Tag Archives: Ants

Helpful or Horrid- Why Ants Can Be the Ultimate Nightmare

Helpful or Horrid? Why Ants Can Be the Ultimate Nightmare

Ants can be nightmare pests.Ants are one of the few bugs that most people seem to be able to, for the most part, live with peacefully. Even if someone hates ants, they are not likely to panic when one or two are encountered.

Why Aren’t Ants as Vilified as Other Bugs?

There are several theories about this, though there isn’t any real scientific research to back it up. Some think that growing up seeing parents just swat at or sigh over ants as opposed to shrieking and running away from spiders taught us that they aren’t that big a deal.

But Ants Aren’t Really Harmless Are They?

Most ants are fairly aggressive and are more likely to bite a handler than a spider is. Some species of ants are incredibly destructive and need to be “taken care of” as soon as they are discovered.

Which Ants Should I Worry About?

In North America, there are several species of ants that should merit at least a modicum of concern. For example, if you live in the gulf regions of Florida and Texas (and, to a lesser extent, the other states that border the Gulf of Mexico) you definitely want to worry about Crazy Ants. Crazy Ants are ants that swarm by the millions and can do tons of damage to electrical systems.

Carpenter Ants are perhaps the most common and one of the most destructive species of ants that you’ll find in your home. These ants burr into wood and create intricate living structures. Keep in mind that they don’t eat the wood. They eat other dead bugs and decaying materials so, in that respect, they can actually be fairly helpful. The amount of damage they cause by building their homes in your home, though—that’s enough of a reason to want them out.

Fire Ants (sometimes called Red Ants) are found all over North America. While fire ants prefer to live outdoors and away from humans, they can still do quite a lot of damage during an encounter. Their bites and stings can make the victim feel like he or she is on fire.

There are, of course, other types of ants that are problematic and pose threats to you and your home, but these are the most prevalent and likely encountered.

What Should I Do If I Find a “Bad Ant?”

First of all, if you encounter an ant that is known for being “one of the bad ones”, don’t panic. Trap it under a glass so that you can get close to it and figure out what kind of ant you’re dealing with. The type of ant you have in your home will dictate a lot of your next actions.

Next, try to find the source of the ant. Is this ant merely a scout or is it part of a line or a swarm? Do a close inspection of your house, starting with the area in which the ant was found.

How to Get Rid of Ants When You Find Them

There are all sorts of natural and “DIY” methods that you can use to discourage or eradicate the ant population that has invaded your home. These are just a couple of them.

Use Powder: you don’t have to use toxic powder—anything powdery (like nutmeg, baby powder, etc) will work fine because it will suffocate the ants as they try to walk over or through it.

Diatomaceous Earth: it’s the stuff you see used often in fish tanks—it’s actually the fossilized remains of diatoms and is incredibly sharp. As the ants try to walk over or through it, it cuts into them causing them to dehydrate and die.

When to Call a Pro

At some point—if you are part of the population that is afraid of ants or if natural eradication methods have failed, you should call a professional pest control expert. If the population is incredibly large or you find an extensive nest, you’ll want to call a professional. If the ants are crazy ants, it’s time for a professional.

Basically, you’ll want to hire a pro to help you with anything that isn’t “just a few here and there.”

Telling the difference between an ant and a termite

Ants and Termites: Spotting the Difference

Spotting the difference between ants and termitesAnts and termites are both incredibly common pests. They are so common and look enough alike (termites and flying ants in particular look eerily alike) that, at first glance, many people confuse the two. It is important, though, that you learn how to tell the two apart.

What Does the Science Say?

Even in terms of entomology, the differences between ants and termites are subtle. Both live in social swarms that typically revolve around the reproductive agent known as queens in ants and swarmers in termites. The Kansas State Entomology Department has a great page that goes into detail about the scientific differences between these two creatures.

How You Can Tell what’s Crawling on Your Counter

The good thing about ants and termites is that, while they have wings, you don’t have to worry about them buzzing your face when you lean over to get a better look at them (the first step in figuring out which pest you’re dealing with). The three parts of the pest’s body you need to focus on are the antennae, the waist and the wings.

Spotting the difference between ants and termites.With Ants: the antennae are typically bent or arched. Their bodies narrow down at the waist and their frontal wings are larger than their wings in the rear.

With Termites: their antennae are usually straight. They have broad waists and their front and hind wings are of equal size.

Basically, a termite looks like a chubby and more proportionate ant.

What You Should Do with What You’ve Found

Deciding how to handle an invasion of ants or termites is going to depend largely upon which pest is plaguing you and how many ants or termites you are dealing with. With that said, there are plenty of things you can do yourself to prevent and defeat both ants and termites.

How to Deal with an Ant Infestation

If you have an ant infestation, things can get a little bit tricky. While cleaning and sealing up your home can do quite a lot to deter ants from forming colonies inside your home, if the colony has already been built, more action is going to need to be taken.

The good news is that you’re probably going to notice the flying ants for a few days while they explore your house and yard looking for places where they can mate and build new colonies of their own. You’ll start to notice “mounds” and that’s where you should focus your actions.

Create a “toxin” of honey and artificial sweetener to attract the ants along with borax, which is deadly for ants but not for humans or most pets. You can also sprinkle diatomaceous earth on the mounds—it will dry them out and kill them when they come into contact with it. Also use turmeric. Turmeric is completely harmless for pets and humans and acts as an antiseptic and discourages flying ants.

How to Deal With a Termite Infestation

Even if you work hard to prevent termites from getting into your home, sometimes they win anyway. This is why if you start to notice termites in or around your home, you should hire a professional pest control expert to do a thorough inspection and help you come up with a plan for eradicating the infestation. A good expert will know how to “fix” an infestation in a way that has as little impact on you and your family as possible.

It is important to act quickly. The less time these termites and flying ants have to crawl over your walls, the easier it will be to get rid of them.

Ant poison paralyzes prey from afar

By Jennifer Welsh, LiveScience Staff Writer

Ant-nest invaders beware: The African ant species Crematogaster striatula has venom so potent that termites don’t even need to come in contact with it to feel its wrath. The chemical can kill at a distance as a group of ants approach the termite butt-first.

The poison is emitted by a gland called the Dufour gland, near the worker ants’ stingers, and seems to have three functions. The chemicals emitted by the gland not only paralyze and kill termite prey, they also attract ant nestmates nearby to assist them. The ants invoke the chemicals the same way to repel alien ants.

Learning more about how insects defend their homes may also help us defend our homes against pesky invaders. The researchers, led by Angelique Vetillard of the University of Toulouse, in France, characterized the specific chemicals in the venom, providing initial clues about the source of the venom toxicity, which could help researchers produce natural insecticides.

This research provides “a basis from which further studies can be conducted in the search for natural insecticides, including new molecules effective against insects resistant to currently used insecticides,” Vetillard said in a statement.

These African ants live among rotting branches on the ground in cocoa-tree plantations. They prey upon the termites, even though these termites have developed elaborate architectural, behavioral, morphological and chemical means to defend themselves.

To figure out how the ants’ chemicals work, Vetillard and colleagues set up field experiments. They found that the chemical was more deadly to the termites than to other ants. Invader ants tend to back off and run when cornered, but the termites are more likely to stand their ground in the face of danger. When cornered, the ants were able to poison the termites from a distance of 0.2-to-0.4 inches. The researchers suggest their thin skin may also make them more sensitive to the poison.

When an ant detected a termite, it approached with its abdominal tip (containing its chemical-laden stinger) pointed toward the prey. By raising its stinger the ants create tiny particles of the toxins, which fly through the air. The chemicals their stingers emit seemed to draw their nestmates to help them take down the termite invader. As expected, the termite boldly stood its ground; but after about 10 minutes it fell down and rolled onto its back, its legs batting the air, paralyzed.

Next, one lone ant approached, watching for the leg movements to subside. When there were fewer movements of its legs, all of the ants approached the termite and prepared to seize it by an appendage and bring it back to their nest.

When the ant workers discovered several Camponotus brutus, an alien ant species, imbibing honey on their territory, they defended their turf by again very slowly approaching butt first, stinger tip pointed toward the aliens, causing them to retreat. Without there being contact between the antagonists, the intruding ants slowly backed away from the smell of the chemical, though they seemed unhurt.

The study was published Dec. 14 in the journal PLoS ONE.

You can follow LiveScience staff writer Jennifer Welsh on Twitter @microbelover. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescienceand on Facebook.

Ants Beware! Spider Protected by Burglar-Proof Web

Ants Beware! Spider Protected by Burglar-Proof Web

By Jennifer Welsh | LiveScience.com – Tue, Nov 22, 2011

Just as a homeowner might adopt a large dog with an equally large bark to protect his or her property, a certain orb spider makes a similar investment to protect its web, according to new research that finds this arachnid uses a chemical in its web silk to repel ant burglars.

“Ants are often found in webs of some web-building spiders, but they are rarely observed foraging in webs of orb-web spiders, though ants are potential predators,” study researcher Daiqin Li, at the National University of Singapore, told LiveScience in an email.

“There must be other mechanisms of protection of ant invasion. One possibility might be some chemicals that could deter/repel ants.”

Ant deterrent

To figure out what was chasing the ants away, the researchers collected wild orb-web spiders (Nephila antipodiana) and analyzed their silk for chemicals. They found one, called 2-pyrrolidione, present in the silk strands that ants seemed to avoid in the lab, including the widespread Pharaoh ant (Monomorium pharaonis) and two others. Even when tempted with a free tasty snack, the ants wouldn’t cross the silk strands that had been coated with this deterrent.

“Golden orb-web spiders produce a chemical in their web silk that deters ant invasion, which adds chemical defense to the impressive properties of spider silk, already known to be strong, elastic and adhesive,” Li said.

The researchers also discovered that young spiders don’t need to make this chemical, because their silk is too thin for even tiny ants to cross. Larger juveniles and adult spiders make the ant-deterrent to stop ants from invading their homes and their web, their fresh-caught prey and even the spiders themselves.

Chemical threat

The researchers aren’t sure how the spiders make this chemical (whether they add it to their silk or paint it on later), or how it works. The chemical isn’t what scientists call “volatile,” so it doesn’t produce a smell. The ants could be “tasting” the compound, because they only avoid the silk after they come into contact with it, but will stay in the vicinity even after that contact.

“The orb spider is potentially vulnerable to attack from groups of ants while sitting in its web waiting for prey, so the chemical defense in web silk may have evolved to not only protect the spider, but to reduce the time and energy that would otherwise be required to chase away invading ants,” study researcher Mark Elgar, from the University of Melbourne, said in a statement.

They’ve also found similar chemicals in other spider silks, which indicates this type of chemical deterrent could be widespread in spiders. Interestingly, the same 2-pyrrolidione compound has been seen in glands of the ant Crematogaster sjostedti — the same glands that make chemicals that signal a warning to other ants. The spiders could be mimicking these chemical warning signals.

The study was published today (Nov. 22) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

You can follow LiveScience staff writer Jennifer Welsh on Twitter @microbelover. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.