When people think of honey, they tend to think positive thoughts. What’s not to like? The sweet flavor is an outstanding addition to any dish, and the golden amber color is aesthetically pleasing. Even watching the way it oozes slowly can fascinate someone for hours.
However, one association with honey that’s not as pleasant is honeypot ants. Like all other ants, they are amazing creatures with a stunning social network. But when that network invades your home, it can become an inconvenience. Thus, it is helpful to know what to do should an infestation strike.
Image via Flickr by D Coetzee
The first step to recognizing a honeypot ant infestation is to know what a honeypot ant looks like. A honeypot ant (also known as a honey ant, a false honey ant, or a winter ant) is a small ant, only about one-eighth of an inch long (though the queen is slightly larger). They are brown or black, with smooth and shiny bodies. The worker ants — which are the ones you are most likely to see — have triangular abdomens and a circle of hairs at the tip of that triangle.
Honeypot ants are one of the more common ants in North America. Because they are more tolerant of cold weather than most other ant species (hence their moniker as winter ants), they can live in a wide variety of regions. In the U.S., these ants are native to the Canadian border down to Nebraska, as well as several states in the Southeast, the Southwest, and the Pacific Northwest.
To answer this question, it helps to first know how the honeypot ant got its name. These ants are so labeled because of their desire to eat sweet flavors. Thus, one of the main reasons a honeypot ant colony would enter a home is because it finds an accessible supply of its favorite foods: sugar, syrup, honey, fruits, cakes, breads, and meats. When they do, honeypot ants generally enter a home or business through small cracks.
However, this is not the only way honeypot ants infiltrate a building. Plants are also sweet treats for this species. The honeypot ant likes to gnaw on flower buds and chew into the sweet syrup of their stalks. Therefore, home and business owners often inadvertently let the species in when they move potted plants from outside indoors. Ants might also enter via outdoor plants growing near building walls.
Luckily, honeypot ants are not dangerous to humans. They do not bite or sting. That said, they can be a major inconvenience for a home or business owner. Because these ants enjoy plants, their presence is usually marked by significant damage to the leaves and buds of the flora in the building. They can also lead to food waste if they get into the pantry.
The first line of defense against any ant infestation is to be proactive. Keep your house as clean as possible, sweeping up crumbs and cleaning spills. Seal any cracks in walls or window or door frames that could allow ants to enter. Trim plants back so they aren’t right up against the building. If the ants have already made their home on your property, however, what can you do?
Your best bet if you are trying to eradicate an existing honeypot ant colony in your home is to use a baited ant trap. To figure out which bait is best, simply lay out some of the ants’ favorite kinds of treats (those sweet foodstuffs mentioned above), and see which one attracts the most ants. After you have determined which bait they prefer, place traps where you have seen the ants, both inside and outside of your home or business.
If honeypot ants have infested your property, they might have been there for a long time unbeknownst to you. Because they can survive in cold weather, their infestations often last longer and become more widespread than those of most other ant species. For this reason, and because they tend to build very deep nests, it is often necessary to call a pest control specialist.
What would an exterminator do that you couldn’t? He or she will use an insecticide (forms such as a fine mist, a wettable powder, and a capsule tend to be effective against honeypot ants) and special tools (such as a compressed air sprayer with a crack-and-crevice tip) to get down into the deepest recesses of the nest. So unless you happen to have these tools lying around at home, you must call in the professionals if the traditional bait-and-poison trick doesn’t work.
Hopefully, the next time you see a honeypot ant, it will be far from your home or business. That way, you can simply admire the species’ fascinating lifestyle from afar. However, if you discover this insect nearby, check to make sure you don’t have any unprotected food stores or plants growing close to the building. For if they have already infiltrated, these ants are challenging to combat. And while they are named after a substance that Winnie the Pooh can confirm is nothing but good, an infestation might make you say, “Oh bother.”