptococcus, salmonella, staphylococcus, pseudomonas, and clostridium.
Besides infecting food sources, and as a result, people’s bodies, pharaoh ants can also cause structural damage by shorting out the electricity in your home.
Depending on the size of your home or other residential building, it can take several weeks to several months to a year. Pharaoh ants spread very quickly throughout a building, and baiting can take time. For instance, getting rid of a nest with several thousand pharaoh ants will take much less time than eradicating a nest with hundreds of thousands of them.
When to Hire a Professional
If the methods you’ve tried don’t seem to be working, you may have a larger pharaoh ant infestation than you realize. Because of their enormous colony size and ability to hide deep inside cracks and crevices, DIY pharaoh ant pest control can be difficult. Fortunately, there are local pest control pros at the ready to tackle the job for you. They’ll assess your situation and create a treatment plan that fits your home’s particular needs.
After evicting the ants from your home, make sure you keep them from returning by calling in professionals to clear away any yard debris that ants and other pests may find appealing. This will help ensure pests don’t have easy access to your home.