Controlling Ant Budding

How to Stop Colony Expansion

Red ants
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Most ants breed by swarming; that is, winged male drones and female queens fly to mate than start new colonies. However, all ants do not breed this way. In fact, some of the most difficult ants to control are those that expand their populations through "budding." Although some may, at times, have winged members, these ants do not swarm to breed. Rather their colonies are expanded, multiplied, or new colonies created through "budding."

Budding is a process by which a queen and accompanying workers leave the current ant nest and walk to a new site to form a new colony. The queen produces the offspring, while the workers help to establish the new nest, then care for the offspring and queen. Some of the common ants that spread their colonies by budding are some fire ant species, pharaoh ants, ghost ants, and Argentine ants.

Insecticidal spraying of trailing ants is never recommended, as this kills only the worker ants that are contacted, it does not eliminate the breeding queen or colony. However, a drenching of the nest can be an effective control for many species - but not for those that expand their colonies through budding. Because these ants can "bud" at any time, they will often take this route in the cause of any disturbance or threat to the colony. If the species has multiple queens, you can then end up with multiple ant colonies instead of the one you started with. In fact, the populations can increase quite quickly if the colonies are not completely eliminated.

Ant Control

It is for this reason that bait is the most effective option for control of ants that expand their colonies through budding. The worker ants will carry the bait back to the nest to feed - and poison - the nesting ants, eliminating the entire colony instead of just the foragers. Fast-acting, slow-acting, and combined baits are available for the control of fire ants, with faster baits needing more frequent control and slower baits generally being longer lasting, thus requiring fewer reapplications.

It is advisable to check the baits frequently. If the ants are not feeding, the bait should be moved or another type tried. Ant feeding preferences will vary according to species and season; for example, ants will be more attracted to protein in the spring and early summer when they are actively building their colonies, and to carbohydrates later in the summer and fall when they are in more of a maintenance mode.

If the bait is completely eaten, you should refill the bait or place another bait station in its place unless the ants are no longer feeding. Generally, bait is placed indoors, away from or protected from children and pets, but during warm seasons, exterior bait placements can also be helpful. Again, the baits should be placed where ants are seen.

Budding Ants

Some of the most common ants that enlarge their colonies through budding are:

  • Very small - 1/16 - 1/4 inch
  • Reddish brown to black in color
  • Very aggressive, attacking anytime their mound is disturbed.
  • Found primarily in the southern and coastal states
  • It is nearly impossible to entirely eliminate fire ants because of all the areas they infest. However, their numbers and presence can, and should, be suppressed or reduced in areas in which they can cause harm or damage, such as homeowners property.

Pharaoh Ants

  • 1/12 to 1/16 inch long
  • Golden yellow to reddish-brown
  • Gets its nickname, "sugar ant" from the fact that it feeds on sweets, such as jellies, honey, cakes, and sugar, as well as breads and greasy, fatty foods.
  • Found throughout the U.S., and will nest within structures, particularly in the north where they cannot survive the cold winters outdoors.
  • Pharaoh ant colonies can get extremely large and be made up of many nests. A single colony can have a single or multiple queens, with populations numbering in the several thousand.

Ghost Ants

  • Very small less than 1/16 inch in length.
  • Named for the pale, almost translucent coloring of its body and legs. However, its head is dark colored.
  • Ghost ant colonies have multiple queens and multiple nests and are very mobile.
  • Chiefly an outdoor ant, it is found primarily in Florida and Hawaii, with some found living indoors in areas of Texas, Iowa, and Oregon.
  • Control is difficult because of the many nests that often make up a colony, thus even a direct-nest spray treatment may not contact all members of all interrelated colonies.

Argentine Ants

  • Workers are generally about 1/8 inch long; the queens may be 1/6 to1/4 inches in length.
  • Bodies vary in color from light to a dark brown.
  • Argentine ant colonies have many nets and many queens - numbering even in the hundreds, with thousands of workers to tend them. Thus, populations can grow rapidly, with queens laying up to 60 eggs in a single day.
  • Argentine ants are dormant during cold winter months, often joining multiple colonies together for overwintering.
  • Found throughout many of the southern states, as well as parts of Arizona, California, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. They prefer urban settings, nesting in damp areas.
  • This ant is difficult to control because a colony that is eliminated within a structure will often soon be replaced by another colony. Thus it is critical that all Argentine ants in an area, both within and outside a building, be found and eliminated at once.
  • When nests can be located outdoors, they can be treated directly with residual insecticides, and perimeter treatments can help to repel new invading colonies as well as foraging worker ants. If colonies cannot be located, sweet baits can be very attractive to Argentine ants.