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Tara's Corner

Tara Spears





Ant Hordes on the Move   

Ant Hordes on the Move   

©Tara A. Spears

While the common ant might be the star of songs and movies, to most people ants are just annoying.  The shear number of the critters makes one cringe; even worse is that the majority of ant species have cyclical swarms that have thousands of ants on the move- a very unpleasant sight for the average person. Every day this week I encountered moving columns around the yard and had to take the time to divert them elsewhere.  It is impossible to eradicate the ants in our sub tropical climate in Jaltemba Bay, but there are steps one can follow to keep ants out of your living area.

Know your Nemesis: There are hundreds of species of ants but the different groups share certain characteristics. Two types of ants that are common in our area are the black ant and the Mexican army ant. Knowing a little about their life cycle will help you prevent an invasion of your home. 

monomorium minimum

The scientific name for the little black ants is monomorium minimum, but are commonly known as "sugar ants." These tiny ants are black or brown in color and measure as small as 1 millimeter for a worker ant to the queen that can be 1/8 of an inch. They have small, rounded bodies, antennas and a small stinger. Queen ants and male ants have wings. After mating, the male ants die while the queen ants simply lose their wings.

 If black ants have formed one or more colonies around your yard, you may begin to see a large infestation of them. The ants reproduce and build new colonies quickly, building nests in woodwork openings, walls, rotted wood, cracks in cement and in the soil of an open lawn. The ants create trails through the grass, making walkways between the nests and food sources. You may see them frequenting your garden beds because they eat the honeydew that aphids, scales and mealy bugs produce when eating plants. The ants you see in your yard are searching for this honeydew or other foods to eat, such as insects, human foods or plant secretions. You may notice swarms of the ants around your lawn from June to August when the black ants are mating.

Sugar ants are mostly nocturnal, therefore the worker ants can often be seen heading out at dusk in marked trails to forage for food. They can also be seen during the day, but are more active during the night. That’s why many people stumble on early morning columns when they flip on the kitchen light to make that first pot of coffee. Nasty way to start your day!

 Army ants, E. burchelli

Army ants, E. burchelli, thrive in hot and humid lowland tropical forests. Their nests are typically found at the base of tree trunks. While emigrations from one nest site to another are not unusual among ants, no other subfamily moves with the regimented precision of army ants or with their cyclic predictability.  All army ants are carnivorous and engage in large-scale predation via raiding. During the march, some of the workers carry the immature ants. Other workers gather all the food that they can find. As they go, the workers kill every insect, spider, snake, and lizard in their path. Researchers have found that birds and animals can hear the ants marching and try to get out of the way.

According to,“of all the swarm raiders, E. burchelli is the most regular in its internal organization and raid timing.  At dawn the scouts set out, proceeding in a zigzag pattern and moving forward with a fan-shaped network of columns trailing behind and a base column in the rear connecting the swarm with the bivouac-the colony’s temporary home.  The swarms can extend 15 meters long and 2 meters deep, and a single raid may result in over 30,000 prey. The magnitude of this feat is all the more impressive when one considers that army ants have greatly reduced optic centers when compared to other ants, and a relatively small brain. Therefore, a raid can only be executed successfully when organization is maintained through a highly adapted chemical communication system.”

Prevention: Both categories of ants in this article leave scent traces.  Utilizing this fact is how you can divert the swarm from your yard, patio, or the interior of your home. By disrupting the trail of pheromone being made by the scout ants, the rest of the ants will return to the nest or at least travel elsewhere looking for the scent. There are several common home items that are non-toxic to humans and animals are excellent ant preventative: white vinegar and lime juice. Yes, you can grab a can of commercial ant pesticide, but regular application of vinegar is a safe deterrent. I’ve used vinegar and water mix (instead of cleanser) to mop my floors for years and have never had ants.  During the ant swarm times, I wipe down my kitchen and bathroom counters with vinegar before going to bed. When eating outdoors, rub a cut lime on the table to keep ants from being attracted to your dinner.

Since I live in an area with such heavy concentration of ants, I do use a commercial pesticide spray once a month as an ant deterrent to entering the house but only around the window and door frames where pets or the good critters –butterflies and birds- won’t be poisoned. In the garden area I pour straight white vinegar at the edge of flower beds to repel ants from making a nest. As with any natural remedy, you must apply the organic solution regularly in order for it to work.

If you already have an infestation of ants, it is necessary to locate the source of the colonies by following the trail of workers. Before reaching for the pesticide, try pouring a couple liters of boiling water onto the nest. It is also helpful to pour a ring of vinegar a couple of feet out from the colony before applying the hot water. This will help contain the spread of ants to new locations. Another natural method is to sprinkle corn meal around the nest or along the ant trail. The ants eat the cornmeal and die but it is safe for curious pets. Or, you can drench the colonies with a residual insecticide to kill the ants. Another commercial method that works is using ant bait traps that are placed near their source of food, along their trails, or near the colonies. Remember that even when you eradicate one particular ant colony you must continue to monitor your yard for new invasions and treat each one as they occur; as there are always new ant scouts foraging for food and a nest site.


While army ants and black ants are not directly harmful to humans, they are a nuisance. With a little prevention it’s easy to have the ants go elsewhere while you enjoy the sunny tropical day.




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