ANTS! What they are and How to Get Rid of Them

This time of year many in Boulder Creek are dealing with pesky little ants. Ever wondered where they come from and how to beat em? Doug Conrad from Boulder Creek Hardware has written a really informative article all about ants. The article is below. If you ever have any questions on building, terminating, cutting, painting etc… head over and ask Doug or Ann Marie at Boulder Creek Hardware.



Doug’s How To:

Whether they are in your pants or at your picnic, ants are amazing little creatures; well maybe not in your pants. Like bees, ants are social creatures with a social structure of workers and queens. I’ve always been amazed at these little guys and in researching for this article I came across even more interesting facts about ants than anyone in Boulder Creek would care to know. But I have to bore you with a few of them. It is estimated that there are over 22,000 species of ants and only 12,500 have been classified. Sometimes their colonies can number in the millions and they exist on almost every land mass on earth. That’s a lot of ants. They can range in size from a super tiny .03 of an inch to just over 2 inches long. Most are black or red but there are some that have a metallic luster. The life span of ants increases according to the hierarchy. Since the fertile males are at the lowest rung, they live only for a few weeks. Worker ants are a little higher up, so they live for 2 – 3 years. Queen ants live the longest, with a lifespan of almost 25 – 30 years!

Customers often come in thinking they have termites when actually they have ants. Yes, some ants have wings. These are usually the male drones but the queen will have wings for the early part of her life. You can tell the difference between an ant and a termite by the wings. A termite’s wings are both the same size, ants are different sizes. Termites have straight antennae and ants are bent. It’s hard to tell but the ant’s waist is slender and the termites are not as much. That’s the basic difference between these two, but do you know what you get if you cross ants with tics? All sorts of antics!

Around here we basically have two types of ants that most of us consider pests. The tiny sweet eating ant and the large jet black carpenter ant. Growing up we always called the big black ones Tahoe ants as they seem to be everywhere up there. I did run across an interesting article about Lake Tahoe not being as clear as it was in the past partially because of the decline in ant population. The ants will aerate the soil with their tunnels underground. These tunnels act like a filter to trap sediment and help keep Tahoe blue and clear. Because of the large forest fires recently much of the downed wood and needles are now required to be removed from the forest floor. This is the ant’s habitat, and because its being removed, not burned anymore the ant’s ecosystem has been disrupted, hence less tunnels and soil aeration. But like always, I digress…back to the subject.

So that tiny little ant that Aunt Sue points out (with a high pitch voice) on your counter when she visits is called a sweet eating ant. The sweet eating ant is sometimes called grease ant, sugar ant, honey ant, or in our house it’s that damn little ant. This little ant is considered a pest around here. When you see just one or two ants these are the scouts. The scouts are sent out to find water, sugars, or proteins that they can track and then leave a pheromone trail for the rest of the worker ants to follow back. Amazingly, these little guys can travel up too 700 feet away from the colony. If you see these scouts and you don’t want an invasion following it’s a good idea to smoosh them scouts.

So how do you prevent these ants from snooping around your home? Or worse invading and taking everything in your pantry with them? There are many options of course. The most common thing we sell is the aerosol sprays that kill on contact. This spray kills a few at best and really does nothing to control them returning. So the greenest thing you can do to prevent ants is eliminate the food or water source. Leaving food out and leaking plumbing are the most preventable and common attractants. Once I went to a friend’s home for dinner and at the bottom of her doors on the floor were all these cinnamon sticks. When I inquired she said that this was her green ant prevention method. I thought that it’s nice that it is green, but having sticks all other floor may not be the best décor choice, even in Boulder Creek. I heard of some folks using garlic, pepper, bay leaves, and cloves in the same fashion. Another greener option is Borax. We stock it ready to go from Terro® as an ant killer but some folks will mix Borax household cleaner with three parts sugar, dilute with water then add syrup to make a think consistency. This is then placed into small containers with holes. The ants will take this back and ingest it and it causes dehydration and hopefully the elimination of the colony. Sometimes the ants sense danger and will start a new colony, so it is important to keep applying bait for at least 60 days. Most of my customers have had good luck with Borax based product but another albeit toxic method is products with Propoxur. This systemic insecticide was introduced in 1959 and is very effective in controlling ant colonies but I hesitate recommending it as it can be harmful to bees.

So back to the “Tahoe ants” AKA Carpenter ants that we also get here. These big black ants can be controlled with bait like the little ones but be aware their colony will reside in decaying or hollow wood. They don’t eat wood but cut what are called “galleries” into the wood. Wood areas that are prone to moisture are where you will find these ants. As these ants can be damaging it’s a good idea to find the nest. I thought this was a good tip: Buy a few crickets, yes we sell them, smash them so they are dead and place them in the late afternoon or evening where you think the ants are foraging. They will come get the cricket and take it back to the nest. Follow the dead cricket as the ants carry it back to the nest. Once you have located the nest you can then bait the colony with that sweet Borax mix or Terro® product. I recommend you let them enjoy that cricket as their last meal.

Lastly a few other good tips. Clearing away bushes and branches touching your home as these can be pathways in for ants. Sealing cracks along plumbing lines where ants can enter your house with caulking or expanding foam. Seal wood with paint especially if it is susceptible to moisture. Ants love old tree stumps, something that appears to be required landscaping here in our valley.

Oh and speaking of tree stumps do you know when ants get lost up at Big Basin  who they call? The ranger in charge of fin-ants!

For more how to tips and local advice be sure to “like” Boulder Creek Hardware on Facebook or visit our website

Doug Conrad is the owner of Boulder Creek Hardware, the valleys oldest hardware store. Spring has sprung at your Hardware store, Boulder Creek Hardware. Be sure to stop by and see lots of new inventory from True Value!! There is much more than just ant killer on the shelf. Doug can be reached at or 8-6833.


2 responses

  1. what people commonly do when they have ants is that the kill the trail and clean up the mess in their house because its ugly and messy. what I have found is the best thing to do is to use Terro bait and let the ants do the work. in a period of time they will pretty much be self cleaning once the bait is carried back to the nest. good tips doug!


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