Marching across the floor, up the wall and across the counter, ants search for bits of food.
The stray granules of sugar beside the coffee pot, the potato chip crumbs stuck in the couch, the grease left over in the dog food bowl — you might be surprised what small things attract ants into homes each spring.
It’s a problem many people deal with each year, a nuisance that seems inevitable. But is it really? With a little investigative work, you may be able to get rid of the issue entirely.
“Identification is the way to go first,” said Clay Kirby, insect diagnostician at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Pest Management Office. “With identification we can learn a little bit more about specific biology and how to manage it.”
Ants that infiltrate Maine homes come in all shapes and sizes. There are carpenter ants, pavement ants, odorous house ants, thief ants, acrobat ants and pharaoh ants, just to name a few of the most common. And all of them have different food and habitat preferences. Knowing what species you’re dealing with can help you tackle the problem. To do that, turn to the experts.
Kirby suggests that people collect a few ants in a leak-proof container, such as a pill bottle. Cover the ants in rubbing alcohol to preserve them, then drop them off at your local county UMaine Cooperative Extension office or the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Pest Management Office, which is located at 491 College Ave. You can also mail the specimen to: Pest Management Office, Attn: Clay Kirby, 491 College Ave., Orono, ME 04473-1295.
The service is free, and once you know the species you’re dealing with, you’ll know more about where to look for the ant nest and what might be attracting them.
Regardless of what type of ant you’re dealing with though there are a few measures you can take to reduce the chance of having ants roaming your home.
Since ants are attracted to a variety of food, it’s important to keep your kitchen area clean, dry and free of grease; clean up food and drink spills; rinse recyclable cans and bottles; empty the trash frequently; and clean pet food bowls on a regular basis. Even the grease left over from pet food can attract ants. You may also want to consider transferring some foods — such as potato chips — into tight containers or your refrigerator.
Another method of ant management is discovering where they’re entering the home, whether it’s a crack in the foundation, tear in a window screen or gap in a weathering strip around a door. Sometimes you can trace ant trails to these entry points, which should then be sealed.
Reducing habitat for ants near the house can also prove effective. Clean out gutters; keep trees, shrubs and mulch at least a foot away from the house; and make sure the grass is cut low near the house. If a branch is touching the house, it can act as a natural bridge for carpenter ants, which can destroy wood in your home, Kirby said.
Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.
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