Last Updated: 6/18/18
Safe Control of Ants Around Children, Pets, and Feeder/Pet Insects
Safe Control of Ants Around Ponds
Safe Control of Ants in Bird Nest Boxes
If you have any ideas or links to add on this topic, contact me.
I once read that the biomass of ants is greater than that of all mammals combined. I do not know if that is true or if I even remembered that correctly but surely there are a lot of ants in this world. They are amazingly strong for their size, resilient, and surprisingly intelligent. When doing "their thing," ants are a necessary part of the earth's many fauna. The problem comes when they move into our homes or threaten us in some way. While most ants are not capable of harming people, some like fire ants certainly are. Fire ants are marching across the USA but, so far, there are none in my state while others in Southern states live with them day to day. Ordinary ants are not much threat to us but they can cause problems for our pets simply by being there and sometimes by biting. They will cover pet food dishes en masse, and animals will not feed from dishes full of ants.
In our house, there are always ants and other insects and spiders moving about. For the most part, we leave them alone. In the summer of 2004, however, one colony of ants decided to use my lizard Einy's cage as their home base. For more on her, see my sailfin lizard page. At first, it was a few here and there but soon, there were hundreds of ants in Einy's 120 gallon tank and also in the seven containers of live insects that I kept to feed Einy, the hedgehogs, and the chickens. What to do? I tried "ant motels" but the crickets died in droves. I then tried a lid full of sugar water with Borax. That got a lot of them. The area between the tank and the stand was full of ants and their eggs. They were living in the stand itself. Finally, with help, we took the floor out of the stand (no ants down there!) but then since the stand was empty, I vacuumed the ants out from the space between the glass tank and stand. Then, I sprayed the ants with Citrus Magic. They were dropping like flies. That was the turning point. I moved all the insect cages to the basement to reduce the food sources for the ants. After about four months of experimentation, they were under control. I thought I would share some ideas.
Try to locate the places that ants are coming into the home or location. Seal those areas with caulking if possible. Place any traps or baits being used at those locations. Monitor the trails the ants are using to figure out their plan and to thwart it.
If there is food out, ants may soon find it. The simplest way to reduce their presence is to keep the house or area clean and free of food. In my case, I could not remove the food from the insects or lizard because they had to eat too. I did move the insects' cages to the basement. Also, when ants found my cats' bowls, I moved some to the basement and put others in a moat. The moat was a larger bowl for one round cat bowl and a baking pan for a long (two compartment) cat bowl.
The ant motels are semi-safe in that the only way a pet or child would be exposed was if they contacted the ants carrying the pesticide bait out. I put these baits up next to my lizard's tank, and then all the crickets died so the ants were bringing it to them. Plus, the ants' numbers were not going down even with the motels. One place where the ant motels really helped was in my pond outlets. I stuck them in there; the ants were living in the outlet itself and destroying it repeatedly. As of 2013, I still keep ant baits in the electrical outlets outside.
Some places sell non-toxic sprays such as Victor Pest Control. I have used Citrus Magic with good luck at killing ants on contact. It smells great (it is an air freshener)! Avoid getting it on other insects that you want to live. Other citrus products may work also to irritate ants and/or mess up their scent trails. It does not matter which "flavor" that you use. For Citrus Magic, I used the regular tropical citrus blend. The citrus oils clog up the breathing tubes that insects have along their bodies. It kills them on contact but does not bother future insects that walk where the citrus spray was released.
In a small lid or dish, combine a teaspoon of sugar and a third of a teaspoon of Borax. Add warm water until it is mostly wet. I never bothered to ensure full dissolution. Place the trap near where the ants are feeding and across their main trails. If there are a lot of ants, the trap will be full of them the next day. I am not sure what percentage of the ants drowned and how many were poisoned by the Borax.
If you can locate a lot of ants, where they are hanging out, then vacuum them up. Toss the bag when done and seal it up to prevent them from coming out. If you find the main nest full of eggs, this is a quick way to remove them.
Certain small lizards may eat ants. I bought a green anole on 7/6/06 to put into my 10 gallon roach tank because it was infested with ants. The anole did not seem very interested. Well, by the time he died two years later, I do not think he ate even one ant!
Blocking the smells of the ants scent trails will work short term to deter ants. I have tried baby powder and Citrus Magic (see above). Ants may also not cross a path of cinammon.
I have never done any of these so these are just some ideas. If you have ideas, please let me know.
Carbon Dioxide Fire Extinguishers:
Spray the nest with a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher. This kills instantly anything it touches. I have used this to kill stinging insects next to the pond. It is perfectly safe for the pond. While anything frozen (plant or animal) will die; within a minute it warms up, and then poses no threat to anything. Alternating spraying and digging up the nest will allow getting deeper into the ants' nest without being attacked.
There may be sprays out there that work. I have not found one yet though. Citrus Magic will kill ants on contact and keep them from an area short term. Avoid getting it in the pond.
Sometimes flooding the nest every day for a while will get ants to up and move as well as drowning some of them. This may also be alternated with digging. Some people suggest soapy water. This may be okay if it will not end up in the pond.
On 6/3/18, I treated a bluebird nest box with four eggs for ants. I did something similar in 2017, and bluebirds successfully fledged from the box. It is important to check nest boxes at least weekly. Ants are one of the main reasons. I have one bluebird box in the sun that is really an ant box! A week before, I checked the box, and the eggs that had been in there were gone but the box was loaded with ants. So, I removed the entire nest, and I sprayed the inside with Citrus Magic air freshener with contains citrus oils and nothing much else. It clogs up the breathing holes of smaller insects and thus kills them on contact. It is not toxic and does not harm mammals or birds although it can be irritating if you inhale it, and it can bother your eyes. It has no residual killing effect. It can leave residue so I have some plastic containers that I sprayed that have permanent fields of white residue that does not come off. So, a week after that, the bluebirds had rebuilt an entire nest with four nice blue eggs. But, the entire nest of mostly pine needles was full of ants and their eggs, thousands of them! If I did nothing, as soon as the babies hatched, the ants would devor them, seeing them as both a source of food and intruders in "their" house. So, what to do? Anything I tried would be a chance for them because there was zero chance if I did nothing. So, I put on nitrile gloves, set the eggs aside, and removed the nest. I sprayed the nest box heavily with the citrus air freshener. It is important not to get the spray on the eggs as it would clog the holes in the eggs that let air in and out. Then, I know the ants will just return so I had to do something risky which I also did the year before. I put an ant "motel" in the bottom which has fipronil bait in it. This is risky because fipronil is toxic for bluebird chicks. However, unless they eat an ant who has eaten the bait, they are unlikely to become ill. This plan worked in 2017 as well so I felt it would again. On top of the ant motel, I put some of my hamster's cotton fluff for making their nests so I could build up the nest. I removed the bottom two thirds of the pine nest which I also sprayed as ants poured out of it like a fountain. There were just too many ants to put it all back. On the top of the fluff, I put the top few inches of the pine nest with the cup. Then, I put three of the four eggs back because one had a large break in it. I do not know if that was my fault but I removed that egg. There were still ants all over but I tried to make the nest look presentable for the mother. Now, we shall see if she accepts the changes, and if the ant colony dies and/or moves on. It worked last year!
Update 6/18/18: Three chicks hatched on 6/15/18, and they are doing very well! And, no live ants.
Natural Ant Control - part of Antcolony.org
Least- Toxic Control of Indoor and Outdoor Ants - pdf factsheet from Beyondpesticides.org.
Natural Pest Control - includes a paragraph on ants
Citrus Magic - kills ants on contact, non-toxic to mammals and birds. They make no mention of its magic with regards to killing ants.
Ant Farm Central - learn about ant farms.
Ant Stuff - supplies for your ant farm.
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