How Do Ant Traps Work? Ultimate Guide

ant close up

Seeing one ant in your house isn't a cause for concern. There's usually a reasonable explanation; for example, sometimes ants ride in on your shoes or on packages. But, if you are seeing multiple ants in your home, we understand the leaden dread sinking in your gut. Ants are a problem and, often, a tough one for people to deal with. The solution to an ant problem is usually an ant trap. But, how do ant traps work?

If you are preparing to deal with an ant problem, you might be wondering what an ant trap is, are ant traps safe for humans, and how do ant traps work. We've got the answers.

Antsy About Ants? A Few Important Ant Facts

Let's get one thing clear: there are a lot of ants. Like, a truly astounding amount of ants. Some experts estimate that humans are outnumbered by ants by about 140,000 to 1. Multiply that ratio by the 7 billion people alive today, and you might get dizzy by the prospect of that many ants. And, to really let it sink in, ants are shockingly hardy insects. Already innumerable, they are also survivors. There is evidence of some early species of ants existing 165 million years ago. Ants outlived the dinosaurs, and they'll probably outlive humans.

pest control in front of house

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Ant Basics

Ants are some of the most common, harmless, and useful insects you will ever come across. Ants are in both rural and urban spaces, as well as found everywhere in the wild. The digging ants do help turn soil for planting and growing. Ants are also scavengers, which are their most useful trait since they consume waste materials like hair and nail clippings. Undoubtedly, ants have their use. Just not in your house.

Common Ants

While there might be 20,000 types of ant species alive today, an ant infestation in your home is likely only caused by some of the common ants of North America. Those common breeds of ants include:

  1. 1
    Pavement Ants – Dark brown, one-eighth inch long bugs often live under foundations and feed mainly on protein foods.
  2. 2
    Little Black Ants – Tiny, glossy black ants that eat bread, grease, and meats.
  3. 3
    Argentine Ants – Common to California and Southwest states, these ants are originally from Brazil, and they love sweet food.
  4. 4
    Odorous House Ants – Brown and black, one-eighth inch long bugs smell like rotten fruit if they are crushed, and they love sugary food.
  5. 5
    Carpenter Ants – Black ants that are three-eighths to a half inch in length that eat proteins and sugars. They don't eat wood but remove wood for living quarters, hence the name.
  6. 6
    Imported Fire Ant – Originally from South America, this ant is red or black in color and known for aggressive stinging. These ants are omnivores that eat both animal and plant matter and have a particularly good appetite for fats.
black ants lining up

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Ants As Pests

Unfortunately, ants work just as hard at being pests as they do to survive. Here are a few reasons why ants might be your newest pest headache:

  1. 1
    Foraging - Ants are tenacious when they find a food source, so their best ability is also the most irritating. Since ants are attracted to anything that can be considered a food source, once a worker ant has found a source, you are almost certainly in for a hoard of ants converging on whatever that source is.
  2. 2
    Numbers - Ant colonies are mind-boggling in size. One worker ant finding a food source can mean thousands of ants trekking to and from your house. And if you think the worker ants are a lot, don't forget that those ants are only a portion of the entire colony, which also includes breeding males, babies, and the queen.
  3. 3
    Destructive Digging - Since ants build their colonies underground, their diggers build tunnels that connect between different chambers, which produces huge dirt mounds. These mounds can be an eyesore for your garden or your yard, but more concerning is the fact that ants can make their tunnels close to the surface beneath your home. A big enough colony can undermine the integrity of your foundation.
  4. 4
    Ant Stings - While not all ants are biters, there are plenty of ants that do have a habit of biting or stinging. Some species have bites and stings that are very severe, from being painful to even causing death.

Ants as pests can be a huge problem. They are stubborn, there are a lot of them, they can be destructive, and their bites or stings can become a medical concern. Ants are especially concerning for parents and pet owners since ants certainly don't discriminate who they will bite.

But how do you eliminate ants?

ants on person hand

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Ant Infestation: Prevention Is The Best Method

To be frank, the best way to deal with ants is through preventative methods. You might not be able to do anything about ants hanging out in your yard, but you can take several steps to make sure that ants aren't interested in the inside of your house. Here are a few tips:

  • Properly seal your food
  • Clean counters, shelves, and drawers to remove crumbs or spills
  • Don't leave dirty plates sitting around
  • Take out the garbage regularly
  • Seal gaps around windows, under doors, and in floors with sealant or weatherproofing

Ants will make use of any point of entry in your home. They will also be attracted by the scent of something edible by their standards, so even trash is not safe from the interest of an ant. By preventing entry into your home and making sure your home is clean, you can hopefully prevent ant infestations in the future.

But you have an ant problem now. Ant traps are probably your best bet for getting rid of ants, so how do ant traps work? Are ant traps effective? Are they even safe? Let's learn more!

Ant Trap 101

To start off, when we talk about "ant traps", what we really mean is "ant bait." While there are certainly any number of ant killer sprays on the market, the reason that ant traps are recommended for infestations is that ant killers only kill a few ants at a time. Ant traps, on the other hand, can kill the entire colony if used correctly. Many ant prevention products work using the slow and steady approach; some make an area unappealing to insects, while others introduce a poison that is slow to act by design. Ant traps designed as ant bait are subtle on purpose.

How Do Ant Traps Work?

As a general rule of thumb, if you see a few ants in your home, the chances are that those ants are just scouts for the colony which can host upwards of a hundred ants that are constantly reproducing. Some bigger colonies have more than a thousand ants. The more ants you see in your home, the bigger the colony probably is. After reading about how well ants have managed to survive, you're probably wondering if ant traps even work?

Short answer: yes.

The long answer means asking, "How do ant traps work?"

All ant traps work on the same key factor. Ant traps function as baits to provide food to the ants that contain as little as 1% of poison. That low amount of poison is just the right amount of balance between the bait attracting ants and the bait poison being undetected by ants. The lower the insecticide is, the more bait ants will carry back to the colony which means every ant will eat the bait containing poison. Eventually, that means all the ants will die - worker ants, breeding ants, the babies, and the egg-laying queen.

It's important to remember that killing ants with ant traps isn't fast. There is no instant gratification. You have to be patient when dealing with ants because you are going after an entire colony, not just one or two workers. Ant traps take about 2 or 3 weeks for sugar baits or even a couple of months for protein baits to get rid of an entire colony.

ants trap

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Match Your Ant To The Ant Trap

When you are asking how do ant traps work, you should also be asking if certain traps are better for certain ants. You might have caught on that there are different kinds of baits, such as sugar or protein baits. The reason there are different types of bait is that not all ants eat the same thing. That's why it is important to identify which ant you are having trouble with and buy the appropriate bait

  • Black ants and pavement ants have protein food sources, so protein baits will work best
  • Odorous house ants or Argentine ants like sweet food, so sugar baits will work best
  • Fire ants require protein bait with a fatty substance at the base which might take a little shopping around

Are Ant Traps Safe?

Ant traps certainly aren't safe for ants, but if you're wondering if ant traps are safe for humans, you can rest your mind a bit. Being exposed to an ant trap isn't fatal to humans, but it is best to avoid consumption of an ant trap and to wear gloves when handling an ant trap. Always wash your hands and clothes after touching an ant trap. Keep small children and pets away from ant traps.

ants swarming on dead bug

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In Review

You came here wondering how do ant traps work and have learned so much more. You know all about the behavior of ants and the common ant species. You know how much of a problem an ant infestation can become. You know that prevention is the best method for ants. And, you also know the answer to your main question.

How do ant traps work? They're subtle on purpose. Ant traps contain a small enough amount of poison to trick ants into taking the bait back to the colony where all the ants eat the bait and eventually die. However, ant traps can take a while to see results, so remember to be patient!


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