Backyard Ant Hills
March 9, 2004 9:06 PM   Subscribe

Damn. All these huge anthills just sprung up in my backyard. I swear, this morning I had one hill, tonight I have about a dozen. Anyone keen on how to deal with that? Also, how would I know if they are or are not fire ants or some other monster flesh-eating or weirdo sort of ant? What is a safe ant? And god, what isn't? Can you tell by color or size? These are very industrious ants. 11pm and they're still at it.
posted by Peter H to Home & Garden (12 answers total)
Having lived in Florida for 16+ years (before escaping to Seattle), I've dealt with the scourge of ants for most of my life. There were two effective methods of eliminating them:

1) Boiling water. Just bring a large pot of water to a boil, carefully take it into the yard, stir up the nest with a stick, and apply liberally. Repeat as necessary.

2) Mix up a generous portion of cheap peanut butter and Amdro ant killer, fill a bottle cap or other small container, and leave near the next. They gather, they take it back into the nest, they eat, they die. Amdro isn't toxic enough to kill pets or cause harm to children should they somehow manage to find this lovely treat, but it'll do in ants pretty quickly.
posted by Danelope at 9:14 PM on March 9, 2004

That sounds much more practical than my grandfather's method of pouring gasoline down there.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:21 PM on March 9, 2004

Regarding ant taxonomy, this is probably more easily googleable (particularly depending on your geographic area, and particularly via Google Image Search), but off the top of my head:

Sugar Ants are the smallest of the lot. Tiny little black insects that move with incredible speed for their size, and often linger in cabinets and pantries. Love invading unsealed cereal boxes and other dry goods.

Fire Ants are larger than sugar ants. May look black from further away, but on closer inspection, they are actually a maroon color. Not only are they a nuisance, but their bite hurts like hell and will leave an maddeningly itchy welt for days afterward.

Carpenter Ants are the largest of the lot. Their heads and abdomens are bulbous, almost termite-like. A disturbed nest or overturned log will often produce winged as well as wingless ants. As their name suggests, they love dead and rotting wood.

As far as "safe" ants go, none of them really qualify. They're pests, and will make your life miserably in a variety of ways. In Florida, during the heart of the dry season, you would often find yourself battling home invasion as colonies of ants came searching for a source of moisture and food. Nothing like waking up in the middle of the night to find your carpeted floor writhing with fire ants. Particularly when this is determined by your feet being eaten alive.

(If you do get a home invasion, by the way, my best suggestion is using the vacuum cleaner to suck the bastards up and dispose of the vacuum back in the most flammable or violent way possible.)
posted by Danelope at 9:30 PM on March 9, 2004

pouring boiling water on fire ants is good for killing any fire ants near the surface. chances are, the queen will up and move her colony somewhere else.

Also, boiling water kills your lawn/plants. I don't recommend it unless the ants are living in a dead area of your yard.

Here's what you do, get a good fire ant killer product (by Ortho for example), and sprinkle it AROUND the ant hill (not on it!) about a foot away or so. The ants will gather it up, bring it to their queen, and she will die. If you sprinkle the product on the hill, the ants will just up an move again. The ant hill is their garbage area. They usually use other small exits far away from the hill to come and go. That's why you should use the poison around the hill about a foot out.

I live in Florida and red ants are nasty. Lesson learned, don't walk barefoot at night through your lawn. YIKES!
posted by Dantien at 10:10 PM on March 9, 2004

I pity 'em. They're about the last living cold exoskeletened wild critters in many areas; take away the cockroaches, spiders and ants and you're down to the squirrel level when it comes to fellow creatures. I salute the few insects that may be tough and/or clever enough to carry on when we're yesterday's news!
posted by five fresh fish at 10:15 PM on March 9, 2004

Indoors, trails of ants can be removed by spraying with a solution of dish liquid and water, then wipe up. The detergent stops or slows them down.

I got some Texas fire ants up my pant legs once. YEOW! Never ran to a shower so fast in my life!

I've never seen ants become pests outdoors, except fire ants being in a place I needed to work.
posted by Goofyy at 12:41 AM on March 10, 2004

I wonder if this would be of any use...
posted by derbs at 6:25 AM on March 10, 2004

What FFF and Goofyy said. Also, cayenne pepper is a great deterrent to invading insects, and it's natural. It can be mixed with water (so it "sticks") and splashed around the base of your house, for example.
posted by Shane at 7:30 AM on March 10, 2004

Response by poster: Great suggestions! So i did the hot water treatment this morning. And then I hosed down the buggers (they're coming through the cement cracks on my patio) When I came back to inspect there were only four ants on the surface, two rolly-pollies, three worms and a queen-looking ant. (wings, larger body) In a bit of karmic irony, I didn't kill her but instead took her to a field and dropped her off. Is it safe to say she was the queen, or the only queen? There were fourteen anthills there this morning.

My dog hangs out in the backyard so I don't want to use chemicals - and I don't want him having a bad time from the ants, either. Ya know?

Thank you all for these answers!
posted by Peter H at 8:39 AM on March 10, 2004

You might try diatomaceous earth. Non-toxic, and won't hurt the dog a bit. There's more than one kind, so be sure the stuff you get is for pest control and not filtering swimming pool water.
posted by trondant at 8:52 AM on March 10, 2004

Response by poster: I feel the need to post that I'm pretty sure the queen was dead when I escorted her off to a field. She was barely movin. Just squishing her dead felt oddly inhumane. I make no sense, I know I know. Have you ever had this conflict with insects?
posted by Peter H at 8:54 AM on March 10, 2004

You don't want to get rid of all your ants, just ones that are close to the house, as they can be good for the soil and eating other bugs that you don't want in your garden.
posted by evening at 9:26 AM on March 10, 2004

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