Plagued by ants, ants, and (hopefully not) an ardvark
June 2, 2012 2:42 PM   Subscribe

Ants, scurrying rodents - what do I do with my WALL OF VERMIN?

Important introductory note: I'm in the UK. Our building methods and insect species are in many respects different from those in the US.

On Thursday, while I was out, my wife called me to tell me there was something scurrying around in the wall - scratching and shuffling about. Since then, when it's quiet in the evening, I'd been able to hear the sounds myself - a lot like a rodent of some sort scratching around very low down, possible behind the skirting.

I took my life in my hands this evening and pulled off the skirting boards, only to find a nest of little yellow ants, complete with large eggs, living in a small gap between the skirting and the bricks at one end. I quickly grabbed my handheld Dyson and sucked up pretty much every last ant and egg (and I'm fairly sure I got the queen too) and dumped them well away from the house.

I've cleaned the whole area up, removing a lot of brick dust, ant dropping and other detritus. As far as I can tell, the wall is sound. It's a plastered brick internal wall for most of its length, so there's no way anything is going to be moving around inside the wall itself (from previous experience I know it's a double layer of brick with no cavity.

Then I noticed that the laminate floor had rather a lot of 'give' along part of the wall, and there's a gap under the skirting that goes down below the floor, where there ought to be just concrete meeting a wall. This is more or less at the point where the house was extended before we bought it, so the area in question is somewhere around the point where the extension meets the original 1920s building. I've filled this gap with as much caulk as I can find, and wedged a piece of wood down on top of the gap to (hopefully) prevent whatever rodent there is from entering the house.

So what next? Take up the floor?

I've managed to keep a few of the ants in a jar - here's as good a picture as I can get of one - the artificial light has made it look much darker than it is - the colour is a uniform honey-brown and much closer to a yellow meadow ant, of which our garden is full. But these shouldn't be nesting indoors, should they? Could they be the dreaded pharoah ant? I'm hoping not, because my ants don't seem to have the typical darker abdomen or longer thorax.

Excuse this combination DIY/entomology question - I'm just looking at finding a reasonable approach to sorting this problem out that isn't just the obvious 'call a pest controller'.
posted by pipeski to Home & Garden (4 answers total)
Calking around even the tiniest holes can stop the ant invasion if you are thorough. You can also lay out sodium bicarbonate as a nontoxic ant killer.

I cannot ID the species and I have no idea what to do about a rodent.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 4:00 PM on June 2, 2012

For the suspected rodent, hope it's a mouse? We have a few in the house every so often; we set a bunch of mouse traps (the snapping kind, not the sticky kind which do not kill the mice but only immobilize them - much more stressful on the creature than a quick death) and continue to set new ones until we stop catching mice. If it's a rat (or rats) or something larger, you may need a professional, but perhaps someone with more experience with those guys could speak to that.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 4:51 PM on June 2, 2012

Okay, if you haven't - put ALL your food away. Everything that's not in the fridge needs to go into a glass or metal sealed bin. More than bringing in an exterminator, this will prevent pests. When an exterminator kills something, it just leaves more room for any survivors (who may be resistant to the chemicals used) to reap the benefits of less competition for food and space. When you remove food, however, most organisms will evacuate in the hopes of finding another place with food.

Of course, it always depends on where you're living - if you live in a duplex, the mice might live in a shared wall and eat your neighbor's food....but, doing this I've gone from living in a house plagued with pests (because of regularly open food containers) to an apartment where I only have a problem if I leave food out for a few days.

Um, an exception to the above is, of course, Pharaoh ants, because seriously, I've heard they can feed on *shoe leather* ...and Pharaoh ants were actually my first guess for the ants, however....

1) How big are they? PA are very small....
2) I never noticed any dark markings on the ones that invaded my home, so a uniform color doesn't negate them being PA....they seem a bit dark to be PA, but you said your camera made them appear darker....
3) if you didn't notice them until you pulled up the boards, they may not be PA. the PA in my house were great explorers. The first day I moved into my apartment I left an egg on the counter for, like, ten minutes and when I got back it was SWARMED.
4) if it is PA and you got "the" queen, it might be bad news because they tend to have numerous queens.

If they are Pharaoh ants, though, don't even bother with the nontoxic solutions - I tried every one to no avail. My complex even called in the pest control guy it worked with - twice - with NO results. A friend recommended Terro, though, and that worked FANTASTICALLY. No more problems after that. Terro should take care of all ant problems, but it may be overkill if the ants aren't actually PA. Good luck with that, though!

In terms of the mouse, after putting your food away (as they don't feed on shoe leather), I would recommend kindness traps. Check the traps EVERY DAY and then bring them to a field....preferably far enough from your home that they don't simply wander back.

Alternately...healthy mice are supposed to have an instinctual fear of cat urine (since toxoplasmosis removes this fear). If you have a friend with a cat you might see if you can borrow the cat for a few days and....well, not let it pee all over the place, but maybe use non-odor absorbing litter, or something, and spread that along the walls until the mice go away. ....then again, they probably sell a much cleaner version of that for home use, haha. I've never done that personally, though, just wondering aloud - the kind traps and putting food away should work just find though
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 9:37 PM on June 2, 2012

Oddly enough, we've never, in the three years we've lived here, seen an ant inside the house. Or, for that matter, seen any sign of mice. Food is very carefully stored, and we've never seen any of the telltale signs of any unwanted visitors.

1) How big are they? PA are very small....

Aha! Good question. My ants are 4-5mm long. Looking up pharoah ants, which Wikipedia says are about half that size, I'm feeling reassured. What worried me most actually was that they had formed a nest around a radiator pipe, which is very much a behaviour of the alien pharoah ants in the British climate. Anyway, hopefully I can rule those out.

I think I'm going to assume for now that somehow this bit of floor/wall has become accessible from the outside. The rodent noises only started a few days ago and nothing (neither mammal nor ant) seems to have broached the skirting and actually made its way into the house proper. I've got plans to get the whole of the downstairs floor fixed anyway - it's damp and uneven in places, and neighbours have had to do similar work.

Thanks for the suggestions re: rodent traps - I'll bear those in mind should my little visitors decide to become more adventurous.
posted by pipeski at 12:16 AM on June 3, 2012

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