Know your enemy
They all have six legs, nipped waists, elbowed antennae, and oval bellies called gasters. Carpenter ants are big, black, sometimes reddish bruisers. Like termites, they can do a lot of damage to wood and at certain times of the year can be seen taking flight. Unlike termites, which eat wood, carpenters burrow through it, tossing shavings out of their way as they go. If you see tiny piles of sawdust, look up—they may be digging nests near a leak in the ceiling or in an exposed beam. Odorous house ants are much smaller, running from brown to black; they throw off a rotten-coconut aroma when crushed. These perpetrators hide out in walls and floors, and while they do love sweets (and are often referred to as sugar ants), they will go for any food and water they can find. Foragers leave a scented trail to help nestmates find their way, so watch for a conga line heading for the box of doughnuts. Pavement ants tend to settle in concrete cracks but will also move into walls, under floors, or into mulch near foundations. Light brown to black, they too have a swarming season. They’ll eat your bread crumbs but prefer grease and meat.
Why they move in
All three crave human food and water and occasionally warmth. Carpenters are drawn to rotting wood while the other two types scout for accessible water and a steady supply of ant-sized food debris they can carry away.
What to do
Follow these natural remedies for ants. Trap foragers in a sticky, nearly empty honey jar. Sprinkle ant pathways in dry areas with diatomaceous earth, or put boric acid in crevices. Track odorous ants back to the nest—armed with a vacuum cleaner—then wipe down trails with soapy water to throw them off their scent. Bait can turn foragers into poison mules but can also increase traffic. Now do a deep clean (is that a Twix behind the sofa?). Carpenters are tricky. If you’ve got these chompers, or any ant that won’t take a hint, call a pro.