“Red ants, ” more fully referred to as red harvester ants, are often mistaken for fire ants but are a completely different species. Nevertheless, these ants can give you painful, burning bites that will make you think they are fire ants. And they will also invade your home, cover your yard, and make themselves a general nuisance as they forage for food non-stop. Read on to find out how to identify, control, and eradicate red carpenter ants and escape from their pestilent behavior.
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You might think identifying red ants is easy – just look at them to make sure their red! But not all red ants are red harvester ants. And these ants can range from red to dark brown in coloration.
“Red” ants are common in Texas and throughout the Southwest, especially at high elevations. They are relatively large for ants, growing to between a quarter and a half inch long.
In body shape, red ants are rather elongated, with squarish heads. Unlike some ant species, they do not have spiny bodies.
After a summer rain, you may see thousands of red ants from multiple colonies swarm all over your property. Male swarmers are larger than worker ants and are winged. If you see ants climbing to high points to wait for a mate, called “hill topping, ” that’s a tell-tale habit saying it’s harvester ants. Swarming takes place on a single day, but if you are ready with pesticides, it’s a great chance to curb red ants’ population growth.
You can also identify red ants by their very sizable ant hills, which are so large we must call them “mounds” (up to 50 inches in diameter!). And the area around the mound will normally be stripped of all vegetation.
Spiraling out from the mound entrance, you should see long ant trails, and if you care to sniff down close and have a perceptive nose, you can even identify these ants by the distinctive smell of their trails!
What Do Harvester Ants Eat?
If you are suffering from a harvester ant infestation, you may well think you know what harvester ants eat – YOU! These ants are extremely aggressive, and their bites are stingingly painful and even poisonous.
However, the true food of red harvester ants is all manner of seeds and greens, including:
- Sunflower seeds,
- Wildflower seeds,
- Grass seeds,
- Clover heads,
But in a “pinch, ” so to speak, red ants will also eat other insects. After all, a little protein in the diet is a good thing.
Harvester ant workers are industrious foragers. They often infest farm fields and range lands and significantly decrease the yields achieved by “harvester people.”
Finally, note that recent break-through scientific studies of harvester ants have discovered that these ants typically do not chew through the hard seed shells. No, they wait for the seeds to germinate and then eat the tender sprouts. Yes, they are farmers!
There are natural predators of red ants, such as the Texas horned lizard, that may be able to keep ant populations at an equilibrium. But unless you take drastic action, red ants will continue to thrive on your property unhindered indefinitely.
But there are a few things you can do to make your property less inviting to these ants.
These tips my help prevent an infestation or help control an existing one:
- Pick up any random debris, garbage, or clutter in your yard. Eliminate anything that can give ants shelter.
- Fix any leaking outdoor faucets, hoses, or sprinklers. Dry up any places where puddling repeatedly occurs after a rain.
- Don’t leave pet food or human food around for ants to find. Re-position and better secure garbage cans if necessary.
- Cut down tall grass near outdoor structures. Move mulch and plants back from foundations, where ants often like to congregate.
What Kills Red Ants?
Control is one thing, but what you want to do is kill those pesky red ants once and for all. Below, we look at how to kill red ants outside and inside.
Destroying their colonies, baiting their trails, dusting the plants they love to climb on, and dehydrating them with diatomaceous earth (you can also use grits!) are the chief methods.
How to Kill Them Outside
Getting more specific, here are the major ways to wipe out red harvester ants out of doors:
- Douse their ant mounds and immediately surrounding areas with deadly toxicants. This is the number one most effective method.
- Litter deadly ant baits near the nest and all along the main ant highways. The ants will bring home your “gifts” and eat their last meal. Use can use granular baits or mix honey/peanut butter with things like boric acid.
- Mix flour with baking soda and then dust the base of plants ants are likely to be interested in. This will keep them away and help to starve them because baking soda is poisonous to ants.
- Dehydrate ants by dusting their trails with diatomaceous earth. The ants will pick it up, take it home, eat it and die of dehydration.
- Looking for a fun way to kill an ant colony? Boil them to death! Be careful with this method, but after a rain when ant tunnels are muddy, it can be very effective. Pour 2 or 3 gallons of boiling water into each ant hill.
Want to learn how to use ant spray to kill red ants? Click on the link to learn all about it!
Top 5 Most Effective Killers
There are a plethora of anti-ant products on today’s market, and it is possible to concoct your own ant killers as well.
But here are 5 of the best products (of different types) to kill red ants:
- Advance Granular Carpenter Ant Bait. Works great on harvester species as well.
- Amdro Ant Block. This product is specially designed as a perimeter shield to kill ants outside before they can get inside.
- Safer Brand Diatomaceous Earth. Kills ants and other noisome insects. Dust trails and ant hills and watch it work.
- Raid Aerosol Spray Ant & Roach Killer. Great for indoor targeted shots or even outdoor attacks on lines of ants marching on the trail.
- Terro Ant Killer Liquid Ant Baits. Grab a few 6-packs and place strategically indoors. Terro also makes an outdoor version of this lovely trap. Ants love it, but not for long.
Ridding Your House of Red Ants
Red ants mostly like to keep themselves outdoors, but winged swarmers will wander inside at swarming time. And if ant hills are built nearby your home’s foundation or in a garden not far from the house, they certainly may intrude and forage for food in your abode.
Typically, however, they won’t stay indoors regularly and will do more damage in your lawn than in your home.
But if you do have a red ant problem at home, follow these steps to eliminate it:
- Do a major clean-up. Get rid of extra food particles on the floor, any easy sources of water you can block off, and excessive clutter.
- Use a multi-faceted approach. Place gel baits at key points where ants congregate. Lay down non-toxic granule baits along walls where ants trail. And have a spray can quick at hand for “spot treatment.”
- Find out how the ants are getting in, and seal off entry points if at all possible.
- Find the outdoor hills where indoor ants are coming from. Use methods described above to boil, poison, dehydrate, or otherwise kill off the colony.
Red harvester ants are amazing creatures, but they are also persistent pests, both indoors and out. We humans have numerous means at our disposal to destroy red ant infestations and to minimize the chances of a return.
Once you have identified your ants as red harvester ants, find their hills and trails, how they are getting into buildings, and spy out their favorite food supplies.
Then try multiple attack strategies to see what works best. If you cannot eradicate a stubborn red ant infestation, however, do not hesitate to call in the ant control professionals, who will have additional “tricks up their sleeves.”
You can find further details of Ants Control here.