If you’re looking for a cheat sheet on how to get rid of flying ants, you already know that the flying version of these pests may be the worst variety.
We all know ants are a royal pain in the donkey; stealing food from our picnics, stealing food from our homes, stealing food from our garden, stealing etc. etc.
They’re incredibly industrious when they’re limited by gravity, so who thought it was a good idea to give them wings!?
Luckily, there are ways to get rid of these pesky flying ants and I’m here to nobly vomit said information all over you in article form. So let’s get into it.
What are flying ants?
Scoff all you want. It’s not as stupid a question as it sounds.
Flying ants aren’t actually a new species or type of ant that you’ve never heard of before. ‘Flying ants’ actually covers, basically, every type of ant there is, because at one point or another that crawling line of them that you spot carrying food back to the nest at the bottom of your garden were a flying squad.
Basically, wings are a sign of sexual maturity and promiscuity in the ant world: these are ants that were home-schooled, fed by the worker ants and cared for by the queen.
Once they reach their sexual zenith, they fly from the nest in search of a mate (commonly referred to (if you frequent ant-literate circles) as the nuptial flight).
Us laymen usually just call them a cloud or swarm, because these sexual tyrannosaurs aren’t out on the prowl by themselves – there’s a whole crowd of ‘em, like underage drinkers with their first fake ID.
This swarming technique is a defensive mechanism for keeping predators at bay and ensuring that at least some of them survives long enough to reproduce.
What happens next?
After they’ve mated, the now sterile ants shed their wings and retire to a short life of slave-labor (men) or to start their own new colony as queen (women). The male ants tend to die off almost immediately after mating…I guess it’s tough to lie about your sexual adventures in the ant world…but the queen can live for over a decade having only mated once in her life time.
The same time every. Damn. Year.
I know, I know. If you’re familiar with flying ants already, you’ll know that these swarms and clouds seem to emerge at more or less the exact same time every year. This is because conditions need to be very, very specific for winged ants to emerge (usually around early spring and summer).
Unlike you, who just needs a few beers and a pep-talk in the bathroom mirror: winged ants need sunlight, warmth, high humidity, docile winds and, preferably, this should all occur after a few days of rainfall. Then they’re ready to get their sharp suit on and hit the clubs.
Termite vs flying ant? How do I tell?
Good question since termites also develop wings and fly in swarms at particular stages in their life, for basically the exact same reason: to find a new place to live and set up a colony.
Although ants and termites are vastly different bugs, it can be difficult to tell which problem you’re faced with when you need to hold your nose and scrunch your eyes up against a thick cloud of… something with wings.
The easiest way is looking at their physical attributes:
- Wings. Termites have four equal sized and shaped wings, whereas ants tend to have smaller wings of two different sizes (bigger in the front, smaller in the back). You’ll likely see the termite wings before you spot the bug itself, given the wing:body ratio, whereas ants’ are much more compact, making it seem more like a haze of flies.
- Antennae. Termites have straight antennae compared with ants’ elbowed/jointed antennae.
- Hips. Ants have got dem hips (bulbous at the back and tapered toward the top) whereas termites are built like a fridge door: uniform, broad and boring in shape. #RealAntsHaveCurves
How to Get Rid of Flying Ants
Right, enough with the backstory; let’s jump straight to the third act climax – the killing! And warding off, of course…
Seal the home
The best offense is a good defense as you well know and it doesn’t get much more defensive than boarding up your home from intruders. Treat it like a zombie film. Any gaps, no matter how small or insignificant, must be closed off.
The best method is to do a little bit of reconnaissance first. Check your home for signs of flying ant entry, or any other leggy-pest for that matter: where one has gotten in, more will follow.
The easiest place to start is with the big entryways into your home like doors and windows. Repair ripped screens and if you don’t have screens, get magnetic screen doors or a fiberglass screen cloth and attach it with magnets. This is by far the simplest way to prevent flying ants from getting access to your home.
Also, seal gaps in floorboards, window sills, bathroom pipes and so on as you come across them: a simple sealant like caulk or expanding foam will often do the job.
These can become costly measures, however, when repeated regularly – so a popular, cheaper alternative sealant is simple Vaseline. Obviously, you’ll only really be able to use this for smaller gaps or to target specific areas as you look for entry points, but for some reason ants just can’t seem to handle the substance. Maybe they just hate moisturizing.
The basic principle is to create a physical barrier that both keeps ants out and keeps smells and heat in. On that latter note…
Take away the attraction
Ants aren’t just flying readily into your home for the hell of it. They’re attracted by something indoors. It could be the relative safety and tranquillity inside, away from predators, or the climate of your home (remember that heat and humidity we talked about?).
But it’s much more likely that they’re flying in to chow down on some leftovers. Now, ants aren’t picky. They’ll eat just about anything that has any trace amount of nutritional value to it, even if you’ve thrown that into your disgusting bin and left it to rot.
By simply eliminating this food waste and disposing of perishables appropriately, you can drastically lower your chances of flying ants coming in for a landing.
Try to avoid leaving fresh fruit out in the open and keep food well packaged and sealed in your cupboards so as to avoid letting any smells, morsels or crumbs reach the twitching antennae of any opportunistic ants in the neighborhood.
Hit the shops
As someone who writes a lot of insect and pest self-help articles – I’ve grown used to advising alternative methods for pest repelling and killing, but you’ve got to figure that all those mass produced aerosol sprays work for something, right?
Well, ants are part of the answer to that rhetorical question. Most commercial bug sprays that you can find on supermarket shelves will do the job.
These will work for regular (sterile) ants and flying ants alike; but if you really want to catch them when they’re at their most confident and youthful – i.e. looking for a mate – then you want to opt for a brand/aerosol with a wide spray area so you can better target the swarm.
Note: make sure you’re using an appropriate spray if spritzing indoors and try not to use it around pets or young children.
Make your own DIY spray
Orrrr…You can try your own alternative, DIY ant killer spray and save on the pennies.
All you need is a simple spray bottle and some ant-killing ingredients. The killing factor comes in all shapes and sizes – peppermint oil, for example is a highly popular flying ant killer because it suffocates them upon contact. Just mix a little in with some water and you’re good to go.
Ditto simple dishwashing soap. Most of these liquid soaps will bog the ant down in sticky, gluey ooze and stop them in their tracks. As a bonus, most types of popular soap will dehydrate the bugs, too, killing them from the outside in. Yaaay!
Take the fight to them
You knew it might come to this…If your flying ant problem is persistent and doesn’t seem to be responding to any of your counterattacks, then the best course of action is to hunt them down at the source. The small bonus is that flying ants won’t have travelled too, too far from their nest or ant hill so it shouldn’t be too difficult to track it down.
Usually the nest or hill will be outside, which means you can try some non-toxic solutions such as raking or digging the hill over and sending the (mostly wingless, remember) ants scurrying. There’s no guarantee that this will be an effective, permanent move though, so you’re probably better opting for some harsher pesticides or perhaps even flooding the hill with boiling soapy water to become a true home wrecker.
Bonus trick: if you’re unable to actually find the hill or source, then you can count on the ants’ natural homing instincts to do the job for you. Some pesticides, sprays and traps will cover an unsuspecting ant in the toxic material without killing them immediately.
Things like diatomaceous earth or slow-acting insecticides will adhere to the body of the ant. When he or she returns to the nest later, they’ll be dragging the substance in with them, killing off family members without you having to lift a finger.
Set out bait traps
Speaking of traps…You might think it’d be difficult to reliably expose flying or even regular crawling ants to granulated killers and you’d be right – which is why we use our superior intellect against ‘em.
Ants have a species-wide sweet tooth. They’ll make an immediate bee-line for anything sugary, which makes it the perfect bait for all manner of different traps.
You can purchase ready-made traps by the dozen which are essentially little cardboard structures that lure the ants in and then glue them to the floor or poison them with expensive pesticides.
However, it’s just as simple to make your own traps with nothing more than sugar, some Borax or a cheap ant poison, like baking powder, and a bit of cardboard.
Smear the cardboard strip in the poison of your choice and mix it in with the sugar, or dip it into sugary water – anything to get it sickly sweet and attractive. Then, simply leave it out in spots that the flying ants have been active and you’ll soon start to see the bodies hit the floor, literally.
Another great little homemade trap is to use duct tape. You can either spread it out in the same way as the DIY traps we just talked about, or you can hang it from the roof in little streamers to catch flying ants as they buzz on through your space – bonus if you manage to attach some sort of sugary lure to attract them!
Get a bug zapper
Or, if all of that sounds like it’s just too much running around…and let’s be honest: it kind of is. You could simply invest in a bug zapper.
Bug zappers are fantastic inventions: lure, killer and catcher all rolled into one handy device. Just hang one around problem areas, or even just anywhere that’s in ‘view’ of any ant hills you know are causing you problems.
The bright, flickering light will lure the flying ants in and… well, you know the rest. A great, laidback solution, but it’s not going to take care of the ground problem.
All I can do is offer up the information: it’s really up to you to decide which method will work best for your situation; no one solution is the be all and end all of flying ant killing. It’s all trial and error.And dead ants. Lots of dead ants.