Daily Bulletin


  • Written by Tanya Latty, Associate professor, University of Sydney

It’s nigh on impossible to calculate with accuracy how many ants are on Earth, but estimates put the number at about ten billion billion. And sometimes, it can feel like a good proportion of those ants are marching through our homes.

Ants usually come indoors in search of food or nesting habitat. Even small amounts of food, like pet food crumbs, can attract hordes of industrious ants.

Ants are one of Earth’s most successful animals, and comprise more than 13,000 species. They live almost everywhere except Antarctica, the high Arctic and a small number of islands.

Read more: Six amazing facts you need to know about ants

Despite ants’ ubiquity, people can still be surprised, or even horrified, to see a line of ants crawling along their kitchen bench. So should you get out the insecticide, or learn to live with them?

What are ants doing in my house?

Ants are part of nature’s cleaning crew: they efficiently find and remove food left around the house. The problem is, sometimes humans don’t want their help.

You’ve probably noticed ants more commonly come indoors in summer - that’s largely because most insects are more active in the warmer months.

Ants occasionally come inside in search of water, particularly during dry periods. In this case you may see them in bathrooms or other humid parts of the house.

Heavy rains can also cause ant nests to flood and force them to relocate to nearby buildings, such as your house.

Here's why tiny ants have invaded your house, and what to do about it Ants more commonly come indoors in the warmer months. Shutterstock

Masters of cooperation

Ants are social animals and live in colonies with hundreds, or even millions, of others. They have tiny brains – in many cases smaller than a grain of sand. So how are they so clever at getting into our homes and finding our food? Because they are masters of cooperation.

Read more: Here's what that house proud mouse was doing – plus five other animals who take cleaning seriously

Consider the way some ants march in a line towards that drop of honey on your kitchen bench. When worker ants of some species find a tasty piece of food, they respond by placing a tiny droplet of pheromone on the ground. They continue to leave a trail of pheromones all the way back to the nest.

Only one ant needs to find the food and lay a trail. Once that happens, hundreds of others can follow the trail to the food source.

How do I get rid of ants?

The first step to dealing with ants in your house is ensuring they don’t have access to food. Seal all food in airtight containers, clean behind the fridge and in the toaster, do not leave pet food out longer than necessary, ensure your bins are tightly sealed, and generally make sure there is no food around to entice ants (I know, easier said than done).

If you’ve seen ants marching in a line, try wiping down the surface with vinegar or bleach to disrupt the chemical trail.

Read more: Zombie ants: meet the parasitic fungi that take control of living insects

Prevent ants from entering your home in the first place by sealing up cracks and holes in walls. This will also prevent them from nesting inside wall cavities.

If all else fails, insecticidal baits can be used to control ant numbers. But before you take that route, ask yourself whether the ants are actually a problem (more on that later).

Insecticides may harm other insects

If your ant problem has got out of hand, contact a pest control professional rather than attempting to deploy a bug bomb or similar insect spray yourself.

DIY methods rarely work because ants mostly live in protected spaces (such as underground or in walls). You might kill a few worker ants, but probably won’t harm the colony.

Here's why tiny ants have invaded your house, and what to do about it Wiping a surface with vinegar can disrupt the chemical trail ants use to march in a line. Shutterstock

If you (or a professional) do use insecticides, avoid using them outdoors and look for ones specifically designed for ants. Most insecticides are broad spectrum chemicals that can kill other types of insects. This includes insects beneficial in your home and garden, such as ladybirds, mantises and parasitoid wasps.

It may take a while for the ant colony to die, especially if it is large. Some species distribute themselves among several nests which makes them much harder to eradicate.

Ants fight back

In most ant species, the queen is the only individual who can produce new workers. So to destroy the colony, you need to kill the queen.

But some species, such as the rock ant (Temnothorax albipennis), have evolved an ingenious way to protect the queen and her larvae from poisoned food.

Read more: These ants have evolved a complex system of battlefield triage and rescue

Some worker ants stay in the colony and receive new food from forager ants – storing the food in their abdomen and regurgitating it when their nestmates are hungry. Since these “storage ants” collect and mix food from many workers, they help ensure that incoming poisons are diluted before they reach the queen. They also act as poison testers: if the food is toxic, they die before they can pass it on to the queen.

We need ants

Remember that ants can be beneficial predators – I’ve seen ants attack and kill cockroach nymphs. Ants also play an important role in spreading the seeds of native plants, and of removing waste from our environment.

Ants are a normal and important part of our urban ecosystems. So if we want to protect our precious biodiversity, this may mean tolerating our tiny neighbours - even when they seem intent on taking over our kitchen or ruining our picnic.

No one wants ants ruining their food. But if you have a small number of ants wandering around the house, is that really a big deal?

Read more: Curious Kids: do ants have blood?

Authors: Tanya Latty, Associate professor, University of Sydney

Read more https://theconversation.com/heres-why-tiny-ants-have-invaded-your-house-and-what-to-do-about-it-132092

Writers Wanted

Why a carbon price alone won't be enough to drive down New Zealand's emissions


At last, health, aged care and quarantine workers get the right masks to protect against airborne coronavirus


NZ’s clean car discount is a turn in the right direction, but how much will it drive consumer demand?


The Conversation


Prime Minister interview with Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon

Karl Stefanovic: PM, good morning to you. Do you have blood on your hands?   PRIME MINISTER: No, it's obviously absurd. What we're doing here is we've got a temporary pause in place because we'v...

Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon - avatar Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon

Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered Keynote Address at AFR Business Summit

Well, thank you all for the opportunity to come and be with you here today. Can I also acknowledge the Gadigal people, the Eora Nation, the elders past and present and future. Can I also acknowled...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Morrison Government commits record $9B to social security safety net

The Morrison Government is enhancing our social security safety net by increasing support for unemployed Australians while strengthening their obligations to search for work.   From March the ...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Boom in Aussies buying up restaurants, pubs, hotels and bars in regional centres

With international borders closed, regional Australia is seeing a dramatic surge in popularity as people move out of the cities and into their quaint communities. City slickers are looking for new...

Tess Sanders Lazarus - avatar Tess Sanders Lazarus

5 Signs Your Business Needs Onboarding Software

Onboarding software is the technology that automates a smooth transition for new hires from before the interview to the first day on the job. High-quality onboarding platforms feature a digital da...

Onboarded - avatar Onboarded

What Is COVID 19 Risk Assessment for Vulnerable Workers and Why Your Business Needs it

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments strongly advised people to just stay at home as a critical effort to stop the spread of the virus. This led to many businesses temporarily s...

NewsServices.com - avatar NewsServices.com