A trail of miniature moving specks lines the countertop, zig-zagging along the cupboard. These little critters are hoping to find anything sweet – a glob of sticky honey left to drip down the jar, a stale cookie crumb from the last Girl Scout order, a forgotten fruit roll-up that fell off the top shelf months ago.
They’re the pesky problem that seems to pop up in kitchens and household crevices around this time each year: ants.
There are more of them indoors this year because of the rain, said Raymond Cloyd, Kansas State University professor and horticultural entomologist.
“The grounds are flooded, and the ants don’t have life preservers,” he said. “So they want to get out of there and come into homes where it’s dry.”
There are hundreds of ways to try and take back the indoors from these tiny six-legged invertebrates: traps, bug bombs, sprays and home remedies.
But what works best?
Ensuring the house is properly sealed is one of the best ways to keep ants out, said Matthew McKernan, a horticulture agent with the Sedgwick County Extension Center.
“Making sure there’s no cracks in the house around windows or between sidings helps to eliminate possible entry routes for the ants,” McKernan said.
Another tactic McKernan encourages is keeping flower beds and mulch at least 6 inches to a foot away from the foundation of the house.
He said this creates a buffer zone that is hard for insects such as termites and ants to cross and reduces the likelihood of them showing up inside.
If it’s too late for preventive measures and the ants have already breached the household barrier, Cloyd said a few easy steps will send them on their way.
Typically, Cloyd said, worker ants come into homes to find food to bring back to the colony, which consists of around 30,000 ants.
“I don’t recommend bug bombs,” he said. “And don’t spray anything directly on the ants. That’s like trying to fill the Grand Canyon with spit. It will give you a psychological good feeling, but it won’t really have much effect.”
The reason attacking the worker ants directly doesn’t work, he said, is because they are just a cog in the machine of the colony.
The ants will bring food found in homes back to the colony to feed the soldier ants and the queen, Cloyd said. That’s why he recommends using some sort of bait traps, such as Terro bait.
The Terro brand uses boric acid as its active ingredient, which Cloyd said he prefers because it is a natural material and isn’t harmful to children or other pets.
“If people want to avoid the typical toxins found in some of the other products, boric acid is the choice,” Cloyd said.
The worker ants bring the boric acid-laced bait back to the colony for consumption, which then acts as a toxin and slowly kills them.
It is best to use solid bait in the spring and liquid bait in the summer, he said.
Terro brand baits are sold at Wal-Mart and most local hardware stores for less than $10.
However, it’s not enough to seal outside the home and set traps. Cloyd said homeowners need to take preventive measures inside the home as well.
“It’s important to seal off any areas where ants can come in and to seal all food sources,” he said. “When the ants are in, if they can’t find food, they’ll leave.”
Cloyd said leaving food exposed could be a reason some people don’t have success with bait traps.
“They won’t go to the bait first if there’s sugar or protein substances that aren’t sealed in the home,” he said.
Though ants can be a nuisance, Cloyd said, the upside is they won’t cause any damage.
“They’re nothing to freak out about. They aren’t going to transfer diseases. They aren’t feeding on the house plants or causing any harm to humans,” he said.
If the traps and tricks aren’t working, Cloyd said, individuals can contact the Kansas State Extension Office and send in a sample of the ants in their home. The diagnostician will be able to clarify what species it is and what baits and traps would work best against it, he said.
Contact the Kansas State Extension Office at 785-532-5820.