Imagine this. You walk in your kitchen to get an afternoon snack and you notice little black specks all over your counter. Your first thought is, who spilled the pepper? But then you realize that these tiny pepper flakes are moving around. And that’s when reality sinks in - you have a sugar ant infestation.
The first rule about sugar ants is, there are no sugar ants. Yes, you heard that right. The term “sugar ant” was coined to describe several different species of ants that do not bite or sting but invade your home.
“Pharaoh Ants, Argentine Ants, and Ghost Ants are several species of ants that have come to be known as sugar ants,” said John Moore Services Pest Control Manager Brian Menn. “They are interior feeding ants that people see in their kitchen or bathroom. They don’t do any damage to health or property but they are a nuisance and are very hard to get rid of.”
I’ve heard of a fire ant, but what is a sugar ant?
Unlike carpenter and fire ants, sugar ants are smaller and are the most invasive of all household ants. They can range from 2-15mm in size, and because they are so tiny they have the tendency to get into places most other ants cannot. But what really makes them a nuisance is that they have multiple queens per colony. For example, if you kill the queen in a fire ant colony, the colony will die. But if you kill the queen in a sugar ant colony, that colony will continue to grow. In fact, the colony will grow rapidly because as soon as an ant is alerted to danger they will immediately start reproducing to make their colony as large as possible.
Where do they live?
Sugar ants differ from other ant species because they do not set up traditional mounds that you typically see around your yard. They prefer to nest near a water source inside a home such as inside a wall void or pipes. If they do nest outdoors they pick a spot underneath vegetation, rocks, or under landscape.
Do they really eat sugar?
Although they are called sugar ants they eat a variety of foods and have a unique appetite. Basically, they will eat whatever they are in the mood for at a particular time, just like a human.
“They are an interesting ant species because you may have one colony that prefers sweets and will invade your kitchen looking just for sugary foods. But the next colony might be in the mood for greasy and fatty foods. Then you have another colony that only wants protein,” said Menn. “They will eat a certain type of food for a while and then their appetite will change and they will be on to something else. Because their food choice is constantly changing, the elimination process difficult.”
How do I get rid of them?
The only way to remove sugar ants is to use baits. It is important to note that the ants you see on your countertops are the forager ants. The rest of the ants stay inside the colony and never leave. By strategically placing baits around an infested area, the forager ants will take the bait back to the colony and feed it to its fellow ants. This is the only way to eliminate their colony for good.
“The biggest mistake homeowners make is spraying the ants that are crawling in their house with Raid or other ant killer. By spraying the ants you are actually making your ant problem worse,” said Menn. “When the colony sends out the forager ants to collect food and the foragers do not come back, the colony senses that something is not right and they feel attacked. And when ants feel attacked they ramp up reproduction to create more foragers. When you see ants inside your house leave them alone. Do not spray them or squash them. It might be hard but it is what has to be done in order to kill them for good.”
Here are some tips for sugar and prevention:
- Keep counters, sinks, and floors clean and free of crumbs, spills, and other pieces of food. Whether clean with chemical cleaners or vinegar, be thorough.
- Run your dishwasher regularly and keep your washer’s door closed to deter ants from going inside. And if you throw food down your garbage disposal make sure to run it.
- Vacuum kitchen rugs, dining room carpeting, and any other places you and your family eat around your home on a regular basis.
- Take out your trash as often as possible and keep trash bags outside away from your home to deter additional pests from becoming interested in your home.
Sugar ants, although they don’t bite, are still annoying. And if you have an infestation the best thing to do is call a professional. Getting rid of them permanently can be difficult, and only a John Moore pest control technician knows all the tricks for keeping them out of your home altogether. Next time you spot pepper flakes moving around your kitchen counters, call John Moore!