Are ants creeping into your California home? A pest expert explains how to keep them away

As the weather starts to warm across California, ants will begin working their way into homes to survive.

Ants are persistent. Ants are a nuisance. Ants are a pain to get rid of.

The California service journalism team consulted Executive Director Joshua Foster with Zap Termite & Pest Control, which has serviced Northern California for nearly 50 years, and the National Pesticide Information Center, to understand the behavior of ants and how to get rid of them.

Here’s what we found:

Why are ants in my home? Is it dirty?

While the presence of ants in your home doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dirty, the teeny-tiny critters thrive in filth.

The over-ripened fruit that’s taken residence on your counter or the bottle of honey you forgot to wipe clean before storing away are just two of many attractions to ants.

Other times, it doesn’t take much for the unwelcome visitors to appear.

Foster, who has worked for Zap Termite & Pest Control in Sacramento for seven years, said ants “follow the access points that were created.” This includes cracks, plumbing and crawlspaces.

“The cleanest house in the world could have a small water leak under the kitchen sink and that might be where (ants) are going,” he said during a Wednesday phone interview from his car.

Once inside your home, the critters could be difficult to conquer.

How do I get rid of ants inside my home?

Standard chalk could help, though its effectiveness is controversial.

When native ant species are kept outdoors, they help bring water and oxygen to plant roots, according to The Harvard Forest. California’s most common ant species — Argentine, pavement and pharaoh — are exotic.

Foster, who has used the soft carbonate rock to successfully deter ants from his own home, said the creatures won’t cross the line.

“You don’t always have to go spend a couple 100 bucks for treatment ... some of the prevention can be done on your own,” Foster said.

Other pest control experts disagree with the chalk remedy.

“While derailing an ant trail may seem like the ants are being kept away, these ants are definitely not killed. They are only temporarily shifted away from the original site as they avoid the chalk line,” pest control company Rentokil wrote on its website.

Bait stations — sticky traps, and sugar and boric acid mixtures — kill ants that come into contact with them but the colony’s queen is left untouched.

“It’s like chess, you got to defeat the queen,” Foster said.

Fipronil, a broad-use insecticide, is used to control ants, beetles, cockroaches, fleas, ticks, termites and more, according to the National Pesticide Information Center.

Once ants come into contact with the insecticide, it’s only a matter of time before the entire colony is conquered.

Fipronil is available over the counter in low doses, but high concentrations are dispensed through a licensed pest control company.

“Insecticides should always be the last choice,” Foster said, adding that the chemical could be hazardous.

Repellents, including chalk and essential oils, only work to throw ants off their trail.

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