Why Ant Traps Don’t Work (And What To Use Instead)

Ants

Ants in your sugar, crawling all over your counter, taking over the bread packet! Ugh! It is frustrating and inconvenient when ants take over your kitchen. The problem of dealing with these tiny invaders has been challenging people for centuries. It is never enough to get rid of one ant – that is the easy part.

To completely eradicate the whole ant nest or colony is the challenge. Many people turn to ant traps to eliminate the ants, but often the ant traps appear to have little effect on the ants.

Ant traps do not always work because other species of ants are attracted to different baits. More often than not, ant traps are removed too soon, as it takes time and work to become effective. Ant traps also might not be in the right spot where they can find them, making them noneffective as well.

In this article, we will explore why ant traps do not always work. We will also consider alternative methods and look at effective poisons.

What Attracts Ants Into Your Home?

Ants are attracted to homes to obtain food and water. Ants can make use of the tiniest crumbs and smudges as a food source. They are also experts at invading any containers containing food that are not adequately sealed. An ant colony has a high water demand.

It is common for ants to invade homes in dry seasons with a shortage of naturally available water.  Leaks, droplets of water in the sink, and kettles full of water all become overrun by ants. Some ants even climb up into water spouts or taps to access the water. Ants are most often seen in kitchens and bathrooms.

Ants Take Shelter In Homes

Ants are opportunists, taking advantage of every resource presented to them. If there is no other suitable environment, the ants will build their colony nest in the walls or foundations of a home. Food and water sources available in the house make it an even more attractive site for the ants to establish their nest.

Different Types Of Ants & Ant Traps

There are multitudes of ant species in the United States. Some species are found more commonly in homes. Each species has different food preferences, and this affects how they respond to ant traps. Some of the most common ants to find in houses are:

NameDescriptionFood Preference
Carpenter AntsBlack. Quarter to half an inch long. Excavate wood to make nests. Do not bite or sting—most active after sunset.Sugar and protein are preferred foods.
Odorous House AntsTiny ants. Dark brown/ black bodies with light brown legs. Release a noxious smell when crushed. Nest in the masonry of the house. They are very resilient and can live and work despite losing limbs or sustaining crush injuries. Do not sting or bite.Sugary food is preferred. Often invade fruit baskets, boxes of biscuits, and any other sweet substance. 
Pavement AntsSmall brown or black ants with light-colored antennae and legs. They prefer to live outside under paving but will forage for food in homes. They have a stinger that can deliver an unpleasant sting.Their food preference is sweet or greasy food.
Pharaoh AntsLight tan or reddish-brown ants with dark backsides. They prefer to create nests in the home. Most common ant seen in US homes.They prefer sweet food but will eat anything including proteins and often devour other insects.
Argentine AntsTiny dark brown ants that live in massive colonies with multiple queens. On Argentine ant colony can take over an entire city block. Enter homes when weather conditions are extreme – very dry or very wet. They are very aggressive.Prefer sweet greasy food but will eat anything they can find.
Fire AntsSmall, red ants with a nasty burning sting. They prefer to nest outside in mounds but will enter homes to forage for food.Prefer protein when available but will eat most food items.
Crazy AntsThey have long legs and move haphazardly, hence the name. Live in supercolonies and often seek warmth by electrical cables causing thousands of dollars worth of damage.Omnivorous ants that will eat almost anything. 

Ant Colonies & Ant Traps

As mentioned earlier in the article, ants do not live alone but rather in colonies. The colonies may have a single queen or multiple queens.  A single ant in a home would not cause concern. When there is a colony with thousands of ants, they cause extensive damage and can significantly contaminate human food supplies.

Colonies have a highly organized social structure, and there is a division of labor. The result is that the ants observed in the home are a worker or foraging ants. Worker ants are only a fraction of the number of ants in the colony. Worker ants need to take the bait into the colonies so that the entire colony is eradicated. 

What Are Ant Traps?

Ant traps are usually plastic receptacles that contain an ant poison and some bait to attract the ants. Many different ant traps on the market may work with varying degrees of effectiveness or not at all. Ant traps have small holes in them where the ants can access the bait and poison.

An efficient problem with ant traps is that it is difficult to see into the trap to estimate how much poisoned bait is left and whether it is still viable or has become old and dried out. This factor is one of the reasons ant traps may fail to kill ants.

Ant Traps Are Not Designed To Trap Ants

Ant traps are a bit of a misnomer. An ant trap is not designed to trap ants inside it, which many people expect, considering the name. The ant trap attracts the ant, which feeds on the bait and then takes it back to its colony. The aim of this is to eradicate the colony.

Quick-acting poison or ant deterrent sprays can be counterproductive as they do not address the problem of the colony. Many people, therefore, believe ant traps do not work as the ants are still able to leave the ant trap alive.

Why Do Ants Ignore An Ant Trap?

Scout ants go out from colonies to source and locate food and water supplies. Once they have found the food or water source, they lay a trail back to the ant nest. The path is marked with pheromones. Pheromones are chemical substances produced in the ant’s body that communicate important information to other colony members.

The worker ants will ignore a food source that scouting ants have not identified. They will walk right by it on their way to the recognized food or water source.

Different Baits Attract Different Ants

The above table shows that different ant species have different food preferences. In addition, colonies’ food requirements may change depending on the life cycle stages in the colony. During the reproductive period, there is a higher need for protein.

The bait in the ant trap must be appropriate to the species and the stage of the colony. If it is inappropriate or not preferred food, the ants will most likely ignore the ant trap.

Ants Must Eat Enough Bait In The Ant Trap.

Ant traps are not particularly useful with ants that eat a wide range of foodstuff. The problem is that the ant poison is too small a percentage of the ants’ food. This small percentage is insufficient to kill the ants.

Ants

Ant Traps Attract Ants

Many people complain that ant traps attract ants. Initially, this may seem to be true. The scout ants identify the bait in the trap as a food source. Worker ants follow the pheromone trail laid by the scout ants and begin taking food morsels back to the nest. The ants will keep coming as long as the bait is there.

It may look, therefore, as though the ant trap is making the problem worse. The reality is that the worker ants must come to feed and take the ant poison back to the colony.

What Should Be Done Instead?

When the homeowners feel that ant traps are not working, they begin to look at other solutions. The internet provides a mountain of information. Many people are overwhelmed and unable to decide where to start to eliminate ants from their homes. Ant traps are a useful idea, but they are not always effective. Poisoned bait remains one of the most effective weapons in exterminating ant colonies.

Here are other natural ways to repel ants:

Reusable Bait Stations

Re-suable bait stations are useful tools in combating an ant invasion. There are several benefits to using these bait stations:

  • They are easy to check, and replenishing the poisoned bait can be easily achieved.
  • Ant bait is still the easiest way to kill the entire colony of ants.
  • Bait stations help to diminish the accidental exposure of pets and children to poison.
  • The bait can easily be varied depending on the type of ant that is causing the problems.

Identify What Ants Have Invaded Your Home

It is essential to identify the type of ants that have become a nuisance in your home. There is much helpful information on the internet, but making the correct identification can be tricky. Many towns or states have environmental offices that can assist with the identification. If the officials are unable to visit the home, then some well-taken photographs may suffice.

University departments may also be approached to help determine the ant species. A reliable pest control company is the easiest solution. It is their business to identify and understand pests. 

Choose The Correct Bait & Poison

It is crucial to have a slow-acting poison to kill the ants. It is necessary so that the worker ants will take the bait back to destroy the entire colony. Any insecticide which quickly kills the ants will not be effective against the colony. Ants are organized and intelligent enough to create detours that avoid the insecticide. The bait must be appropriate to the problem ant species.

Examine the active ingredients listed on the poisoned bait. Desirable slow-acting poisons are:

  • Hydramethylnon
  • Fipronil
  • Boric acid
  • Avermectin

Some products contain cyfluthrin and permethrins, but these should be avoided as they are fast-acting insecticides that will only kill worker ants.

Correct Positioning Of The Bait Station

The re-usable bait station must be placed in an area where ants have been seen or in an area of suspected movement. Correctly positioning the bait station is far more likely to attract the attention of the ant scouts. The bait station should be checked regularly to ascertain if ants are feeding on the bait.

Refill The Bait Station Regularly

A large colony of ants can quickly deplete the bait. It is vital to keep checking that there is sufficient bait in the bait station. If the ants finish the poisoned bait and an insufficient amount has been taken to the colony, it will not be eradicated.

Cleanliness

The area around the bait station must be kept clean with no other food sources available. The ants must feed at the bait station as often and as regularly as possible. Another food source could distract the ants from the bait station or feel the alternative food source is more attractive than the bait.

Other Options

Re-usable bait stations do not have to be used. It is sometimes sufficient to place the bait on a piece of cardboard or paper. The paper method is useful to quickly identify where ants are moving and most likely to feed. Some manufacturers have developed a poisoned gel that is sold in a tube with a long thin nozzle.

The nozzle allows the gel to be inserted into cracks and joints where ants are emerging. This method takes the poison right to the ants’ doorstep and helps ensure that sufficient poison is brought back into the nest. 

Digging Out The Nest

Some homeowners have tried to dig out nests, but this is a complicated and sometimes impossible task. Nests may be located in areas where it is impossible to dig or where digging may render the building unsafe. Supercolonies of ants may be so extensive that it is not possible to dig out the entire nest.

 Some Other Measures To Deter Ants

  • Fix leaks and dry up any place where moisture collects.
  •  Remove vegetation that touches the buildings or roof. Ants often use tree limbs or plants as a bridge to gain access to a home.
  • Block any apparent cracks or crevices where ants may be gaining entry.
  •  Apply insecticide around the base of the home.
  • Keep food in sealed containers and clean surfaces regularly.

Contact A Pest Control Company

Large ant infestations can be difficult to eradicate and require a multi-pronged approach to deal with the problem. It is usually most efficient to call in a reputable pest company to deal with the situation. Pest control companies are experienced and have access to poisons that are not available to the public.

They have done the job so often that they know common entry points and seal them correctly. Usually, the colony nest may be situated in a crawl space or other inaccessible areas of the building. Pest control companies have specialized tools to examine these areas and insert poisons right at the nest site.

Carpenter Ants

Conclusion

Ants are nuisance pests that can damage a home and contaminate food. Many times ant traps do not work. There are some methods which you can take to make them more useful. Re-usable bait stations, pieces of paper with bait, and inserting poisoned gel into cracks can be used as alternative methods.

It is essential to choose the correct bait for the ant species you are trying to eliminate.  Try to make the home as unwelcoming to ants as possible by fixing leaks, removing vegetation that touches the house, and cleaning regularly.

References

NC State. Tips for Effective Ant Baiting. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/tips-for-effective-ant-baiting

Ortho. How to Identify and Control Different Types of Ants. https://www.ortho.com/en-us/library/insects/how-identify-control-different-types-ants

University of California Integrated Pest Management. Managing Antis with Bait. http://ipm.ucanr.edu/m/pn7411-5.html

Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and an FHA 203k Consultant. I started PestControlInsider.com to help people better understand pest control and what they can do about invasive insects, rodents, reptiles, and other mammals around their homes.

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