How To Get Rid Of Sugar Ants
December 26, 2021
Sugar ants in Florida are the most common pests our new clients call us about. Upon inspecting, we’ve found that about 90% of the time these sugar ants are actually Ghost Ants or Big Headed Ants.
Ghost ants are very tiny and hard to see (hence the name.) Their colonies can actually have multiple queens, which we have found to be the main reason people are unable to successfully control them.
Big Headed Ants have massive colonies that usually affect an entire neighborhood. One time treatments simply don't work. There are so many ants underneath and outside of your home that they will consume all of the product applied on an initial treatment and will require at least one follow-up to get control.
Sugar ants and Ghost ants love tropical climates, making them largely a Florida, Texas, and Hawaii pest problem.
The farthest North active field colonies of ghost ants had been reported in Florida was in Gainesville. In South Florida, we see ghost ants every day in our clients homes in cities like West Palm Beach, FL; Port St. Lucie, FL; Fort Lauderdale, FL; and Miami, FL. In Tallahassee, FL, our technicians have never seen ghost ants.
There may be ghost ants further north than Gainesville, but they are generally confined to greenhouses or other structures that provide conditions allowing ghost ants to survive.
Ghost ants are extremely small, between 1.3 to 1.5 mm long. The top half of ghost ants tend to be dark brown with the bottom half appearing to be an opaque or white/yellow color.
The size and coloring of these ants make them very hard to see. In homes with dark granite counter-tops, it can be almost impossible to see ghost ants in these areas without the use of a flashlight during a close inspection. Laying a flashlight flat on a countertop is a trick we commonly use to identify the location of ghost ant trails.
Sugar Ants Are On The Shrubs Surrounding Your Home
Sugar ants and Ghost ants are attracted to your home because there are insects such as aphids, scale, and whiteflies feeding on the plant material on your property. As these sugar ants feed on the plants, they secrete a substance called honeydew which is a food source for ghost ants and other bugs.
You’ll know for sure you have honeydew on your plants if you see a black sooty mold type substance growing on the leaves or if you look closely and see insects stunting the new plant growth.
If you have any palm trees surrounding your home, as most homeowners in the Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie, and Vero Beach areas have, you can bet there are ant trails going up those tree trunks to feed off the honeydew on the trunks and palm fronds.
If any of those palm fronds are touching your home, you can also bet there is a trail of sugar ants possibly using those fronds as a bridge to enter your home while bypassing any preventative pest control foundation treatment.
During our home pest control treatments, we treat these plants to eliminate the insects feeding on them, which will then eliminate the food source for the ghost ants – making your home a less attractive target!
Sugar Ants Inside Your Home
When these ants are in the landscape around your home, it is inevitable they will eventually find their way inside without preventative treatments. No amount of caulking will be enough to keep them out since they are so small.
Once inside, sugar ants are usually seen first in the kitchen or bathrooms since they are attracted to moisture. Water droplets on countertops and in sinks provide the perfect moisture source for sugar ants.
We've also seen them attracted to condensation on the water lines going to appliances such as your refrigerator or dishwasher.
They will often colonize wall voids or spaces between cabinets and baseboards. Potted plants are also often a favorite for their colonies (and also a prime breeding ground for fungus gnats.)
Since ghost ants in particular can have multiple colonies and queens, they can potentially have separate colonies in each of the above locations even if there are no ant trails connecting the colonies.
Why Ant Sprays Don’t Work On Sugar Ants
From our experience, the main reason people are unable to get rid of ghost ants is that they are spraying over-the-counter products from big box stores. These products are great at killing the ghost ants and other small ants instantly, so it seems like it’s working.
The problem is that the active ingredient in these products usually interferes with the pheromone trails these ants follow, causing them to split trails into different rooms, creating new queens and new colonies in a process called budding.
These over-the-counter contact kill ant sprays also have no residual, so they won't have any effect on ants that aren't directly hit by your spray.
To successfully get rid of these ants, we rely on non-repellent treatment methods so that the ants may survive for a few days, long enough to carry the products we apply back to their queens to eliminate all of the colonies in and around your home.
Sprays that are considered non-repellent, including Termidor, Phantom, Taurus, Temprid, and Alpine WSG, will not kill ants on contact if they are applied following product label instructions. This is important because it will allow the ants to survive long enough to share the active ingredient with other ants, eventually leading to colony collapse.
When used in conjunction with a variety of granular baits and gel baits, insect monitors, and dusts like Boric Acid, ant control and prevention can be very effective at getting rid of ants for good.
How To Get Rid Of Sugar Ants
With any pest, it’s best to use a variety of treatment methods simultaneously to increase the likelihood of success in eliminating them. With ghost ants, the treatment must be sensitive to the fact that if any treatment is too strong, it will kill them before they can bring any product back to their colonies.
We always coach our technicians that more does not equal better, so it is important to always follow product label guidelines to both keep products safe and to gain control of severe ant infestations.
We start on the interior of the home, by applying a professional-grade ant bait like Intice Thiquid (Borax) along active ghost ant trails. When applying, it’s important to place small drops of gel bait in many places along a trail. Large goblets of liquid or gel bait won’t increase the effectiveness of the treatment and will create a costly mess more than anything.
We then apply a pet-safe borate dust behind electrical outlets in the kitchen, to eliminate the potential use of the electrical lines by ants to gain access to the food and water located in the kitchen. In hidden areas we will use insect monitors to help us identify the type of insects in your home and the source of those insects.
In the attic accesses, we apply a long-lasting granular bait to eliminate the use of this area by both sugar ants and American cockroaches. Even if we are at a home to treat for ants in a kitchen, we always make sure to treat inside the attic to eliminate any pests that may be hiding in or underneath the insulation.
After the interior ant trails are baited in areas inaccessible to pets and children, we apply a targeted crack and crevice spray such as Alpine WSG directly onto active trails. This product does not kill ghost ants on contact.
By allowing ants to survive a few days, they inadvertently carry it back to their colonies and spread it among other ants while sharing food.
On the exterior of the home, we will apply another spray, often Termidor or Taurus, to ghost ant trails and potential entry points. These are also ant control products that will not kill the ants on contact if they are used properly following label instructions.
Make sure to carefully read the labels of the products you decide to use, as Termidor and Taurus are not legal to be applied on the interior of homes.
To finish off our initial ant control treatment and provide long-term ant prevention, we use a pet-safe granular bait along the foundation of your home and in landscape plant beds adjacent to your home to control sugar ants and other crawling insects including millipedes, fire ants, silverfish and cockroaches.
As you can see, a variety of products are recommended to enhance the control of this persistent pest. By using more than one product, you will increase the likelihood of completely eliminating ants.
How To Prevent Sugar Ants From Returning
Once sugar ants are completely eliminated from the inside of your home, it’s time to focus your prevention efforts on the exterior. By following product labels, an exterior sprays and bait barrier can be applied to keep them from returning.
If applied properly, a quarterly pest control treatment should be sufficient, but we would not recommend trying to stretch out preventative applications any further than that. UV rays and moisture will degrade even micro-encapsulated products within a few months in our sub-tropical climate.
Make sure to inspect the exterior of your home for plants and tree branches that may be touching the home. These act as bridges for ants to cross over exterior treatments that are applied to the home foundation.
If possible, trim any plants and branches off of the house. This will also help prevent cockroaches and rats from accessing your home.
During preventative exterior treatments, focus on inspecting and treating plants and trees to ensure no insects are producing honeydew. While properly applied treatments are extremely effective, it’s not worth risking a failure of control by allowing conducive conditions to attract ghost ants and other bugs to your property.
We provide lawn care and ornamental care services to protect your landscape from these pests that damage lawns, shrubs and trees. By eliminating these plant and palm tree eating insects, we will be able to stop the honeydew production that is attracting ants to your home.
Lastly, we recommend using caulk on the exterior of your home to seal small cracks and gaps that small ants will often use to get inside. If you thoroughly inspect the exterior of your home, you will often find ant trails leading into openings along the foundation or windows that can be sealed.
Sugar Ant Control in West Palm Beach, FL
If you just can’t seem to get rid of ghost ants in the West Palm Beach, FL area no matter what you’ve tried, reach out to us to schedule a free quote. We’d be glad to help if you’re in our service area which includes all of Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Broward counties. As of 2022, we also now offer pest control in Leon county, FL.
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