Controlling Fourth of July Picnic Ants
By: Tanner Felbinger, Entomology and Nematology Major, University of Florida
This Fourth of July, thousands of families will celebrate the holiday the true American way: with a picnic or BBQ. These fun gatherings not only can attract family and friends, but also pesky ants that want to mooch off your meal. Here are a couple of tips to help keep you and your family free of bugs while still enjoying the outdoors.
What Ants Do I Have to Worry About?
Red and black in color, fire ants are a common sight outdoors, especially in the Southeast United States. Fire ants construct large, reddish-brown mounds, or nests, that serve as their home base. If disturbed, these ferocious little insects can retaliate with stings that can become red and painful in some people. Because these ants can attack and sting in groups, they are among one of the more dangerous and feared species of ants. Before determining an area to set down that checkered table cloth, ensure the surrounding area is free of fire ant mounds.
Little Black Ants
As suggested by their name, little black ants range from 1 and one-half to 2 millimeters long and are black to dark brown in color. (When most people think of an ant, this insect is probably what they think of.) These ants are an extremely common pest across the United States due to their large colonies, making control methods difficult. Although they don’t bite people, their presence can be irritating and disrupting. Sweet and sugary treats can attract these ants, so keeping spills of soda to a minimum and cleaning up crumbs will help avoid giving these bugs a reason to crash your outing.
Some select male and female carpenter ants will develop wings and often be mistaken for termite swarmers (alates) due to their similar appearance. These ants can look similar to termites, but carpenters ants have narrow waists, larger forewings than hindwings and have elbowed antennae. Worker carpenter ants are black or black and red. Workers remain wingless and scavenge for food — these will be the ones you encounter invading your picnic from the ground.
Why Will Ants Show Up to My Picnic?
Usually, ants will show up to a picnic for the same reasons as people — food! An ant’s sense of smell is extremely keen, with studies revealing that ants have 400 olfactory receptors, nearly five times more than other insects. That means ants can sniff out the tasty food at your cookout or picnic and show up to the scene. An effective way to help stay in control of your outdoor get-together is to preemptively deter ants. Cleaning up food and keeping it sealed is the best bet to help deter ants from showing up.
Ants have a very assorted palate and will often eat anything from honeydew (a sugary liquid secreted by aphids) to other ants. However, like humans, most ants can rarely resist a sugary snack. Jelly, chips, bread and soda are some of the “human foods” that ants commonly find and eat. When worker ants find a morsel of food they want to eat, they will literally leave a trail for other ants to follow. Known as a trail-marking pheromone, this invisible chemical detected by the ants serves as a guide for other ants to find the food to take back to their colony and their queen.
Some species of ants, like fire ants, will likely only invade your outdoor gathering if they are disturbed. Scoping out the land for fire ant mounds before settling down to eat can be an effective method for helping avoid their presence. If you’re sitting at a picnic table, make sure to also check the legs of the table for fire ant mounds, as they sometimes use these structures when establishing a nest.
How to Help Get Rid of Ants
If you’re cooking out regularly at a backyard grill or outdoor kitchen and are continuously having ant trouble, bait stations may help keep the problem at bay. Bait stations often work as a methodical, targeted solution to wipe out a huge portion of an ant colony. Serving as an attractive source of food for ants, workers may eat the bait and take some back to their home colony. In addition to killing a large percentage of worker ants, the queen is eventually fed the bait and dies. Because ant colonies rarely function after their queen dies, the colony will most likely collapse after her death. Bait stations are commercially available and can also be strategically, and oftentimes more effectively, installed by your local Terminix® technician.
Whether you plan to enjoy this Fourth of July with an outdoor picnic or an indoor meal, make sure ants don’t show up to the event. Revolutionize ant control this Fourth of July by contacting Terminix.
Tanner Felbinger is a current sophomore at the University of Florida. She’s an Entomology & Nematology major with a minor in Sustainability and plans to attend grad school for Entomology after she completes her undergraduate degree. At school, Tanner is involved in the Entomology Club, teaches group fitness classes at the campus gyms, and is an ambassador for the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. She is an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Phil Koehler’s Urban Entomology lab and focuses on control methods for bed bugs. When she’s not in class, Tanner enjoys being outdoors, listening to music, and practicing yoga.