Thursday, December 5, 2013
Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer... An Allegheny mound ant walks along a plant stalk in Arundel on Friday, July 18, 2008.
Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer... Ants are more prolific this year, keeping pest control businesses busy. Steve Butler of Atlantic Pest Solutions in Arundel injects a gel into a baseboard in a Kennebunk home on Friday, July 18, 2008. The gel attracts the carpenter ants in the home and they carry it back to the queen, poisoning her and destroying the colony.
Who would have thought ants love snow?
At least they did this past winter, when snow covered much of Maine all season and provided a nice security blanket of sorts for millions of the insects.
''Usually, the ground freezes first and then we have snow, but it happened the other way this year,'' said Jim Dill, pest management specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Orono. ''So the anthills in the ground got insulated, creating very good survival conditions for ants.''
In other words, if you think you're seeing more ants in and around your home this year, it's not just your imagination.
''Yeah, we're definitely seeing a rebound in ants this year. Last year was a quiet year, after a cool, damp spring,'' said Ted St. Amand, owner of Atlantic Pest Solutions in Arundel and Brunswick. ''But this year, the heavy snow cover prevented frost from going too deep.''
If you're suffering from an ant infestation, the first thing to do is figure out which of the two species most common to Maine you have -- pavement ants or carpenter ants.
KNOW THINE ENEMY
Pavement ants are tiny, almost microscopic bugs you see swarming to a cracker crumb on your floor. They are attracted to food in the house and are a nuisance, but cause no major damage to homes.
Still, St. Armand said, ''nobody likes to open their sugar bowl and see a bunch of ants crawling in there.''
Carpenter ants are much bigger -- queens can grow to an inch long. They tunnel into wood (especially soft, rotting wood) and drywall, and can cause major structural damage. They don't eat wood -- they eat people food like other ants -- but their tunneling can destroy windowsills, door frames and other wood in the home. And, while they're not aggressive, they do bite.
''Mold and mildew will attract ants, because they can feed off that, so it's best to keep your house as dry as possible,'' St. Amand said.
There are other kinds of ants in Maine, too. Crazy ants, which are small like pavement ants, are harder to track and kill, because the paths they take from nests to foraging areas are much more erratic.
Then there are red European fire ants, which are just now making their way into coastal areas of Maine, mostly east of Boothbay Harbor. They can sting, but not as badly as fire ants found in the southern United States.
But how do you know exactly which type of ant has decided to claim squatters' rights on your home? A pest control professional can tell you. Or, you can send your ants to Dill's office in Orono, where for no charge someone will identify them for you. (See box at right for more details.)
NOW, GET RID OF THEM
One of the first things most people do when they see an ant is kill it. But this doesn't do a whole lot of good, since there are literally thousands of ants where that one came from.
The trick is to kill ants in their nests, says St. Amand, so you need to get whatever insecticide you're using back to the nest via the roaming ants.
Many over-the-counter ant traps are based on this concept. They are filled with a gel or ''bait'' that the ants are supposed to carry back to the nests. But not all work, often because they are not scented properly to attract ants, St. Amand said. (One that does work, according to St. Armand, is sold under the brand name Combat, and uses the same chemical that professionals use.)
It's important not to put an ant trap down and then spray a bug-killer as well. If you do, you will probably kill ants before they bring the bait back to the nest.
If you call a professional to your home, the good ones will not simply put down traps or spray and walk away. He'll try to figure out the location of the ant routes and nest, and then determine the best way is to reach them.
Often, this means drilling a hole into areas of the wall and injecting an insecticide. St. Armand said he would also probably spray the perimeter of the house to keep new ants from coming in.
St. Amand and Dill both say a way to use less pesticides for ants and other pests is to pinpoint the location of your problem and do some regular prevention.
Keeping areas of your house dry, keeping your lawn healthy, and keeping wood or any items from touching your house are all good preventative steps.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:
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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer... This 2x4 taken from a home that had an infestation of carpenter ants shows what the ants are capapble of doing to a piece of wood. Photographed at Atlantic Pest Solutions in Arundel on Friday, July 18, 2008.
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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer... Steve Butler of Atlantic Pest Solutions in Arundel injects a gel into a baseboard in a Kennebunk home on Friday, July 18, 2008. The gel attracts the carpenter ants in the home and they carry it back to the queen, poisoning her and thereby destroying the colony.