Thanks to the drought in Georgia, and all the pop-up thuderstorms that have followed, many residents are seeing what can be described as an ant invasion.
The ants are everywhere -- in closets, in laundry rooms, in classrooms, in cars, in offices, in coffee pots. Name it, and these ants likely have been there.
According to experts at the University of Georgia, these are Argentine ants (Linepithema humile). They were inadvertently introduced to the United States in the 1880s, and are one of the most invasive pests around.
Jacob Holloway, a graduate student at the UGA's Department of Entomology who is specifically studying Argentine ants, said normally many of these insects die in the winter. However, the winter was mild, and now all those insects are breeding, and trying to escape the hot and dry conditions, he said.
"You would think if it rains that they will move outside," he said, commenting on Georgia's recent rain storms, "but in the short term, it really does cause their numbers to spike."
In the long term and "in a perfect world" the rain will help draw the ants back outside to their real homes, not the inside of yours, Holloway said.
They are looking for water, looking for food, looking for shade. Basically, they are looking for anything they can to survive.
It can be a jacket left in a car that hides ants from the direct sun. It can be house gutters where mulch and leaves act as a cool, new home. It can be a crumb -- just one -- that feeds masses of ants and their buddies.
Holloway, for example, made the mistake of leaving a doughnut on his desk recently, and when he returned there were easily a couple thousands ants crawling all over it.
His story mirrors that of many people lately. Mary Morrison posted this comment on a recent Patch Facebook site about the problem:
"My niece's car was covered in ants in her office parking lot. Outside, inside, all over. They colonized under the hood. Really strange. She sprayed with ant spray yesterday and her son sprayed again today and hosed everything down under the hood. Then he had to (vacuum) it out. Really gross."
Holloway said that ant spray doesn't really do much. Sure, it kills insects on contact -- just as advertised. But, where there are five ants, there are probably 5,000, he said.
"That's like the ultimate short-term solution," he said. "I wouldn't really call it a solution. It just makes you feel better."
Although ants do retreat if they don't find what they want when they go foraging, the public is never going to completely eradicate the pesky insects.
"They're here, and they're not going anywhere," Holloway said.
So, what's the public to do? Patch has summarized some helpful hints from Holloway, who works directly under entomology professor Daniel Suiter.
- DO NOT feel bad about finding ways to kill the ants. They're invasive. They don't belong here anyhow.
- DO NOT operate under the illusion that normal bug sprays will solve your problem. The ants may very well come back.
- DO use gel baits that can be bought at many home improvement stores, and place them in areas where the ants are or have been. Those ants will nimble on the bait, take the poison back to their ant friends, and kill them, too.
- DO use the special chemical gels in cars by putting a small amount on the non-sticky side of duct tape and placing the duct tape inside the car where you will not step on it. Ants will gobble this up, too. Be careful of children and animals that also may be in the car, and possibly place the bait under the hood near the engine.
- DO treat the outside of your home if you have a true infestation -- meaning ants everywhere that keep coming back.
- DO NOT treat the outside of your home with normal pesticides that you can get from the store. Those aren't good enough. Call a pesticide company. They have special chemicals for Argentine ants.
- DO place your car in the direct sun, if you can stand it. Ants won't like this.
- DO NOT leave food out, especially sugary items. Make sure that it is put up and sealed.
- DO NOT leave wet rags all over the place. Hang them up, and allow them to dry.
- DO limit standing water in and around your home. It attracts ants.
For more detailed information about Argentine ants, click here.
Also, check the publications website for UGA's College of Agricultural and Environmental Studies for information on most home pests. Just enter the term in the search box.