Ants dig in in the suburbs

  • Above, a field ant harvests nectar from a dandelion.

      Above, a field ant harvests nectar from a dandelion. mark black | Staff Photographer

  • Dr. Corrie Moreau of the Field Museum.

    Dr. Corrie Moreau of the Field Museum.

Updated 6/29/2011 6:17 PM

After being buzzed by mosquitoes, bees, wasps and all sorts of other flying pests, it's time to turn our attention from up in the air to down on the ground.

It's time for ants.


Ant populations generally peak in the late spring/early summer, but it's hard to say whether we're seeing an ascending swarm bent on invading our homes and ravaging our snacks, said Dr. Corrie Moreau, assistant curator at the Field Museum and the go-to person in the Chicago area on ants.

"Increased rain does drive ants to the top part of the soil," she said. Combine saturated soil with nicer weather that allows people to spend a bit more time outside again and Moreau said you may get the impression that we're suddenly awash with ants. She said it's too early to tell if we have more ants around than usual.

But if you add hot temperatures to the wet soil, Moreau notes that could change things. "We'll have a double whammy that would force ants into homes more often."

She recommends three steps to ant-proof your home, with the first two being tried before turning to the third.

1) Clean

"It's not because ants are dirty," Moreau said. It's because ants communicate with pheromones and cleaning with soapy water will break those scent trails that tell other ants where to find food.

2) Discourage

Calk around baseboards or pipes that run through walls. Make sure openings like these that lead from the outside into your home are sealed. Then, a good non-toxic barrier to sprinkle on those areas is cinnamon or cayenne pepper. It's not the taste or smell that discourages them. "Ants really hate the fine particles getting on their bodies," Moreau said.

3) Bait

If the other two steps fail, use a toxic bait that ants will carry back to the nest as food. Moreau doesn't recommend sprays -- they may kill the workers in front of you, but they don't do anything to stop the queen from producing a whole new generation ready and willing to invite themselves into your kitchen.

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