How to battle an ant infestation

Ant invasion

They may be teeny tiny, but ants are a huge bummer at the cottage. They crawl all over your space, contaminate your food, and give you the creeps. And when the infestation gets serious, they’re everywhere! So how do you beat these invasive little critters and kick them out of your cottage for good?

First you have to identify the culprit. There are thousands of species of ants in the world, but in Canadian cottage country you’re probably dealing with one of these three pests:

Carpenter ants

These black and red wood-dwelling ants are larger than most species, measuring up to one centimetre in length. Their ideal home is outside in damp, decaying environments like dead trees and piles of firewood, but they’re attracted to any wooden surface. Your deck, dock, siding, attic, doors, and floors are all fair game. Once they get inside your cottage, they’ll make themselves right at home, scurrying around your kitchen, snacking on fatty, sugary leftovers. Carpenter ants are often mistaken for termites, but they don’t actually eat wood; they just tunnel through it. You can sometimes spot an infestation by the suspicious little piles of shavings they leave in their wake. If left unchecked, a large colony of carpenter ants can weaken the foundation of your cottage.

Pharaoh ants

These light-coloured, formerly tropical critters prefer warm temperatures and love to build their nests indoors. They’ll gravitate to the nearest source of food or water, which likely means your kitchen or bathroom. You can spot them hanging out around your baseboards, on your countertops, in your toilets, and down your drains. Meat, grease, and sugary syrup-like substances are their drug of choice, and groups of them will travel in straight lines, bringing food back to the nest. Pharaoh ants are very tiny, less then two millimetres in length, but they can still cause damage by chewing through electrical wiring and tearing holes in fabric and rubber.

Pavement ants

These dark-coloured medium sized ants, which range four to 10 millimetres in length—are slightly less common at the cottage because (as their name suggests) they thrive on paved surfaces. But if you’ve put in a driveway or walkway or done any stone landscaping, they could become a problem. Although their colonies are outdoors, they will travel inside to find food. Like pharaoh ants, they prefer protein and sugar.

Removing ants
Once you’ve determined the species of ant you’re battling, you can come up with a strategy to deal with them.

For pharaoh and pavement ants, baits are the best way to send them packing. Locate the trails that they’re using to return to their nests, and place the baits strategically in their path. Make sure to use non-repellant baits, which are designed so that the ants cannot detect the presence of insecticide. Repellant baits may scare the ants away temporarily, but pharaoh ants create mobile colonies. When one location is compromised, they simply re-group, choose a new spot, and strike again. For the colony to be destroyed entirely, the ants need to unknowingly carry the bait back home. Insecticide spray will also be ineffective for the same reason. You can pick up baits at any hardware or drug store, but if you prefer a more organic version, you can easily make one at home. Just mix one tsp. of Borax or boric acid in a fatty liquid like bacon grease and place it in a small bowl.

Carpenter ants can be trickier to get rid of, because it’s difficult to locate their colonies and decide where to place your baits. You need to figure out if they’re actually living inside the cottage or somewhere else on the property. If you can locate the colony, try using a vacuum to suck the whole thing right out. If that doesn’t, work you may need to contact a professional.

So now that you’ve defeated your tiny foe, how do you prevent an infestation from occurring again?

Eliminate food sources

Say goodbye to countertop snacks and stray crumbs. Place all food inside tightly sealed containers, carefully vacuum the floor, and wipe down the table after every meal. Ants are also attracted to pet food because of its high protein content, so don’t leave bowls out for your dogs or cats. Feed them at specific times and then re-store the food. If you have any jam jars, syrup containers, or other sugary greasy condiments, wipe them down thoroughly after every use.

Keep it dry

Ants love moist, damp playgrounds, so keep your floors and countertops dry and fix any leaky faucets. Pavement ants hang out near any standing water sources, so try to get rid of puddles or shallow ponds.

Create barriers

Get of cracks and holes in basically every part of your property. Seal up windows tightly and fill in cracks in your foundation or walkways. You can also create barriers around potentially vulnerable areas in your home by using unbroken lines of household items that drive ants away: try powdered charcoal, turmeric, cinnamon, citrus oil, hot chili powder, Vaseline, chalk, or baby powder.

Be on the lookout for scouts

If you spot one or two ants lurking around your cottage, sponge them up quickly before they can run back and tell all their friends about the hot new feeding ground. If you wipe down their trail with vinegar, it will also eliminate any pheromones they left behind and keep other ants from tracking their scent.

Handle wood very carefully

To specifically ward off carpenter ants, don’t bring outside wood inside. Keep firewood out of the cottage and make sure it’s stacked a safe distance away from the side of the house. Trim all tree branches so they’re not brushing up against the exterior of your cottage, and replace any damaged or damp wood in and around your cottage.