Sugar ants… We first encountered these creatures when we forgot to close a juice box and left it for the night. Oh, was it a reckless act. In the morning, we found a few small ants in the juice. Several dozen others dragged a caramel along the floor at the same time... This is the classic behavior of the so-called sugar ants. Their sweet tooth will penetrate the house anywhere as they search for food: in an open juice package, in soda cans, in a box with candies or other sweets. In this article, we will tell you what these insects are, how to get rid of sugar ants, and what control products (baits and bait stations, liquid insecticides and IGRs), according to scientists, are the best to use.
Sugar ants don’t exist as a separate species. Such a name was given to sweet feeders of various kinds, getting into the house in search of sweet food and drinks. Who are sugar ants then?
Pavement ants (Tetramorium caepitum) and black or brown odorous house ants (Tapinoma sessile) are most often encountered in the kitchens of the Northwest of the US and the north of the Pacific coast. As Washington State University claims, they are called sugar ants. The University of Texas adds Pharaoh ants to this list. There is also “the banded sugar ant” but it is one of the most widely distributed species in Australia, so we won’t cover them here.
Pavement ants are a tiny species from Eurasia. A couple of hundred years ago, they were accidentally brought to North America, where these insects settled down and successfully spread over a large area. The ants of brown shades live in natural conditions in the ground and enter houses only in search of food. Their length varies from 1/12 to ¼ of an inch. They prefer to build colonies closer to a source of heat. Pavement ants are known as the first ants in space. A colony of 800 ants was delivered to the ISS in 2014 and stayed there. The barriers inside the colony were destroyed, but they were able to adapt to weightlessness and microgravity and learned to crawl along the walls. They use electrical wires, conduit, and water pipes as highways throughout the building. Performing an inspection at night around 10 or 11 PM can be useful since pavement ants are most active at night, and you are more likely to find trails that will lead back to the colony, as recommends the University of Utah.
A pharaoh ant is a tropical species that likes inaccessible dark places with a relative humidity of 80 percent and a temperature of around 80°F.In the warmer areas of the U.S., Pharaoh ants may nest indoors and forage outside. A bait containing the insect growth regulator methoprene sterilizes the queen and is a very effective tool, although this kind of bait can take 10 weeks or more to kill a colony.
Odorous house ants are of dark brown color and are about 1/10 of an inch in length.They also like to enter human houses in large quantities in search of food. If you grate it, an unpleasant smell resembling a rotten coconut will come from it. To kill odorous ants, you can use low-toxicity diatomaceous earth placed near the nest, but do not use it simultaneously with bait.
Should I Worry If I Have One Sugar Ant in My Kitchen?
What if a lonely ant is crawling around the kitchen and you cannot see any others? Should you be worried? You most definitely should. It is a foraging ant looking for food. Once it finds it, it will give a signal to the others, drawing them to the source of food. Their diet and preferences change during the season: they opt for sweet foods and drinks, sources of protein or fat. At this stage, the invasion can be stopped by eliminating the forager. If this is not done, then in the near future, a trail along which hundreds or even thousands of insects will run will be formed.
Where Do the Ants Live?
Outside, they live in colonies in the ground under stones, fallen trees or garbage. Indoors, they build nests in the walls, around water pipes and heating. Their colonies are usually large and can have up to 10 thousand ants with a lot of queens. If you find them in the walls, the entomologists advise you to splash insecticides in the cracks. If you do not know exactly where the nest is, use poison baits.
Pacific Northwest school integrated pest management consortium addresses the opinions of the experts from the Universities of Washington and Oregon. Since the ants are attracted primarily by food, it is recommended to remove all possible sources of food: any spilled lemonade or sugar and so on. All the produce should be stored in a sealed container (preferably with a rubber seal) or in a refrigerator. Wash the household appliances and take out the garbage in time.
Get rid of aphids. Ants can begin to cultivate aphids or worms on plants. These little insects produce some sweet food for sugar ants. Therefore, it is necessary to take care of the plants separately and not give the aphids any access to them.
Trails. If you find and liquidate foragers in time, your job will be easier. The forager’s trail in this case should be washed with soap and water. Unfortunately, this measure may not be sufficient if any trails have already appeared in the house. To combat them, it is necessary not only to sanitize, but also to repair all cracks and holes in the house, especially along communication lines and near water sources. An ant track will indicate the place where the ants have invaded the house and will help you find the nest. When cleaning up, you can also use peppermint, rosemary, clove, thyme and citrus oils, which repel insects. They are also used in the production of natural ant treatments.
Baits are most effective against ants. These slow- and fast-acting toxic substances are perceived as food by the insects. Once an ant grabs this food, it will carry it to the nest and share it with others. Gradually, all of them die, and the colony comes to desolation (slow-acting baits, including IGR products, are more likely to kill the queen than fast-acting ones). You must be prepared that when using baits, the number of ants in the house can temporarily increase as all of them will be attracted by the delicious sweet poison.
Many people complain that certain baits are absolutely useless against ants. Why does this happen? The thing is that ants are finicky and their tastes differ during different seasons. That is why you will have to offer them a wide range of poison baits: sugar and protein-based. First, attract them to a non-toxic food source like sugar milk, cherry or diced crickets or mealworms. After they start feeding, replace the non-toxic food source with several different toxic baits, and let them choose the one they prefer.
Insecticides. Powerful professional insecticides that impact a colony outside are a truly radical treatment. Usually fast-acting insecticides are used. Their disadvantage is that when sprayed, they affect only the ants that are on the surface, but on the other hand, they kill quickly. Use these products carefully as the California Department of Pesticide Regulation limits the use of powerful insecticides that can inflict environmental damage on the infield ecosystem.
The University of California experts note that baits are more effective than chemicals and that it is necessary to consult a professional exterminator in complicated cases: “Baits in refillable bait stations provide the safest effective treatment for do-it-yourself ant management outdoors. Combined with the exclusion and sanitation practices discussed above, this approach should manage most home ant invasions. If a problem persists, the best option is to hire a pest management professional trained in IPM or IPM-certified by a reputable organization. These professionals have access to more effective materials (such as fipronil) and application equipment that can prevent contamination of the environment”.
How Ant Killers Work
|Type||Active Ingredients||Action||Best Use|
|Liquid insecticide||Bifenthrin, Gamma-cyhalothrin, Deltamethrin||Kills on contact and creates a protective barrier around the house.||Use outdoors or indoors. Pour into mounds, treat foundations and spray in the insects' activity areas.|
|Granules||Acephate, hydramethylnon||They destroy an outdoor colony and prevent new pests from appearing.||Use outdoors for broadcast treatment, pour it around the mound and along the trails.|
|Foam and sprays||Fipronil||Will kill an inaccessible colony within a few days.||To be sprayed on nests in the walls.|
|Poison baits (bait stations)|| |
|The most effective method that can eliminate the entire colony. It is effective within 3-5 days (fast-acting), 1-5 weeks (slow-acting).||Use indoors or outdoors in the areas of insects' activity and around their mounds. Ants are finicky and they change their preferences often so you will likely have to switch bait types several times.|
|Diatomaceous Earth||Organic insect killer||Contact action: the particles cut the insects' exoskeleton and cause dehydration.||Use indoors, spray along the trails and in the insects' activity areas.|
|Boric acid (dust)||Low-toxic insect killer||Slow-acting stomach poison.||Use indoors, spray along the trails, down the cracks and shelters.|
|Limonene||Citrus essential oils ingredient||Impacts the CNS, causing paralysis and death of insects.||Can be used near food.|
|Oils and Natural sprays||Clove, peppermint, geranium, cinnamon leaf oils||Contact action and certain repelling effect.||Are conditionally safe, i.e. they can be used for treating any areas and creating a protective barrier around your house.|
|IGR||Pyriproxyfen||Highly effective: sterilizes the queen and therefore will remove the colony completely.||Use indoors or outdoors: spray mounds and trails. A very slow-acting product (is effective at least after a month), so be patient.|
The most popular organic control products are diatomaceous earth, boric acid, limonene and eugenol. However, unlike baits, all these treatments act on contact, which means they will destroy neither the queen nor the entire colony, but only those insects on which they fall.
Diatomaceous Earth. This is a mineral substance. They ground the remains of diatom algae into making the substance sharp enough to cause deadly damage to insects, cutting through the chitinous cover. Diatomaceous earth, including the popular Safer Brand Diatomaceous Earth for ~$9.47, is safe for animals and humans.
Boric acid, which is available as a powder, is used in certain baits or individually. It is effective against the colony inside the walls, where it spreads through the hole and is distributed along the trails and galleries of the mound. The best-selling boric acid today is PestGuard Zap-A-Roach Boric Acid – 2-pack (~$10.89).
Limonene. The University of Clemson names limonene, extracted from oranges and other citrus fruit peels as one of the effective treatments of vegetative origin against ants. Limonene is the active ingredient of many products made by Orange Guard, such as Orange Guard Indoor/Outdoor Spray for ~$17.47.
Eugenol acts on the insects quickly and is not considered dangerous to the environment. It is often used in combination with oils of thyme, sesame, rosemary and others. Pure 75% eugenol can be found in the Ceylon Cinnamon Leaf Oil for ~$18.95.
Let us stress once more that contact action is the main drawback of all natural products. That is why if you aim to exterminate all the ants including the queen, move on to poison baits, which are the most effective means of control.
According to the University of California, both sweet baits such as boric acid (low concentrations with less than 1% active ingredient) and protein baits (products containing fipronil or hydramethylnon) are attractive to pavement, pharaoh and odorous house ants.
The University of Nebraska–Lincoln experts recommend using such outdoor treatment as Termidor, a professional use product that can be only used twice a year. It cannot be used indoors. When applied to ant trails or entry points, the active ingredient, fipronil, clings to their body. It transfers to other ants in the colony.
We’ve picked several ant killing poison bait stations for indoor and outdoor use, granules for creating a protective barrier around the house, a professional insecticide and a sterilizer for the queen. We’ll start our review with an absolute best-seller Terro, based on the organic insecticide, borax.
TERRO T300 Liquid Ant Baits
This 6-station borax-based ant bait cost ~$4.72 and enjoys great popularity with the customers as there are over 5400 customer reviews! The manufacturer claims that the borax-based bait will kill all the household (home) ants, including sugar ones. It will attract the insects that want to taste it and will carry it to the nest to share with others including, what is important, the queen. Borax is a slow-acting stomach poison meaning that an ant will poison its kin before it dies. Remember not to kill them and not to prevent them from going in and out of the bait station as they must be convinced that they have been lucky to find a source of tasty food. The colony will die within a week.
Both borax and boric acid are referred to as organic and "conditionally non-toxic" substances, so make sure your children do not come into contact with the contents of the stations.
Price: ~$4.72 Check the current price
Advion Ant Gel Insecticide with Plunger
A pack containing four syringes and indoxacarb-based bait costs ~$26.70 (4-pack). This active ingredient is a fast-acting stomach poison. The bait is intended for control over most ant species indoors, including sweet feeders, which is confirmed by its positive (80% is the highest rating) customer reviews on Amazon. Read over 1600 of them.
This gel’s small concentration of indoxacarb (only 0.05%) causes loss of appetite, paralysis and death of the insects within a few days. In order for the bait to work, squeeze a small amount of it on a crack near the anthill or any other place out of pets’ and children’s reach, or place it on a piece of paper or cardboard there. The workers will have a chance to pass the contaminated food further on, but there is still a risk that it won’t reach the queen. Judging by the users’ reviews, the workers are sure to be poisoned. The gel use is also quite economical.
Price: ~$26.70 (4-pack) Check the current price
Maxforce Ant Bait Gel-Ant Poison
Here is another gel available on Amazon.com for ~$27.87 for 4 tubes of 27 grams each. Its active ingredient, fipronil, promises to yield results within 3-5 days. The bait is very sweet and acts on a variety of widely-spread species, including pavement and odorous house ants. Place it topically in the cracks, corners and anywhere else where you can find the insects as the gel will attract them for two weeks. Follow their trails to understand where the nest is.
So far, it’s too early for Maxforce Gel to be competitive enough, but despite being less popular it has already received a high rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars. The users even share it with each other: “I can't 'love' anything that has to do with ants, but I am happy with how quickly this product works to eliminate them. Shared the box of four with a friend who also battles sugar ants at home.”
Price: ~$27.87 Check the current price
AMDRO Kills Ants Bait Stations & Bait Granules
AMDRO offers a whole line of affordable pest control products made in USA. The line contains bait stations with hydramethylnon-based baits for outdoor and indoor use. They are slow-acting baits meaning that they are highly likely to kill not only workers, but also the queen. It will take up to one week.
The indoor use pack for ~$5.33 contains 4 bait stations that act for up to 3 months. Place them where you’ve seen ants: behind the closets, household appliances, in the corners of the kitchen. Despite contradictory feedback, AMDRO is in demand as it is affordable (a station costs less than $1.5 each) and perhaps quite effectively.
Outdoor stations by Amdro are available in packs of 8 for ~$9.06 and are in the form of stakes to be pinned in the ground near the nest or ant trails. The manufacturer guarantees a refund in case the product proves ineffective, but judging by the reviews so far, there have been no problems regarding sugar ants: “Extremely effective on the larger variety of black sugar ants.”
AMDRO also manufacturers poison granules for outdoor use that is rated higher on Amazon.com. These $11.97 granules will serve as a shield as they will kill the ants outdoors and won’t let them penetrate the house. Place the granules around the house in accordance with the manual.
Price of AMDRO Bait Stations for indoors: ~$5.33 Check the current price
Price of AMDRO Bait Stations for outdoors: ~$9.06 Check the current price
Price of AMDRO Bait Granules for outdoors: ~$11.97 Check the current price
Wall Voids Aerosol: Termidor Foam
Termidor Foam is a universal fipronil-based wood destroying insect treatment that is effective against ants, termites and others pests. The foam is to be locally sprayed in the wall voids, the center of the insects’ activity. The foam is very dense and the ants won’t be able to overcome this barrier and survive. They will die of fipronil action within a few days. Although the product is quite expensive (it costs ~$24.93), the users unanimously accept that it is effective and more affordable than hiring professional exterminators. Its high 4.7 out of 5 stars rating can prove this.
Price: ~$24.93 Check the current price
Desperate situations require desperate measures. If, despite all your efforts, sugar ants continue to attack your house, resort to powerful indoor and outdoor treatments used even by professional exterminators, namely a liquid insecticide and an IGR.
Termidor SC Termiticide
This is a professional 9% fipronil insecticide used for outdoor treatment against ants and termites. The manufacturer notes that its indoor use is only justified when it comes to voids caused by the insects’ activity. The product costs ~$76.73 for 20 oz and makes 24 gallons of a ready-to-use product when mixed with other.
The lot is to be treated as follows: dig a small groove around the foundation and pour the product in it. Simultaneously, spray the lot. If needed, repeat within 4-6 months.
The buyers on Amazon.com have given this product an unprecedented rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars. Judging by their feedback, it is not necessary to use Termidor as recommended by the manufacturer. Someone on YouTube recommended making a poison bait combining sweet food and this product, and Amazon.com user, General Banzai, followed this recommendation. With the help of a caramel and an insecticide, this customer has been able to kill over 1000 and came to the following conclusion: “It works, folks. And although my battle has ended, I imagine yours has only begun. I know it's meant to be sprayed around the perimeter of your house but I just didn't like the idea of having invisible death all over my property.” Read all customer reviews to know more helpful tips about Termidor use.
Price: ~$77.70 Check the current price
Extinguish Plus Fire Ant Bait
This is the queen sterilizer, a slow-acting dual-action agent containing Hydramethylnon and Insect Growth Regulator (IGR) (S)-Methoprene bait. Thus, the chemical not only kills the ants, but also sterilizes their queens, preventing reproduction; Although it kills quite soon (within 1-2 weeks), the IGR ingredients will act no sooner than a month after the application.
The product is expensive; 25 pounds cost ~$207.55, hence the low demand. But it is the slow-acting insecticides that are considered most effective by the scientists. Use it just like any other bait. Pour a small amount of it near the nest, and splash it generously around the nest and along the trails. The best time for treatment is in the spring and early autumn, but users are also advised to use it in summer, in dry and hot weather, when the ants are looking for additional sources of moisture and food.
Remember that you will be responsible for monitoring the appearance of any new colonies and scattering additional poison for them, but such an observance will ultimately play in your favor. The users claim that despite the high price charged for the poison, it is definitely worth it, considering the fact that it has been approved for both indoor and outdoor use.
Price: ~$207.55 Check the current price
How Baits Work
- NB! Killing worker ants does little to control the colony, because as few as 1% of a colony’s foraging worker ants are able to provide sufficient food to support nestbound queens and larvae, - as the University of California warns.
- The results may not be evident for several weeks.
- Bait must be slow-acting so workers won't be killed before they get back to the nest.
- Bait stations or stakes are easiest to use and safest for the environment.
- The ants are finicky, their tastes change over the seasons so you might need both sugar and protein-based baits to get rid of them.
- Poison baits won’t be effective until you remove all the attractive food (sweets, lemonade etc).
- Don’t prevent the ants from taking the bait; they must think they are safe. To understand where the nest is, follow the ants to check where they carry the poison.
9 Sugar Ant Killers Comparison Chart
TERRO Liquid Ant Baits
|Borax||Slow-acting best selling bait|
Advion Ant Gel Insecticide with Plunger
|Indoxacarb||Fast-acting bait for all sweet feeders|| |
Maxforce Ant Bait Gel-Ant Poison
|Fipronil||Includes sweet feeders|
AMDRO Bait Stations for indoors
|Hydramethylnon||Slow-acting bait stations: kill and prevent ant relapse|| |
AMDRO Bait Stations for outdoors
|Hydramethylnon||Slow-acting killing stakes|| |
~$9.06 (8 stakes)
Amdro Ant Block Home Perimeter Ant Bait Granules
|Hydramethylnon||Slow-acting granules for creating a killer barrier|
|Fipronil||A dense foam for killing the insects in the walls; will destroy a colony within a few days|
|Fipronil||A powerful professional insecticide to be used twice a year|
Extinguish Bait -
|Hydramethylnon with Insect Growth Regulator (IGR) (S)-Methoprene||Kills workers and sterilizes the queen, is the slowest as it takes at least 4 weeks|