Follow the Breadcrumbs: Ant TrailsShuffling along the floor of the cafeteria, I followed the well-placed circular stickers directing me where to stand as I wound my way to the refrigerated drink dispenser. In our COVID world of proper placement, we humans have become accustomed to clear instruction on how to maintain proper social distancing and walk in a straight path. Maintaining the obligatory 6-feet of distance requires both large, colorful stickers, as well as a tendency towards social responsibility. The concept of 72 inches tends to vary among humans, as does the notion of a linear path.
Not so with ants. Ant trails are marvels of a well-ordered society, attested by the reliability of their neat and determined paths. Those of us committed to the refreshing custom of a summer picnic will attest to the uniformity of their directional impulses trailing menacingly towards our egg salad.
While it is tempting to believe that ants spontaneously move in tandem along an invisible line towards our platters, the reality is that ants lay a very handy pheromone trail to propel themselves in unison towards a particular destination. An ant trail is designed for one of two purposes – food or shelter. Either an industrious leader ant will lay a pheromone trail to point others towards a succulent platter of summer-y treat, or towards a particularly promising location upon which to create a new colony.
In the case of food, most ant species are attracted to sugar or protein sources, such as a spilt milkshake or bread crumbs under a toaster. This trailing behavior begins when an ant has located a potential meal. That scout ant relays the information to the other worker ants through the use of chemicals called pheromones. Then the ants gather in a line traveling to and from the food source and their nest, taking the shortest route possible, until that food source has been depleted. It is a marvel of cooperative ingenuity that bears contemplation by the logistics professionals of our human world.
However, our picnics must prevail over the pest invasion, so what can be done to prevent these meddlesome ant trails? The simplest solution is striving for some degree of neatness, in an approach that I have termed “picnic protocol” rather the less elegant “pest prevention”. Cover food that isn’t being enjoyed, clean up any sweets or sugary drinks that may have spilled, and toss out any small pieces of meats that may have fallen off a sandwich. In other words, remove the temptation as much as possible to keep the ants at bay.
Preparation also counts, as your quarterly service can target the ant nests around the patio, and take care of any trails moving towards your kitchen. Some steps that you can take include removing plant material touching the house that may create a bridge for the ants, and sealing up any cracks or crevices that insects may use as a tunnel to the indoors. Ant nests should be treated directly, when possible, to prevent ants from creating trails to make additional nests.
Ants will always follow the breadcrumbs, but don’t let them ruin your outdoor fun. And when all else fails, follow the trail to Home Paramount. We can help.