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Defend your home against pesky ants

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There’s strength in numbers, and anyone battling an ant problem in his home can testify to the truth of the adage. But with a little planning, a single human can defeat an army of ants. 

“The structurally damaging ants are carpenter ants,” MSU’s Lake County Extension Agent Jack Stivers said. “And then there’s the pesky nuisance ants.”

The ants come in hundreds, even thousands, of varieties, and are most active in the spring as things start to warm up, Stivers explained. When they reach their migratory life stage, ants sprout wings and move around.

“Really they’re kind of lost; they’re looking to colonize somewhere,” Stivers explained. “(But) where’s the food usually in the spring? In the house … you don’t see it, but the ants can find it.”

If a migrating ant senses food in your house, you’ll soon have a thousand ants marching around inside. A thorough cleaning of all cabinets and drawers where food particles might be hiding and all kitchen surfaces, including floors and behind appliances, will make your home less attractive to ants.

“That kind of prevention is very helpful,” Stivers said.

Make sure there are no large cracks or openings in windows and door jambs, because “if ants want in, they’re going to get in,” Stivers said.

Even houseplants can attract ants — plant sap is sugary and when ants detect a treat, they’ll be right over to sample it.

“They’re all into food source,” Stivers said.

Black pepper or cayenne pepper will often repel ants when sprinkled around the area they’re traveling through, but pepper isn’t the most reliable deterrent.

“It does, and it doesn’t work,” Stivers said.

Trial and error may be the only way to find out what will work to keep ants away. Stivers recommended commercial insecticides for people who aren’t opposed to using chemicals, but suggested a simple recipe for ant bait. Mix 1 cup water, 2 cups sugar and 2 tablespoons of boric acid to make a sweet bait. The mixture will slowly poison the whole colony. 

Be sure to put the ant bait in a container that pets and children can’t get into; ants only need a tiny opening to access the bait.

Carpenter ants will also usually respond to bait, Stivers said. Carpenter ants are red or black and range in size from 3/8 to 1/2 inch, and are known for being extremely destructive. But contrary to popular belief, carpenter ants don’t eat wood; they live in wood.

Preventative measures like stacking all firewood 100 feet away from the side of your house and treating wood like decks and siding with insecticides can help keep carpenter ants away.

Perform regular visual inspections of your home; that way, if you do get an ant problem, it can be stopped before the ants cause too much damage.

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