Don't bother with ant sprays or other pesticides that kill only the wandering workers, because as long as the colony is actively nesting nearby, more ants will appear. To get rid of ants for good, you need to use a treatment that kills the entire colony, including the queen back in the nest.
Red ants, or fire ants, are omnivores. They eat both plants and animals to satisfy their nutritional requirements. Their menu includes carbohydrates (sugars), lipids (fats), and protein. Baits, whether homemade or commercial, are the treatment of choice for eliminating infestations. Ant bait combines a desirable ant food with a pesticide. Worker ants carry the food back to the nest, where the pesticide works on the entire colony. You can make an effective ant bait using boric acid in powder form, a low toxicity pesticide available at your grocery store in the detergent isle, called "Borax".
What Is Boric Acid?
Whether you have sugar ants or red ants, boric acid is an effective, minimally toxic pesticide that can be used in a homemade ant bait. Both boric acid and sodium borate salts are derived from the element boron, which occurs naturally in soil, water, and rocks. Boric acid was first registered as a pesticide in the U.S. in 1948, and was re-registered in 1993.
Boric acid is listed as a low to very low toxicity pesticide, but that does not mean it's nontoxic. Virtually any substance can be harmful or fatal if used improperly (even water!). Read the label carefully, and follow any directions or cautionary information on the boric acid package.
How Does Boric Acid Work?
Boric acid works primarily as a stomach toxin on ants. The worker ants will carry the bait food, loaded with boric acid, back to the nest. There, the ants in the colony will ingest it and die. The boric acid seems to interfere with their metabolism, although scientists aren't exactly sure how it does so. Sodium borate salts affect an insect's exoskeleton, causing the insect to desiccate.
How to Make and Use Homemade Ant Bait
Mix 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, 2 tablespoons of honey, and about ½ teaspoon of boric acid powder. Protein-loving ants respond best to a bait made of both protein and sugar.
Using the Ant Bait
Caution: Keep children and pets away from the ant bait mixture. Although boric acid is considered to have low toxicity, you don't want your dog or cat licking up the bait, nor should you allow children to come in contact with it. It's always better to be safe! Store the boric acid and any extra bait mixture where children and pets cannot access it.
Place your ant bait in an area where you see ants the most. You want the bait to be somewhere along their regular travel path. Use a small stone to secure a square of waxed paper or cardboard over the ant bait mixture near ant colonies outside and to protect from rain. If you chose a good location and prepared the right kind of bait, you'll probably find ants swarming around the bait within a few hours. If you don't, try moving the bait to a different location.
You may need to replace the bait regularly with a fresh batch, if you notice that it has dried up, as the ants won't be interested in jelly or peanut butter once it dries up. Continue putting out bait until you no longer see ants.
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