Fixit: Cold weather doesn't stop ants from being a nuisance

  • Article by: KAREN YOUSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 15, 2007 - 10:51 AM

Q We had ants in our house this summer and now we're seeing them this winter. What are these and what can we do about them?

Q We had ants in our house this summer and now we're seeing them this winter. What are these and what can we do about them?

A The most common ant seen in winter is the pavement ant. The small, reddish-brown ants (about 1/8-inch long) nest in the soil, often under sidewalks, driveways and in other concealed sites.

Sometimes they will nest beneath heated concrete foundation slabs or in cracks in the foundation blocks. These sites stay warm in winter, enabling the ants to stay active. Pavement ants prefer greasy foods and often feed on pet food. It is difficult to locate their nests, so baiting is the best control option.

Yellow ants also can be a nuisance in winter. You'll rarely see the worker ant, but will encounter reproductives called swarmers. Those yellowish-brown or darker ants are males and queens released by the colony to reproduce. Yellow ants give off a distinctive lemon or citronella smell when crushed. The colony is subterranean and is probably located under a concrete slab or next to a foundation wall.

Yellow ants are harmless and control is rarely warranted. Just vacuum up the swarmers; they are a temporary problem. If you must spray, apply an insecticide registered for indoor flying insects.

Some less common species can show up in the winter, such as pharaoh ants, thief ants and cornfield ants. Each species behaves in a different manner and requires control programs specifically tailored to it. Proper identification of the ant determines the best method for eliminating the nest. (The Extension Service can help with that. Go to the University of Minnesota Extension website, www.extension.umn.edu, and type "ants" in the search window.)

Generally, baiting is the best way to control pavement ants. (If Terro bait doesn't work, buy a commercial trap that attracts grease-loving ants.) Or mix a homemade bait using 1/4-teaspoon boric acid with 4 tablespoons of peanut butter. Be patient; it can take weeks or even months to eliminate the colony through baiting.

UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA

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