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Keys to battling ants around the house

With more than 12,000 ant species around the world, chances are most homeowners or renters will experience an ant problem at one point or another. Understanding the habits of ants can make alleviating an infestation that much easier.

Understanding Ants

Ants may cause stress or prove troublesome when they enter a home, but ants play an important role in nature. Ants live mostly in colonies and may create intricate tunnels throughout the soil. These can help air reach the soil and plant roots. Ants also consume and recycle dead or decaying plants. Some ants are carnivorous and feed on other insects. Ants can also recycle composting materials, helping to enrich the dirt.

According to Pest World For Kids, the queen is the centerpiece of the ant colony. Without the queen, the rest of the colony can only survive a few months before they perish. That's because the queen lays the eggs which males will fertilize. There are some female workers that are unable to reproduce. Soldier ants are also unable to reproduce and simply protect the queen and help gather or kill food.

Eradicating ants is impossible. A person is only able to keep populations in check in and around the home. Ants have large brains in proportion to their size. They are known to be the smartest species of insects with around 250,000 brain cells. Therefore, outsmarting them requires appealing to their habits.

Ants are also smart enough to cultivate their own food sources. Some raise aphids to produce sweet secretions that the ants feed on. Ants also do many other interesting things. Many ant species steal pupae from other ant colonies and make the hatched ants work as slaves.

Ants in the Home

Ants enter a home when they are attracted to a food or water source. No home is impervious to ants, and even city-dwellers surrounded by pavement have experienced ants indoors. Ants also may be attracted to comfortable nest sites or conditions. Carpenter ants, for example, like moist areas and make their homes in wood.

There are a few different tactics to keeping ants out of the home. These include:

* Creating a barrier around the perimeter of the home. Using a natural or chemical pesticide may keep ants away from the home.

* Reducing favorable conditions outdoors. Make sure there aren't any cracks or crevices around the home where ants can enter. Keep shrubbery and dense foliage away from the home's foundation. Cut back overhanging tree branches and remove any excess soil that's up against the house.

* Protecting against food sources indoors. Ants need water and food to survive. Workers will forage for food. If an easy source is inside the home, they will go there. Keep sweet foods sealed in plastic bags. Wipe down counters frequently and sweep up crumbs from the floor. Pick up pet water and food bowls when not in use. Vacuum out crumbs from a high chair or baby seat regularly. There is some evidence that ants do not like the aroma or taste of vinegar, so use a vinegar-and-water solution to clean around the house.

* Relying on bait stations. If the aforementioned methods have not reduced ant populations, purchase bait stations. These are readily available at hardware or home centers and work by luring the ants to a sweet solution that contains a poison. Place them in a location where ants have previously been seen. The poison is typically borax, an item that is toxic to ants and other bugs but relatively harmless to humans. Ants feed on the solution and bring back some of the poison to the colony. Individuals should let the ants visit the bait station and not interfere with the transfer of the poison by letting the ants be. There may be quite a steady row of ants, which will slowly dissipate over a few days when the poison takes effect. After some time there should be no or just a few ants left. There are also similar bait stations that can be used outdoors. Replace the stations once every few months to keep ant numbers in check.

* Letting spiders live. Spiders and other insects feed on ants. Resist killing spiders around the house, especially outdoors. They're natural pesticides.

Ants are resilient and can be a worthy opponent when they get inside a home. The average worker lives anywhere from 45 to 60 days, while a queen can live up to 20 years. Getting rid of one colony might just invite another one in, so expect ants to pose an ongoing problem. Maintaining an ant-free home requires due diligence.