As winter arrives and temperatures drop, people and pets head indoors for warmth. And Argentine ants are marching in to get warm, too.
"If you have them, you definitely know it," said Dan Suiter, an entomologist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "They travel in trails into kitchens, offices and bathrooms searching for warmth, food and water."
Much Smaller Than Fire Ants
Argentine ants are small, just an eighth of an inch long. Native to South America, they were accidentally introduced into the United States more than 100 years ago in New Orleans coffee shipments.
"Since then, they have spread throughout the southeastern states and into southern California and Hawaii," Suiter said. "They are one of the most pestiferous and most difficult-to-control ants in the United States. A single colony can consist of hundreds of thousands of ants."
During the summer months, Argentine ants travel indoors searching for water and food.
"They are horrible in the summertime," Suiter said. "In the spring, they'll move back outdoors to live in the soil and mulch."
Winter Homes Are Inside Walls
During the winter, the ants live indoors in the walls of offices and homes. "There isn't really much you can do to treat them yourself in the winter, because they are most likely living in your walls and in other protected areas," Suiter said. "I've gotten a rash of calls over the past three weeks from homeowners who are fighting these ants."
You can reduce your chances of having these ants in your home by thoroughly rinsing all drink cans before placing them into the garbage or recycling bin and by emptying garbage containers frequently.
"Like any other time of year, don't leave any food or drinks out," Suiter said. "These ants can find a Coke can with just a little syrup left in it. They love sugar and they'll show up by the thousands, literally over night."
Don't Try to Spray Them Away
Suiter doesn't recommend arming yourself with an over-the-counter insect killer. "There aren't a lot of good products out there for homeowners to use," he said.
"You can spray the ants and get what we call the revenge factor," he said. "You kill a lot of ants that way, but you will never get rid of them because you haven't hit the nest where all the queens are."
If you reach a point of desperation, Suiter recommends calling a professional pest control company for help.
"There is one new product coming out called Termidor that the professionals will have access to that performs well against Argentine ants," Suiter said. "It's a spray for use outside the home."
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)