During this awkward, semi-annual Transition of the Seasons (Spring/Summer edition), the weather in the great state of Texas oftentimes finds itself straddling crisp breezes and suffocating humidity. Along with this infamous fluctuation in temperature comes the reawakening of our infamous summertime pests: house and fruit flies, June bugs, mosquitoes, and cicadas just to name a few. But one insect stands out among the rest — a sneaky, meticulous little bug that travels in packs and invades households within half a day: the sugar ant.
What Is a Sugar Ant?
Sugar may be in its nickname, but a visit from these insects typically brings nothing but bitterness and frustration. Most commonly these tiny dark ants can be found marching in single-file along baseboards, on kitchen counters, and virtually anywhere in the bathroom that drips water. If you spot this dreaded line of bugs, chances are they’ve nested and chosen your home as their home.
Ironically, the term “sugar ant” doesn’t necessarily refer to an ant that only feasts on sugar. In the southern U.S., “sugar ant” is a blanket term used to identify 2 different species of ant that exhibit very similar habits and appearances, resulting in mistaken identities:
The Rover Ant
- A small, dark brown-to-black colored ant
- Nests outside of the home- usually under mulch, vegetation, rotting wood, or potted plants -and ventures inside for water
- Prefers protein-rich foods (i.e. dog food, meat, etc), but also eats sugary sweets
- Travels in a single-file line.
- Enters home through easy access points like electrical outlets and poorly sealed windows/doors.
The Pharaoh Ant
- A small ant ranging in colors from light orange to red
- Nests inside of the home- usually within the walls or under flooring -and prefers sugary foods
- Travels in single-file line
- Uses electrical outlets and unsealed baseboards as access points; once inside, uses interior of walls as a highway to get from room to room
Both species are native U.S. insects ranging from southern California to Florida, and both tend to march through kitchens and bathrooms mid-year — when the temperature starts to climb and water becomes scarce.
Basic Sugar Ant Prevention
Even if you’re having trouble identifying your tiny new house guests, there are 2 simple steps in preventing sugar ants from being attracted to your indoor space in the first place:
- Properly seal cracks and openings in baseboards, windowsills, and doorways. These entry points are ideal for not only ants, but roaches and other pests as well!
- Maintain routine cleanliness, especially in the kitchen and bathroom(s). In the kitchen: wipe down sticky or crumby countertops, correctly put away and seal up food (buy containers if necessary!), and vacuum/sweep/mop floors with spills and food stains. In the bathroom: wipe down/dry off the tub and sink. If you don’t practice regular cleaning habits, you’re practically inviting sugar ants to a luau.
Advanced Outdoor Prevention
While you make the inside of your house less appealing to sugar ants, you also have the opportunity to create an ant fortress around the perimeter of your home!
- If you have an empty plot of soil, consider planting mint or chili pepper near popular entry points and/or nests. Ants, termites, and other garden pests generally avoid these plants.
- Spread Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth around the perimeter of your house to guarantee ant prevention. This is a safe, non-toxic powder used in certain cake mixes and toothpastes, but is deadly to ants, roaches, termites, ticks, and bed bugs. Be sure to buy the food grade powder, re-apply it if it touches moisture (i.e. morning dew), and do NOT breathe it in.
- While a less reliable method (read Garden Myth’s observations here!), ants definitely are repelled by dry coffee grounds. Try spreading them outside strategically in areas where you know ants are prone to enter the house.
Natural Baits, Repellents, & Recipes
Consider toxic, chemical-based ant spray a thing of the past! Since both of these species are more likely to split up and scatter about the house when confronted with spray repellent, bait traps (which are taken directly back to the nest) are the best method of action.
Once you’ve pin-pointed which crevice the sugar ants are roaming in and out from, there are several organic mixtures you can wipe the area down with — not only sanitize, but to wipe out their pheromone trails and discourage their return:
1. Grab the distilled white vinegar and use a rag to wipe it along the entry point, as well as any clear trails the ants have formed. The acidity of the vinegar eradicates their scent trails and acts as a natural repellent.
If you want a vinegar spray for widespread use (ex: wiping countertops), combine 1/3 vinegar with 2/3 water in a spray bottle with one of the following:
- 30 drops of lemon essential oil
- 30 drops of peppermint essential oil
- 2-3 drops of clove essential oil
2. Peppermint, Tea Tree, Cinnamon, and Lemon essential oils act as effective repellents. Soak a cotton ball in one of these oils and place in problem areas, like cabinets and floorboards. Infuse a cotton ball with a few drops and wipe their entry points thoroughly, repeating for a few days until the ants leave.
3. While Clove stem essential oil may not emit as gentle a scent as the other oils, it performs one special trick: killing ants on contact. An all-natural and potent extract, clove leaf and stem oil contains high traces of eugenol — a bioactive chemical “that is effective on a wide variety of household pests such as cockroaches, ants, dust mites, flies, wasps, spiders, crickets, and fleas” according to Clemson Home & Garden. Be sure to not let the undiluted oil make contact with your skin, as it may cause irritation and rash.
4. Concoct a baking soda & powdered sugar (half soda, half sugar) bait and place it in shallow bowls and/or jar lids near problem areas. Ants have trouble differentiating between baking soda (something that will kill them if ingested) and powdered sugar, but the sugar is too tantalizing a treat to pass up! Once they take it back to their nest and eat the baking soda, the number of intruders is guaranteed to dwindle.
5. If you have rover ants and find the nest outside, simply pour boiling water onto the colony. The survivors of the flooded anthill will relocate posthaste!