Ants can be a real nuisance to have around. They ruin picnics, invade the home, and seem to show up out of nowhere! So, where does this little army of pests come from, and why are they in your home?
There are many reasons ants stick around even after you have cleaned up those spilled bread crumbs. They may be looking for other sources of food or water, and may have already built a shelter in your home. You will need to remove the entire ant colony to get rid of ants.
Stick around as we go over all the reasons ants will not leave on their own. We will also give you some tips on how to keep these pests away for good!
Will Ants Leave On Their Own?
Ants can be persistent little pests that seem to pop up here and there on our counters, kitchen floors, and the walls of our foundation.
So, will they eventually go away on their own?
It is not likely that will simply go away on their own. They are in our homes for a reason, whether it be food, water or shelter!
To get ants to go away, you will need to find the source of their attraction and eliminate it. You can combine this with the use of bait traps and sealants to kick ants out for good! But more on that later…
What’s So Bad About Ants Inside?
Ants are small but mighty. They may not be as alarming as a raccoon knocking your trash can over or a squirrel in your attic, but they can still do some damage!
Ants Can Mean You Have Other Garden Pests
Ants can be great for your garden, controlling smaller pests like fleas and termites, but they can also be the reason other pests stick around.
Aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies, and soft scales are all examples of pests ants will actively protect from predators. Unfortunately, these same protected insects are those capable of damaging your garden vegetables and hard-worked plants.
Ants protect them for one reason: honeydew, which aphids and other insects excrete. It is full of sugar, which the ants feed on. When predators like ladybugs come around to eat the aphids, ants will protect them, harassing and sometimes even killing the predators.
Some Ants Cause Wood Damage
Some species of ant, like the carpenter ant, can damage wood by tunneling through it to either nest or seek shelter.
The damage from ants is not as extensive as what termites can do, but it is still something to watch out for, especially when the damage is behind a wall where you cannot see until it is too late.
Ants Bite And Sting (Sometimes)
I will say it again: ants are small but mighty! And some can give a mighty bite or even a sting when disturbed. Most ants rarely bite, but there are a few exceptions out there.
Some ant species are more aggressive than others. The velvety tree ant, for example, can be pretty aggressive when disturbed, and fire ants and harvester ants will sting. Anyone who has ever accidentally sat on an anthill learns the hard way to look before they sit!
Ants can do some damage for sure, and it can be frustrating when you keep trying to get rid of them and they just do not want to leave! Below we will discuss some reasons you continue to see these pesky insects time and time again.
Why Ants Aren’t Going Away On Their Own
You saw the ants on your counter, so you set out a sticky trap and you caught a bunch of ants. Hooray! They are gone for good, right?… right? Well, the next day there are just as many ants on your counter even after you have cleaned up your spilled orange juice.
What gives? Why won’t your ants go away?
You can learn more about this in my article on Why Ants Are In Your Room (Even If There’s No Food). We will touch on some of these things below, but you can find a more in-depth explanation here!
Pheromone Trails Attract Other Ants
If you see an ant here or there in your home, you might write it off as one accidentally getting inside when the door was open. However, the best time to get rid of ants is as soon as you see one.
Ants are closely related to bees and wasps, so it is no surprise they live in a colony ruled by a queen. Most of the colony ants are sterile female worker ants.
Worker ants are the ones you will see here and there, but they are part of a much larger colony, so it is important to pay attention to ants, even a single ant out scavenging.
These lone ants are most likely scouts out searching for sources of food or water. According to the University of Kentucky, while these worker ants are searching, they leave invisible pheromone trails behind them.
Once the scout ant finds some food and brings it back to the colony, other worker ants will follow the pheromone trail to the source of food.
Word does not travel fast in an ant colony. So, if you spilled orange juice yesterday, some ants from the colony will continue to follow the pheromone trail thinking there is a source of food there.
If there is no longer food, the word does not spread to the entire colony until a day or two later. Even slower than the pony express! Luckily, you CAN use some specific scents ants hate that can help to mask the smells that attract ants to mitigate these pheromone trails.
Speaking of food…
Spilled Food Is Keeping Ants Around
For ants, finding food is like striking gold. Ant colonies can range in number from hundreds to millions of individuals, which is a lot of mouths to feed! For this reason, food is super important to the health of the colony.
Food is also one of the main reasons ants will not go away. If they find a source of food, they are going to stick around. Sources of food can range from dirty dishes, crumbs, spilled drinks., etc.
For more specifics, take a look at our piece on the types of smells that attract ants!
Indoor Food Sources Attracts Ants To Your Home
Ants have a pretty good sense of smell. They use smell, taste, and sight to locate food sources as well. However, taste and smell seem to be far more important than sight.
Most ants prefer sweet foods, for example, the carpenter ant and pavement ant. Some prefer fat and greasy foods like the thief ant.
If anything containing these two important sources of food is spilled, it will probably attract ants QUICK.
Dirty dishes, pet food, dropped food, and dirty sinks are all flashing beacons to an ant colony. They will sniff out the food and head back to the colony, alerting hundreds of others of nearby food.
Cleaning with vinegar can help repel ants if you’re interested in getting rid of that mess!
Outdoor Food Sources Mean More Ants On Your Property
Although most ant problems occur inside the home, your problem most likely starts outside. If there are more ants in your yard, near your foundation, or hiding in the mulch bed, there is a higher probability of them finding their way indoors.
Some ants will feed on other, smaller insects like fleas and termites. While this can be excellent pest control for you, it also creates an environment where ants can become pests themselves.
Ants will also feed on decomposing animals. Spring and fall usually see the highest volume of roadkill due to animals moving around, mating, and searching for food. If there is roadkill near your home, it can attract ants and other pests near your home.
Fruit trees will attract ants to your yard, especially if the fruit is allowed to drop and decompose on the ground. But, even if you pick your fruit, ants are not afraid to climb up the tree to get to their prize.
Ants can cause big problems on your property, but you can read more on how to keep the damage down in our article: 7 Ways Ants Can Ruin Your Lawn (And How To Stop Them). Keep ants off your lawn so it stays fresh and green!
Water Is Keeping Ants Around Your Home
Food and water go hand in hand. With such a large colony, a source of water is essential. Ants do not need a fresh stream or river to drink water… all they need is a leaky hose or faucet.
Ants need very little water, so a few drops here and there can go a long way. Sprinkler systems, outdoor hoses and faucets, indoor sinks, and laundry tubs will attract them. It’s one of the main reasons why you have anthills in your yard!
If one of these items has a slow leak you have not gotten around to fixing, now might be the perfect time to do it! Water will attract ants and other pests to your home.
Ants Are Finding Some Easy Shelter On Your Property
Food, water, and shelter…the three necessities for survival. Just like humans, ants need shelter from harsh weather.
If you see ants inside your home, they might be escaping hot weather or heavy rains specifically.
Ants usually build their nests in the soil and try to stick close to buildings and sidewalks where food is readily available. However, sometimes they will nest under buildings, boards, or in the voids of your walls.
When ants seek shelter indoors, they can become a problem pretty quickly. Combine this with a leaky faucet or dirty dishes and ants will make themselves at home!
You Have A Source Of Honeydew That’s Attracting Ants
Ants can be great for your garden, helping with pest control and aerating the soil. But one bad thing ants do in the garden is protect aphids and mealybugs.
These two insects, among others, create honeydew trails that provide food for ants. In return for the honeydew, ants will protect aphids and mealybugs from their predators.
If you have a garden, you likely have aphids or other honeydew-producing insects. This is going to up your ant population, which might never become an indoor problem. But if your home provides food, water, or shelter, you will see these ants moving from the garden to your home.
Another issue can be your indoor plants. If you decorate your home with lively plants, you could have honeydew-producing insects on them. This will attract ants inside the home.
However, there are some plants you can enjoy indoors while keeping ants away. We have a list in this article, 8 Indoor Plants And Houseplants That Repel Ants. Your green thumb can save your home from an ant invasion!
Nesting Habits Mean Ants In The Walls
With such a large colony, you would think ant nests would be pretty obvious. However, most ants nest beneath the soil, so you will never know they exist.
Some ant species are more prone to nesting indoors than others. The Pharoah ant, for example, loves to nest behind baseboards, in insulation, walls, and cabinets. Others, like the velvety tree ant, nest outdoors.
Even ants that enjoy nesting outdoors can cause problems inside your home. Mulch and small rocks provide excellent nesting locations for some species of ants. If you have landscaping mulch or stone near your home, it can be a simple thing for an ant to sneak inside.
Long-Term Solutions: Keeping Ants Away For Good
Now that we have gone over all the reasons your ants are not going away, let’s look at some solutions so we can keep the ant colony out for good.
Keep It Clean
Food is essential to an ant colony. If you have crumbs and other food items sitting out on the counter, it is bound to attract ants.
Wipe your counters down, sweep up spilled or dropped food, do not leave dirty dishes in the sink for too long, and clean up any pet food.
Keeping your floors and counters clean can also interrupt pheromone trails, which will help keep ants from finding food by following the trail of other ants.
You can double your impact by keeping your outdoor area clean along with your indoor area.
Be sure to keep your garbage cans secure, clean any spills, and if possible, keep your garbage off the ground or stored in a shed until garbage day.
If your lids continue to come off, you can use something like the Critter Clip. This product creates a clip for your garbage can lids so they never fly off in high winds or come off when a critter tries knocking the can over.
Fallen fruit is another ant attractant. Be sure to pick up any fallen fruit and do not let it rot on the ground, especially if the fruit tree is near your home.
Alongside food attractants, be sure to keep your yard clean of any unnecessary debris like unused wood or building materials. These can be safe harbors and nest sites for ants.
Identify The Ant Species You’re Dealing With
This one can be tough, especially if you do not have a magnifying glass or other means of seeing the tiny details of your uninvited guests.
However, if it is possible, identifying what kind of ant is invading your home can give you a good idea of where it might nest, what its behaviors are, and what kind of food it prefers.
To make identification easier, you can use something like the Catchmaster Spider Trap to catch a few ants. Use a magnifying glass to look at their features and compare them to photos and descriptions of the ants local to your area.
Note: I do not recommend sticky traps for eliminating your ant problem, only to make it easier to identify what type of ants you are dealing with.
Use Bait Traps To Eliminate Ants
Bait traps are the most effective way to eliminate ants. They are not like roach traps or spider traps that simply trap the offending critter in place.
Bait traps work by getting the ant to eat the bait and live long enough to return to the colony, where it shares the food (bait) with other ants in the colony. Over time, the bait will eliminate the ant, and since it shared the food with the rest of the colony, it has the potential to eliminate the entire colony.
The TERRO T300B Liquid Ant Bait is an excellent, affordable product. It includes 12 bait stations designed so they do not dry out. You can place them in multiple locations to make sure every ant gets some of the bait.
Place bait stations outdoors. The sweet syrup used for bait obviously attracts ants, and if placed indoors, it may make your problem worse.
Always be sure to read the directions on the label.
While baiting is extremely effective in getting rid of your ants, if you do not pair it with sanitation and habitat modification, another ant colony is likely to move in right after. So, be sure to pair this with other control options.
If you’d like more options, take a look at our guide on the best ant traps here!
How Long Does It Take For Ants To Go Away?
So, you have cleaned the house, modified your yard, kept your garbage sealed up, and set your bait traps. How long do you have to wait?
Unfortunately, bait traps are not instantaneous. It will take some time for the ants to find the bait traps. Once they find the baits, it will take about two days for the bait to work on the ants but that will vary based on several factors like colony size.
During this time, the worker ants will continue to make trips from the bait traps back to the colony, which is good, but also slow progress.
With that being said, you can expect your ant problem to be gone in about a week, but within two days you should see vast reductions in numbers.
The Ants Go Marching On
That’s all we have for now on why ants will not leave on their own. Hopefully, this article will help you tackle your ant problem efficiently and permanently.
Now for a quick recap!
Here are a few reasons why ants will not leave on their own:
- Pheromone trails
- Spilled food/beverages
- Prey insects (fleas, termites, etc.)
- Fallen fruit
- Leaky faucets/sprinklers
- Shelter/changing weather
- Honeydew-producing insects on your indoor/outdoor plants
If you plan to control your ants, the best time to do it is in late winter or early spring. This is when populations will be small and more manageable.
If you have ants in your home that are getting out of control, you can get help from a professional! Our nationwide pest control finder can get you in contact with a professional near you!
Drees, b. M., Calixto, A. A., & Nester, P. R. (2012, July 10). Integrated pest management concepts for red imported fire ants Solenopsis invicta (Hymenoptera: Formicidae. Insect Science, 20(4), 429-438.
Offenberg, J. (2014). Pest repelling properties of ant pheromones. Pheromones and other semiochemicals, 173-176.
Vander Meer, R. K. (2019). Applied Myrmecology: A World Perspective. CRC Press.
Way, M. J., & Khoo, K. C. (1992). Role of Ants in Pest Management. Annual Review of Entomology, 37, 479-503.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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