Sugar ant, grease ant, vinegar ant, people have all sorts of names for little black ants. They invade your kitchens and infiltrate your bathrooms. They even infest your pantries! Every region has its problem with ants but if you are in Oregon and have ants in your honey jar you are most likely dealing with Tapinoma sessile or Odorous house ants (OHA).
OHA are small (1/8”-1/4”) dark brown to black ants. They get their name from the foul smell they give off when they are crushed. OHA most commonly nest in the soil outside, making their nest under rocks and in the root structures of plants. On occasion, they will nest indoors, usually in a moist warm area or where there is pre-existing insect damage. Colonies have multiple queens and boast huge populations.
While OHA won’t do any structural damage to your home and do not pose a public health risk, they are a nuisance and will contaminate your food. With this in mind, there are steps you can take to make your home and property less attractive to these pesky intruders.
1. Prevention starts outside. All creatures need three things to live: food, water, and shelter. Removing these factors from around your home will decrease pest pressure. Keep your trees and bushes healthy and trimmed well away from the home. Remove low vegetation like grass and ferns up against the foundation. Dead leaf litter holds in moisture and provides shelter. Keep it raked up and away from the foundation.
2. If you want to go even further in prevention, install a “buffer zone” of drain rock around the perimeter of your home against the foundation. It creates a low moisture area that prevents ants from nesting up close to the structure.
3. Reducing food and water sources is the name of the game indoors. Make sure your potted plants are free of honeydew-producing parasites and empty the drip trays to remove water sources. Keep foods, especially syrups and honey, in tight containers. Also, make sure you wash your pet dishes often and put them away when they’re not in use.
Even with all this preparation, ants can still show up. Many people’s first reaction will be to reach for one of the many sprays that are available at the local box store. Resist this urge. Over-the-counter sprays are often highly repellant and can often make your problem worse, chasing an infestation from one location to the next or scattering ants all over your home.
Although spraying for ants is best left to professionals. If you want to attempt control on your own, bait can be your best bet. Over-the-counter bait stations, especially the liquid and gel formulations, can be a safe and effective measure that can be taken while you are waiting for a pest control tech to arrive. (Always read and follow the label instructions when using any pesticide.) Place the bait as close to the source of the ants as possible and let the ants come and go to it as freely as you can.
There are many reliable resources for the general public. One great resource is our National Pest Management Association (NPMA), they have a great site called PestWorld. You can also contact your local extension service or just call your friendly neighborhood pest control company (like Good Earth!). Most are happy to offer advice and answer any questions you have free of charge.