When it comes to interior ant problems, Pharaoh ants are the most difficult home-invading ant to get rid of, primarily because of their "splitting" behaviors.
While Pharaoh ants don't cause damage or pose any particular health risks in the home, they nest inside and have the potential to spread disease (including staph, strep, and salmonella) in healthcare settings. These expert invaders are incredibly persistent, multiply quickly, and have a knack for getting into lots of places, especially if there's something sweet or greasy around for them to eat.
This guide will help you identify a potential Pharaoh ant issue and help you determine the next best steps for control.
What is a Budding Ant?
Not all ants are the same, in looks or behaviors. Some ants reproduce seasonally when the nest releases 'winged swarmers' in the late summer or early fall. These winged ants leave the nest to go reproduce elsewhere and start new nests in new places.
Budding ants like the Pharaoh ant, however, have multiple queens in a colony. These additional queens will split from the original nest, taking groups of worker ants with them to favorable spots nearby where they start new nests. Pharaoh ants are very good at budding, meaning they can start in one area and spread quickly in a little time.
What Do Pharaoh Ants Look Like?
Since not all ants are the same, ant issues need to be addressed according to the specific qualities and behaviors of the ant you're dealing with. This is especially true with Pharaoh ants inside your home.
Pharaoh ants can become a plague on a home, getting into everything, causing discomfort and frustration, and forcing some residents to pick up and move altogether.
There are a number of ants the Pharaoh ant can be confused with, including ghost ants, thief ants, bigheaded ants, and fire ants.
To identify Pharaoh ants, start by looking for the following characteristics:
- Very small (1.5-2mm long)
- Body color ranging from yellow to brown to red
- Elbowed or bent antennae
- Slightly darker abdomen (tail-end)
- Distinct indent in the thorax (middle section)
- A very thin waist followed by two bumps (nodes)
Identification before trying to control ants may seem silly, but it's so important! Make sure to confirm the identification with a pest professional who specializes in Integrated Pest Management (IPM), especially if you suspect you're dealing with Pharaoh ants.
Signs of a Pharaoh Ant Infestation
If you're finding lots of trails of tiny ants ranging in color from gold to brownish red, this could indicate a Pharaoh ant problem. This is especially true if:
- You're finding large accumulations of them in warm places like near your hot tub or around your water heater.
- You've seen them congregating around sweet or greasy items in your kitchen.
- They're popping up in places you thought were well-protected and sealed.
Pharaoh ants have been known to squeeze their way into even the most secure of environments. Even the most highly secured DNA labs can't be protected from these pesky buggers!
Seeing lots of small, lighter-colored ants could indicate a wide number of ant species, but regardless of species, they should be treated with care, especially considering the invasive and persistent nature of the Pharaoh ant.
If you're finding Pharaoh ants inside, this could indicate that a nest has moved into your home and it will need to be handled carefully if you want to get rid of them for good.
4 Ways to Get Rid of Pharaoh Ants
Due to their invasive and highly sensitive nature, Pharaoh ant control should center primarily around prevention and monitoring whenever possible. It is essential that you ignore the urge to apply any products, natural or otherwise. Even essential oils and baits can cause splitting in a Pharaoh ant colony, and that's when Pharaoh ants can become a severe plague on homeowners.
Approaching Pharaoh ant control correctly is going to require patience and consistency. If the issue has moved inside or is severe, you should call a professional company specializing in Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a method of pest control that focuses on using a variety of holistic controls and using chemical treatments in targeted, limited doses only when necessary.
Here's a simple IPM plan so you can begin addressing Pharaoh ants around your home:
Deep Clean Your Kitchen and Bathroom
Pharaoh ants like moisture and are especially drawn to warm areas where there are accumulations of sweet, fatty, and greasy food sources. Pharaoh ants aren't picky and will even eat drain scum if it's readily available and contains enough grease.
Start by making sure your kitchen and bathroom areas are thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis. This includes cleaning appliances and countertops, as well as addressing any residues that may build up around the stove, microwave, sink, or drains.
Don't forget to address baking storage and pantry areas, too! Sticky spills and residues and granules of left behind sugar are perfectly suitable foods for the Pharaoh ant. By cleaning these areas, you're also reducing the risk of pantry pests. While you tidy, carefully look over your goods to ensure Pharaoh ants have not been able to penetrate any of the sealed packagings. Leave no tomato sauce, jam jar, or bag of sugar un-inspected!
Monitor for Pharaoh Ant Activity
Monitoring simply means watching, inspecting, and checking back to see if there's any activity. Pharaoh ants are especially good at using utility lines such as water lines and power cables to trail along. Not only do these cables provide the ants with a natural highway to follow, but they are often in warm places.
Pharaoh ants seek out nesting places in warm, moist areas with temperatures in the low-to-mid-80s, but have also been known to nest in some very unexpected places. Start by looking in places like:
- Around your hot tub
- Near the water heater
- In a wall or ceiling void
- Inside appliances
Don't rule out other strange locations, either. If you feel like you see lots of ants in your office, this warrants an inspection, even if you're not sure what they're eating. Pharaoh ants could be hiding in your paper storage area, or in other strange places like in between folded linens or in an outdoor trash can.
If you're not up for performing regular inspections, consider having a professional pest company come out from time to time, just to take a look around and make sure nothing is out of the ordinary.
Reduce and Remove Ant Access
By reducing vegetation and clutter, you can effectively reduce the number of pests around your home, including various ant species, spiders, and rodents. Take steps such as:
- Removing clutter and vegetation from around the foundation of the home
- Trim trees and shrubs to ensure pests cannot use them to climb up to your house
- Seal cracks around window frames and door jambs
While Pharaoh ants often select indoor spaces for nesting, they often come from outside. Tidying up around the outside of your home can help you identify potential areas of concern and uncover hidden ant trails you didn't know were there.
Call a Pro
With species of ants like the Pharaoh ants, it's best to have a licensed and experienced professional help if you need them eradicated from the inside of your house.
Proper long-term control of Pharaoh ants can involve:
- Identification of all nesting and foraging sites
- Use of a non-repellant bait, properly placed to avoid fracturing
- Use of professional quality products called IGRs which will require properly executed follow-up treatments
What Causes Pharaoh Ants?
Pharaoh ants are a warm-weather ant species that likely originated in Africa but has since spread throughout the world by way of trade and commerce. In order to survive in cooler climates, the Pharaoh ant does not live outside. Instead, they happily move indoors where structures often provide them with everything they need to thrive.
If you are seeing Pharaoh ants in your home, they have likely found one or more of the following:
- Food (sweet, oily, or greasy)
- Water or moisture
- Warmth (80 to 86°F)
How to Keep Pharaoh Ants Away
To keep Pharaoh ants away from your home, start with the following natural control methods:
- Deep clean your home, especially focusing on areas that are warm, moist, or have food (kitchens, bathrooms, food storage, etc.)
- Regularly inspect and monitor for activity
- Remove easy access such as clutter, dense shrubbery, or tree limbs from the outside of your home
If Pharaoh ants have made themselves at home inside your house, it's time to call a pest professional. While many pest issues can be resolved with DIY solutions, Pharaoh ants are not one of them.
Where do Pharaoh ants come from?
Pharaoh ants likely originated in Africa, but have since been transported worldwide through trade and travel. Now, they nest inside our structures where they seek out warmth, moisture and food.
Will Pharaoh ants go away on their own?
If you have Pharaoh ants inside, it's unlikely that they will go away on their own. In this situation, it's best to call for professional help.
Do Pharaoh ants bite?
Pharaoh ants do not bite. They do have a stinger but rarely use it and are not likely to sting humans.
Pharaoh Ant. Ohio State University Extension
A study on the potential of ants to act as vectors of foodborne pathogens. National Library of Medicine.
Featured Creatures: Pharaoh Ant. University of Florida