Are ants infesting your house in the winter?

Ant Party by tarotastic

A friend told me that her house has an infestation of ants. They are in her house now, in the winter.

One generally thinks spring is when ants come indoors. But that isn’t necessarily the case. You might have brought the ants indoors with firewood and the heat has made them become active.

It has been a mild winter for those who live in the Middle Atlantic states. Mild weather can make ants become active earlier than usual. If they have a nest somewhere in the structure of your house they might be coming out. And some ants like damp spots to build their nests. With all the dampness we have had this winter, there could be some rotting wood near or in your house.

The first thing to do is to capture a number of the ants, put them in a container with a tight lid so that the ants cannot crawl out. Do NOT smash or squeeze the ants. Take the ants to the local Master Gardener office  or Extension office to identify the type of ant it is. If you cannot get to the office immediately, the best place to store insects for identifying purposes is in the freezer in a container. Take the ants to be ID’d to the MG or extension office even if you think you want to hire an exterminating company because not all exterminating companies have entomologists working for them and not all exterminators can identify all insects. Many of the extermination services use the services of the Master Gardeners or extension office to be sure they get the correct identification of the insect.

When you take your ants to the office, know that not all species of ants have been identified by scientists. In Pennsylvania scientists have identified 84 species (see here); in Ohio scientists have identified 128 species.  But the people in the office will be able to tell you if you have ants that cause house damage or not. Some ants are just nuisance ants but really do not cause a problem other than being unsightly as they crawl around.

It is important to know whether the insect you have is an ant or whether the insect you are bringing in is a termite which looks like an ant. Ants and termites can both have wings.  Termites are treated differently than ants. Both termites and carpenter ants can do structural damage. So you want to know specifically what you have.

If you are told that you have termites, call in an exterminator service. Do not try to treat the termites on your own. Find a good exterminating company. Ask friends and neighbors if they can recommend a service they have used and liked. If no one knows a good company, call a few of the services and ask some questions. Ask if they have an entomologist on staff. TheGardenLady believes that companies that have an entomologist on staff are more scientific and hopefully, more reliable. Ask them where they have done work. The company that TheGardenLady uses has a resident entomologist and does the exterminating at the local university, including the Extension office. This company also has people working for them for life. The man they sent to my house had worked for the company over 20 years. I feel more comfortable knowing that the people coming to me are experienced  (I had to call for a yellow jacket infestation).  Ask if the product they use is safe, especially if you have infants or pets. And also ask if it is organic.

If you have ants, you can call an exterminating company or you can try to get rid of them on your own. If there are just a few ants, see if they are coming in from out doors. Clean the area to get rid of their tracks. The best product for trapping ants seems to be a brand called Terro.

If you have a lot of ants you can put either borax or Diatomaceous Earth down where the ants are crawling. TheGardenLady prefers to use Diatomaceous Earth which is considered a nearly perfect organic insecticide.  You can get food grade Diatomaceous Earth that is edible. (see here) This is the safest product to use near babies or pets -but don’t inhale it. Diatomaceous Earth kills most insects. (see here)

If you have termites or carpenter ants try to find out if there is any leaking water in the house or rotting wood and have the problems repaired.

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