Despite becoming a common household pest during the summertime, ants are rather fascinating insects world, as there are more ants across the globe than any other insect. To date, ants are one of the oldest of creatures in the world, spanning a history of more than 60 million years. In relation to their size, they are considered the strongest living thing on Earth, which possesses the ability to carry objects about 50 times their own body weight.
You probably didn’t know that ants are also the longest living out of all insects with worker ants thriving for an average of one year (some lasting for five years). Many queens possess the capacity to reign for twenty years, which may depend on their species. Today, when it comes to identifying ants – it is their colors that mostly set them apart – which can be yellow, red, brown, or black.
What are Ants?
As one of the most successful species on Earth, there is an estimated 20,000 different species of ants roaming almost every part of the world. While numerous intriguing facts surround the existence of the ant, it is the unique and disciplined social structure that impresses most people. Ants live within large colonies or groups in a home built out of dirt or sand. Some colonies showcase millions of ants, while others are much smaller.
In the colony, the male ants serve one purpose, which is to mate with future queen ants. Shortly after, they expire rather quickly. The queen reaches adulthood for the purpose of mating and then spends the rest of her existence laying eggs. Depending on the species, there is one queen per colony, while ant communities are known to have several different queens in one location. The typical four stages of development for an ant include the phases of egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
There are three distinct parts to an ant – the head, midsection (trunk), and the rear (metasoma). The head is comprised of the jaws, eyes, and antennae, which serves as their sense of touch, smell, taste, and hearing . The stomach and rectum of an ant is contained within the metasoma. Many species possess poison sacks or stingers at the end of the metasoma, which aids in their defense tactics against predators. Six legs attached to the trunk are responsible for mobility.
Ants serve many purposes in the outside world, as they make useful soldiers in clearing out insect pests and aerating the soil. For instance, the weaver ant is used in southern China as a way to biologically control the cultivation of their citrus production . This is considered one of the oldest methods of relying on natural predation, parasitism, or other natural means of control that allows the avoidance of chemical approaches.
In nature, ants serve as a main source of food for humpback flies, ground beetles, praying mantises, and other creatures. Woodpeckers feast on ants, as they stick their beaks in a variety of places to acquire one of their primary food sources. The birds have also learned how to crush ants onto their feathers in order to release tannic acid, which helps keep parasites away.
The Difference Between an Ant and a Termite
When ants become house pests, their presence is sometimes confused with the ultra-destructive wrath of termites. Familiarizing yourself with common characteristic differences allows you to seek proper cures for an ant infestation without turning to the use of harmful chemicals. A termite infestation requires more intense attention. A few differences to note include:
a) Antennae : Ants have “elbowed” antennae, while termites possess a simplified “string of bead-like segments.”
b) Eyes: Ants have compound eyes, while termites have none at all.
c) Waist: An ant has a waist (pedical), which is located between the thorax and abdomen, while termites are not born with this body part.
d) Abdomen: Ants have points at the end of their abdomens, while termites’ are blunt at the end.
e) Roles: Depending on the colony, the workers, soldiers, and winged reproductive members of both ant and termite species show many differences. For instance, ant workers are comprised of sexually undeveloped females, while termites have both male and female sexually undeveloped workers.
f) Life Cycle: Ants undergo a complete metamorphosis, as an egg, larva, pupa, and adult � the metamorphosis of termites is incomplete, as they become eggs, nymphs, and then adults � skipping the pupal stage.
g) Diet: Ants will scavenge for their food, while termites crave plant tissue � feeding on grasses and wood. This is why a termite causes so much house damage. Although some ants set up a home within damp or rotten wood � they do not actually consume the wood as a meal.
Different Types of Ants
While the most common type of ant you will encounter is black, another frequent houseguest is the carpenter ant, which is � to � inches long with a black or bi-colored red and black body. This type of ant typically eats the sweet juices of plants and insects, but will also seek out good things to eat in a house. To get a picture regarding additional common house pests, a few are listed below:
a) Stinging Ants: It is important to keep babies and young children away from a stinging ant, as it possesses quite the painful sting .
b) Formica Ants: Sucking on the juices from insects they kill, this pest is attracted to sweets found in homes.
c) Thief Ants: Leaving sugary food crumbs about the house is a temptation a thief ant cannot refuse.
d) Odorous House Ant: While the odorous ant prefers eating dead and living insects, aphids, and honeydew, they will enter a home and gravitate towards sweet things to eat.
Additional ant species scattered about the world include leaf-cutting ants; army ants (which eats all insects they come across and travel in large packs); harvester ants (prefer eating seeds and some insects; known to bite and sting); and janitor ants (makes nests in hollowed out tree twigs) .
Signs of an Ant Infestation
In order to determine whether or not you are in need of a natural cure for ants, you must figure out if an infestation is present. One of the most noticeable signs of ant colonies is seen in swarming activity, which involves the release of winged male and female ants. Only a well-established ant colony is able to generate a swarm, which is affected by environmental conditions and species preferences. For example, carpenter ant swarms usually take place from late spring to late summer . If you spot one or two winged ants in the home � this is not a definite sign of an infestation. Larger numbers are cause for concern.
Additionally, spotting sawdust-like material accumulating in certain parts of your home may indicate an ant problem. Common places to check include under carpeting, about unfinished wooden basement, closets, storage rooms, inside electrical boxes, and the bottom of fixed wooden cabinets. In the basement, sawdust may appear in cobwebs and crawl spaces.
Natural Cures for Ants
When chemical means of exterminating ants is not an option, natural cures aim to avoid the use of harmful remedies. Luckily, ants respond quite well to natural means of treatment. Below are a few common natural approaches to consider:
a) Black Pepper: One of the cheapest and safest ways to naturally cure an ant problem is to sprinkle black pepper where you see a gathering. Wherever an ant exits in the home is where they also enter. Pepper should be placed at this location, which will discourage their reentry. Black pepper is safe; therefore, children and pets are not affected and food kept in a pantry is unharmed. This cure also works well in kitchen cabinets and on windowsills.
b) Apple Cider Vinegar: Eliminate an ant problem by creating a mixture consisting of one part each of apple cider vinegar and water, which is kept in a spray bottle. Wherever you see ants, spray the surface with the mixture several times throughout the day. There is a natural chemical within the vinegar that affects an ant’s sense of smell, causing them to avoid the solution.
c) Ivory Soap and Windex: Some people have found decent results when mixing equal parts of Ivory Soap and Windex that is sprayed onto problem areas throughout the house.
d) Cinnamon: Lay down cinnamon by the cracks that ants tend to find their way into your home. Sometimes, a syringe filled with the spice can be used to reach deep cracks with a higher level of effectiveness.
e) White Chalk: It is stated that a handful of ant species will not cross a line drawn with plain white chalk.
f) Mint: Many ant species dislike mint and will crawl away. Some homeowners have planted the herb around their home for better results, especially close to doorways and windows. You may use mint oil and even mint-flavored chewing gum within the home. Try placing a stick of gum or an opened pack on a shelf.
g) Mint Jelly: You may also create an indoor ant control mixture using one tablespoon of boric acid, one tablespoon of mint jelly; and one cracker. Mixing the boric acid and mint jelly, spread the mixture on a cracker. Take a small cardboard box and punch pinholes, where the cracker is placed inside. Put the box at a location where ants are causing problems. The mint jelly attracts the ants, which then succumb to the boric acid. This natural cure is best used when pets and children are away.
h) Diatomaceous Earth: Use food-grade diatomaceous earth to interrupt ant pathways within the home. This natural cure for ants cuts through their exoskeleton, causing them to dehydrate and die.
i) Cream of Wheat: Cook 1 � cup of Cream of Wheat and place on a dish where ants can get to it. It is said that once the ants consume the Cream of Wheat, it expands within their body and they actually explode.
j) Attack the Nest: Sad but necessary � a serious ant infestation may call for an attack on the nest. Some people pour apple cider vinegar down the entrances of nests (signified by holes outside of the home). Placing a sugar soaked sponge on top of the holes of an ant nest will catch ants that are attracted to the sweetness. Creating a hot water and hot pepper mixture (jalapenos or hotter) is a good remedy for destroying ant nests. The hot peppers should be finely chopped in a food processor and mixed with hot water that is then poured directly over the nest. Boiling water is a common ant nest cure as well. Some people have also mixed equal parts of sugar and baking powder and covered the holes of visible ant nests.