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Ants, Ants, What Are All These Ants?

fire ants swarming

Whether they march two by two, three by three or even one by one, ants are unwelcome in the home. But this spring many ants are house crashers.

“This year is probably one of our worst years in a long time,” said Troy McIntyre, a service technician with AAA Exterminating in Noblesville. “We have 10 lines that ring all the day long, and a lot of it is ants.”

After the first warm snap of the spring, his business fielded 200 to 300 calls a day, mostly about ants. Since then, McIntyre has visited homes with ants running all around the counters and window frames, and businesses with cracks in the slab foundation that have ants pouring out of them.

The wet spring forced many ants up out of the ground and right into people’s homes. The mild winter, which allowed more ants to survive the season, didn’t hurt much either.

“We have pretty much had ideal conditions throughout the whole spring and winter,” said Timothy Gibb, an insect diagnostician with Purdue University Extension and a professor of entomology.

Still, Gibb said there is no way to tell whether this year has in fact been worse than years past.

Every spring he hears many complaints about the ants. This year has been no different.

“It’s one of those local things. If I have ants in my house all of a sudden, it becomes more than I have ever had before. Therefore it has got to be an invasion,” he said. “I’m not certain that’s a reason to think we’re having an epidemic of ants. It’s probably one of those situations where in local spots, the weather conditions are just right for them and they seem to be more prevalent.”

Earlier this spring, one of those spots was the Broad Ripple bedroom of Rachel Wheeler’s 8-year-old daughter. Wheeler had never had ants at all before last year, when she had a few of the small ants. She put down a trap, and the ants were gone.

This year, however, they returned while Wheeler was out of town. She got a panicked text from her daughter saying they were swarming all over. When Wheeler returned, she found the culprit: a box of candy hearts on her daughter’s dresser.

“They totally invaded her room,” she said. “It was pretty gross. There was this little trail, and you could see them running across the dresser.”

She used the trap again, and for the most part the ants are now gone.

It’s not unusual for people to be ant-free one year and ant central the next. Ants like to nest outside in bushes, plants or mulch. So as the landscaping outside a home matures, so may the ant colonies dwelling inside.

The most common ants one finds in the home are carpenter ants, thief ants, acrobat ants, pavement ants, odorous house ants, and harvester ants, experts say. This time of year, they hit their reproductive cycle and start producing individuals who bud off from the colony, Gibb said.

Once they need to feed their larvae, they go foraging for protein, said Scott Robbins, technical director of Action Pest Control. The worker ants prefer sugar and sweets.

End result? Nothing in the house is safe, especially from odorous house ants.

“That’s the small trailing ant that drives everyone nuts, starts coming out from the kitchen window sill,” Robbins said.

While some people may see this year as worse than ever for ants, the overall ant population has not really changed in size, said Grzesiek Buczkowski, an association professor in the entomology department at Purdue University.

In fact, it’s completely normal for ants to increase in number come spring.

“I think every year is a bad year for ants if you have them,” Buczkowski said. “During the winter people don’t see a lot of ants, and then they come out and people have this perception the ants are bad.”

Even if it does seem worse this year than others, take heart: In a few weeks, many of the ants will likely be gone, Gibb said.

Besides, Robbins said, ants are not nearly as bad as other pests one can get in the home.

“Ants are much easier to deal with than bed bugs. Fortunately, bed bugs aren’t nearly as prevalent as the ants,” he said.

Call IndyStar reporter Shari Rudavsky at (888) 835-1225. Follow her on Twitter: @srudavsky.

How to stop ants

Seal up any openings in your house, especially ones that have a trail of ants running through them.

Don't keep pet food outside the house as that will attract ants and other wildlife.

Place rocks rather than mulch near your house as mulch is the perfect habitat for ants.

To throw ants off the trail, try using Windex or another cleaning spray to disrupt their trails.

Keep your kitchen and the other areas of your home as crumb-free as possible.