07 May, 2008

Killer Ants! In Search of Organic Ant Repellent Advice

Growing up in the seventies, I was absolutely convinced that fire ants were going to swarm up from the south and infest Chicago or that bees were going to run amok and sting us all to death. It was all thanks to movies such as Empire of the Ants with a pre-Dynasty Joan Collins (above) or Killer Bees, a cheesy made-for-TV thriller that serves as a final film to the legacy of Gloria Swanson.

I'm not sure when I outgrew my aversion to ants. I no longer get creeped out by them, and do find them fascinating to watch--the one's on my mom's willow trees actually kept herds of aphids lined up along the trunk so that they could collect the honeydew. It was funny watching them guide or carry the aphids around. And when Ted and I were hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru, we would see trails of them along the path dozens of yards long. Now those were huge ants.

Ted in Nazca, Peru.

Sure, I like ants well enough now. Just not in the house.

Over the last week, we've been finding a stray ant here or there in the kitchen. "Sugar ants," my mom called them, a name she picked up from her grandma. "They're pretty teeny," I said. "I can't get all that worked up about them." They weren't like the carpenter ant infestation we had at our condo last summer. Now those were some big ants--as long as my thumbnail, so big you could actually make eye contact and know they were looking right at you. In comparison, these little guys at The Box House were not a big deal.

Until they got to the chocolate cake sitting on the windowsill. That was an act of war.

So I went to Lowe's in search of boric acid; it's what we used last year to get rid of the carpenter ants. It came in liquid form, and we squirted it into gaps in the baseboard trim where we suspected they were making their way inside. It took a couple of weeks of repeated applications, but eventually the scouts must have taken it to the queen and killed her off along with the rest of the colony. There haven't been any ants spotted since then.

Only, Lowe's didn't have any straight boric acid. I was forced to scout the shelf for a suitable substitute. The one I settled on--and don't make me tell you which one, because I left the box upstairs and I'm typing away in my basement office now--is good for pavement ants (a.k.a. sugar ants) as well as fire ants and carpenter ants. It's also good for little black ants (really? that's a scientific name?), acrobat ants (like a flea circus or something?), odorous house ants (who comes up with these names?), and crazy ants (based on the name alone, I certainly don't want to come across one of those). So, it should be just a few days until we have an ant-free kitchen.

But now that I have the bait set, I'm not happy with my decision to go the man-made chemical route. Has anyone tried any of the organic remedies kicking around the Internet? I know what I bought will do the trick, but if I can find an ant killer/repellent that won't be harmful to any canines or humans in the household, I'd feel better about using that the next time there's a problem.

At high tide the fish eat ants; at low tide the ants eat fish.
—Thai Proverb


Rae said...

Spread cucumber peels near their point of entry. Don't know why it works, but it does!

Ethan@OneProjectCloser said...

I had a post about pest control recently. On person (BeccaMarie) said that using dry grits will get rid of ants

Jen said...

I read on Dogs and Jen about Terro, which is Borax based.


I have used cinnamon. It makes them go away. But, then you have to explain why you have brown powder on your counters.

Jennifer said...

Well, my standby is borax...

but I know many who use diatomaceous earth to keep ants, slugs, fleas, etc. at bay. It's a fine mild abrasive that essentially cuts through their exoskeletons. It's a great all natural flea remedy and general bug repellant.

Anonymous said...

From what I understand the boric acid isn't harmful to humans or pets - it interferes with the insect reproduction - but I could be wrong. So it doesn't kill them right away - but eventually gets rid of them. We fill around all the outlets & switches on outside walls with it and the attic is heavily powdered with it - essentially trying to keep a barrier around the house.

The cleansers with citrus oil seem to work best for clean up - I think the citrus messes with their sense of smell and also eliminates the scent trail they lay down for their friends to follow to your chocolate cake.

Good luck!

John said...

I haven't tried it yet, but I've heard that crumbling-up a cheap cigar or other tobacco and boiling it will make a tea colored liquid you can spray on insects with a spray bottle or mister. It's recommended for garden pests. Apparently, it's a deadly neurotoxin for insects. It might be worth a try?

Joanne said...

These are really great ideas; I'll definitely try some of them.

Ethan--I missed that previous post of yours, I'll have to go back to your site and look for it.

Regarding toxicity of boric acid, I keep finding conflicting info. The stuff I used before had all kinds of warning labels on it about keeping away from pets and children. I also Googled this summary of info from the EPA:

Based on mammal median lethal dose (LD50) rating of 2,660 mg/kg body mass, boric acid is poisonous if taken internally or inhaled. However, it is generally considered to be not much more toxic than table salt. The Thirteenth Edition of the Merck Index indicates that the LD50 of boric acid is 5.14 g/kg for oral dosages given to rats, and that 5 to 20 g/kg has produced death in adult humans.

Long term exposure to boric acid may be of more concern. Although it does not appear to be carcinogenic, studies in dogs have attributed testicular atrophy after exposure to 32 mg/kg bw/day for 90 days. This level is far lower than the LD50.

It's always something, eh?

Anonymous said...

Oh good old "Empire of the Ants" starring Joan Collins. I grew up in the 70's too and I remember the Killer Bee warnings and how we were told they'd be to Michigan within ten years. Ha!

My daughter loves this movie; so glad I could pass along the joy!

On bugs. When I bought my house in Michigan it was infested with roaches and earwigs. It was frightful. After closing on the house, I bought a huge bag of DE (diatomaceous earth) from a pool supply company for next to nothing. I sprinkled it liberally everywhere before heading back to Texas to arrange moving back north. By the time I returned just over a month later, the roaches were gone, so were the earwigs. The stuff works like a charm, is not toxic, and cleans up easily.

Patricia W.

Joanne said...

Patricia--Thanks for stopping by The Box House.

I think I'll try the DE next. I've had boric acid out for more than a week now, and if anything we seem to have even more ants showing up.

I had given some boric acid to the tenants upstairs. They had ants showing up in their kitchen, which is directly above ours. It seems to be working for them (at least so far).

I read that with this type of ant, they often have more than one queen, and you have to kill all of them.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm gonna add onto jennifer's question if that's okay...I need an organic ant killer as well to save my veggie garden.....only, I have half my garden inside my little russain tortoise's pen! Does anyone know if the organic repellants mentioned would be okay for him??? Some of them said "safe for pets and kids" but I'm not sure!
I'm on Myspace too!!

Joanne said...

Hi Colly! Thanks for visiting The Box House. I had found some info online talking about the differences between pool-grade diatomaceous earth and "food grade" diamtomaceous earth, which is safe to use with pets and is often given as a dewormer--so it can be ingested. You can read about the food grade stuff here.

We eventually cleared our ants out with the boric acid; we applied it in places the dog couldn't reach and just needed to wait it out.

Hope this helps and good luck!

Joanne said...

I found an online garden center that charges $10 for a five pound bag of DE.