Ants in the Winter? …Oh my!
Yes ants are alive and well, invading our structures during the coldest months.
Ants are one of the most fascinating creatures. A highly evolved and dominant insect. There are currently more that 12,000 species in the world today. These are broken down into two classes; one or two nodes. I don’t want to get into an entomology discussion, but that is the first distinguishing feature that we look for when dealing with ants.
They are social insects and at least two generations will live together in the colony. Most are not pests and provide ecological benefits such as soil aeration, detritus decomposition, nutrient recycling and as predators. Ants are omnivores that feed on a wide variety of foods. Their diet varies based on what the colony needs and what foods are available. The food requirements also vary by season and the development of the colony ranging from proteins in spring to sugars in summer and back to proteins in the fall and winter.
Some can pose a serious threat when they invade our living or working spaces. In most cases, ants are a nuisance, but some can cause damage to wood and fabrics, contaminate food, and bite or sting. Mating swarms of ants can create anxiety for home owners as they get mistaken for termites. Ants also have the potential to transmit disease organisms in hospitals, health-care facilities, food processing and packaging plants or anywhere food is prepared.
Pharaoh ants, have been shown to carry Pseudomonas, Staphylococcus, Salmonella, Clostridium and Streptococcus. These ants cause havoc in hospitals as they are attracted to intravenous bags and blood wounds of patients after surgery. The Pharaoh ant is extremely difficult to eradicate and may take months to gain control of. The are vary tiny and make their colonies in wall voids. One should never, and I can’t stress this enough, ever, ever spray an aerosol insecticide when trying to control Pharaoh ants. One of their colony defensive method is to “bud out” and separate into smaller units and start secondary colonies. There are several queens in this specie and eliminating them is no small undertaking.
Pavement ants can be found in basements and ground level offices and structures. They usually make their colonies outside under concrete slabs, interlocking bricks, driveways, and patio stones. However, in the winter they do come inside through foundation cracks and settle in wall voids near a heat source. They are black-brown ants with paler legs and antenna. Pavement ants are one of the most commonly found ants and appear season after season. In most instances, baiting for these ants works just fine when they gain access to a structure. For more serious issues, usually externally, then spraying the foundation will eliminate the infestation. They can cause a great deal of damage by the excavation of soil debris turning small cracks into deep voids.
LARGE YELLOW ANTS
Another ant that can be found inside during the winter months is the Large Yellow ant. These ants usually come out of cracks or voids and dump soil on the basement floor. The become a nuisance when the alates; winged form, swarm indoors. When we get a call for flying ants in the winter, it is usually to deal with Large Yellow ants. A distinguishing feature of this ant is a lemon or citronella odour that is emitted when they are alarmed or crushed. So next time you have flying ants, crush one and see if it is a this type of pest. They usually do not feed on household foods so spraying for these ants is a great control method.
The most structurally destructive ant is the Carpenter Ant. They are wood boring and do not eat wood as some may think. They excavate their nests in wood creating smooth tunnels and galleries. These ants look for water damaged wood outside or inside of a structure, but they can also be found in structurally sound wood. They can cause thousands of dollars of damage around windows, sliding doors and roofs. They will enter a building to nest or forage. A mature colony can consist of a parent nest and satellite nests. This allows them to expand their territory and allow for growth of a colony. They can number into the hundreds of thousands with multiple queens. The key to eliminating Carpenter ants is to locate the nest! During the winter months, they enter a state termed diapause. A state like suspended animation. There bodies have glycerol, a compound that acts as antifreeze which allows them to survive frigid temperatures. The colony will be dormant from September / October to late January. They are active from February to June and then take a mid summer break and continue activity into the fall months. Carpenter ants are primarily nocturnal and rely on smell and chemical trails. These ants feed on proteins during the summer and fall. Once established in a structure a chemical spray is the best control method.
So ants are all around us spring, summer, fall and winter. As I mentioned the first thing to do is to try and identify the ant and then deal with it accordingly. Be diligent when looking at the activity and try to determine the colony nest area. Ants will track and forage for food and water, they follow pheromone trails and eventually take the same rout back to the nest. This will be critical information should you need to call a professional to help you solve the problem.
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