Pest Identification

Learn More About the Pests Invading Your Home

What Are Sugar Ants and How to Control Them?

I once had an aunt who loved sugar and her home was magnet for sugar ants. Those ants loved my aunt’s sugar but in the wild, sugar ants are aphid ranchers. They prefer to eat honeydew—the sugar-rich sticky liquid secreted by aphids feeding on plant sap.

Scientists nicknamed aphids “ant cows” (no, we’re not making this up). Sugar ants protect the aphids from predators such as lady bugs and parasitic wasps. When it’s feeding time on the farm, the ants round up the aphids, take them to a sheltered place on a plant, and “milk” them for their honeydew in a lovely symbiotic relationship.

Not all sugar ants prefer life on the aphid farm; many prefer to live and forage for sweets in suburbia. They build their colonies in the ground, between rocks, in rotting wood, and among the trees and bushes in your yard. You can identify sugar ant colonies by the dirt mounds that surround the hive entrances. Like other ants, they send out scouts who search for food. In this case jelly, cookies, and bags of sugar. Once a scout finds a sweet treat, it pilfers as much as it can carry and takes it back to the nest. The worker lays down a scent trail of pheromones on its homeward journey. Back in the colony, the workers smell the good news and make a beeline, or… an ant-line back to your cupboard. That’s a heck of a lot easier than ranching aphids.

If you’re not sweet on sugar ants riding the range in your kitchen, try source kill ant baits. Ants carry the bait back to the colony, thereby poisoning their nest mates. When the colony dies, the source of infestation is eliminated and your ant problems will be over.