There are 41 different species of ant living in the UK. The one that causes most problems for people is the garden or black ant (Lasius Niger), which is 3.5 to 5mm long and dark brown to black in colour.
Black ants usually nest outdoors in lawns, flower beds under paving stones and in walls. Although they are not a health hazard, they can be a nuisance, as they can find their way into homes in large numbers. They enter homes in search of sweet foods, getting in through small gaps in masonry, doors and windows.
Ants are not just pests, they feed off insects and act as scavengers in the garden.
The queen ant lays eggs in late spring that hatch into larvae after 3-4 weeks. She rears the larvae for three weeks, after which they pupate. From the pupae emerge the first brood of worker ants that forage for food and look after subsequent broods. Each year the council receives a number of calls concerning flying ants. These ants are not a separate species, but are, in fact, the same garden ants that are commonly seen crawling around. A colony of ants contains numerous workers (sterile females), a few males and several females (Queens).
The worker ants do not have wings but males and females are winged at swarming time when mating takes place. During this period, which may last 2 - 3 days in the summer, the winged males and females die and the queens, after shedding their wings, go off to start a new colony, digging a cell in the soil where they stay until the following Spring. Little can be done about these swarms, but it is comforting to know that the swarm will last a few days at most.
- Garden pests are often attracted into kitchens by food. Therefore, the first control measure is to ensure that all parts of the kitchen are kept clean and free of food particles.
- The most effective control is to find the nest and destroy it. The nest can sometimes be located by carefully watching the worker ants as they make their way back, or by looking for patches of fine soil near the base of walls. If you are lucky enough to find the nest, it can be exposed with the aid of a spade and destroyed by simply pouring boiling water onto it (take great care when carrying and pouring boiling water). Alternatively apply an insecticide (ant powder or gell).
- Where locating the nest proves impossible, apply a lacquer type insecticide, obtainable in aerosol spray form, around door and window frames, skirting boards and any other points where the ants may be gaining entry.
Using Insecticides - Be environmentally friendly!
- Before you rush out and purchase an insecticide consider whether you really need to use one. Can you control the insect by simply applying good rules of hygiene? Most garden insects need moisture to survive; can you dry out any damp areas providing harbourage? As always prevention is better than cure, only use chemical controls when there is no other alternative.
Types of Insecticides
- Insecticides can be either in a powder, gell or liquid form (usually aerosols) and have either a quick knock down effect or a long lasting effect.
- Most garden centres, hardware shops, chemists and some of the larger super stores stock a range of insecticides.
- Read the information on the container to ensure the insecticide is suitable for the purpose you require it for, and so that you know how to use it safely. Particular attention should be given to the use of powders. Wash you hands after use and store in a safe place away from children and pets.
Click on the link to the British Pest Control Association website for further information.