Whilst the cockroach remains possibly the hardiest survivor of the insect world, the ant must surely be the smartest. There are over 12,000 known types of ant and the total worldwide weight of the ant species would amount to the same, if not more, than that of the entire human race. Ants have colonized almost every landmass on earth except for Antarctica (like the cockroach). These tiny astute insects have the ability to conduct their intricate lives based entirely on body language and pheromones (the chemicals in their bodies). An ant does not have a nose or ears. Instead an ant “hears” by feeling vibrations in the ground through their feet and they smell using their antenae. They send messages out through their pheromones and organise entire colonies in this way. Some specific ant species are so smart that they do not even require any males and rely on cloning themselves for survival.
Ants use their pheromones for making trails. Ever wondered how ants find those crumbs of food on the floor so fast? A single ‘scouter’ ant will come across it and send out pheromone messages to the other ants in its colony that it has found a food source. They will be nearby and will use the scouter’s pheromone trail to follow it to the food. Before you know it there are hundreds of ants swarming at the crumbs on the floor.
Ants can even use their pheromones to confuse enemy ants – causing the enemy ant to fight their own colony. And a crushed ant emits an ‘alarm’ pheromone that sends nearby ants into ‘attack’ frenzy and this in turn will attract more ants from further away to amass. So try to resist crushing an ant when you see one – you are only attracting more, possibly hundreds, to the scene.
Ants are busy creatures although interestingly, nearly all the ants that you see are female – that includes workers, scouters, soldiers and, obviously, queens. Male ants are called drones and actually they do no work in the colony at all. They live for only a few months, don’t look like ants, and their only job is to fertilize the females. The ant is the longest living of all insects and can live for up to 30 years. However after the male drone ant fertilizes the female, his life is finished, and he dies.
Ants can be very hard to eliminate from your home and cause a lot of trouble. Whilst poisonous ant powder and pesticide does the job in killing the ants directly, they are extremely toxic to humans and pets, and do not control the route of the problem. However there are various every-day items you have in your home right now that will do the job effectively and organically.
- Spray ants with vinegar water – the low pH kills them without damaging most furniture. If you can follow the ant trails back to their source you can attack the route of the problem head-on.
- Feed them corn meal – the ants take it back to their nest and feast on it, but since they can’t digest it, it eventually kills them. Corn meal won’t harm children or pets. If you don’t have corn meal, wheat flour and dried rice also work. Like corn meal, it expands in their stomach and they die.
- Boiled water – if you have followed an ant trail and know where the ants are coming out from, pour boiling water directly onto the area to eleminate the nest.
- Ants do not like the smell of citrus fruits. Examples are lemon juice and orange peels. Squirt lemon juice along areas where ants are rife. Alternatively, a lemon-based washing up liquid, like eco-friendly Ecover, does the trick well. Mix it with water and keep it in a handy spray bottle, ready for use.
- Sprinkle salt on flat surfaces – ants do not like salt.
- Ants don’t like chalk. Draw a chalk line ‘barrier’. Ants don’t like the calcium carbonate in chalk and will steer clear of it.
- Sprinkle cayenne pepper – out of the reach of animals. Spreading pepper along cracks and crevices will keep ants at bay, but be sure your pets won’t be able to lick or sniff it.
- Smear petroleum jelly along edges. This is a great way to keep ants out of pet bowls.
Believe it or not, the ant’s worst enemy is not us. It’s other ants!