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What Causes Pharaoh Ant Infestations?

Pharaoh ants are found throughout the U.S. and have the reputation of being one of the hardest ants to control. Pharaoh ants are small, but an infestation can be an extreme annoyance and a serious problem for those in the food and medical industries.

Pharaoh ants can potentially spread infections if found in hospitals. Studies have shown that pharaoh ants can transmit more than 12 infectious organisms. In addition, this pest can become a serious problem in apartments, schools, office buildings and just about any locations where food is handled. Pharaoh ants consume sweet substances, but seem to prefer foods like greasy and fatty meats.

Pharaoh ants prefer to build their colony in protected, secluded locations that are warm, humid and near sources of food and moisture. The ants one sees are the foraging worker ants that are sent out to collect food and moisture. These foraging sites are likely located well away from the ant’s colony. Examples of nesting sites are wall voids, furniture and within and behind kitchen appliances. Mature Pharaoh ant colonies normally contain large numbers of workers and several queens.

Pharaoh ants do not swarm and mate, as other species of ants often do. Instead, the colony will have many fertile queens who will move to other locations and start a new colony on their own – a characteristic known as budding. Should a pharaoh ant colony become too large, or sense they are being threatened, colony budding will usually occur.

Prevention & Control

  • The first step toward prevention is to correctly identify the ant species causing the problem. There are other ant species that look like pharaoh ants, so you should have a pest management professional (PMP) correctly identify the ant species.

  • While do-it-yourself methods may work for some ants, controlling the pharaoh ant is best left to your PMP. A common error that people make is to only deal with the ants they see. Since the ants that are visible are the foragers – those looking for food and water. Since foragers are only a small part of the colony, you won’t eliminate the majority of the ants. Eliminating queens and other workers is the key to effective pharaoh ant control.

  • The most effective control materials are baits that are attractive to foraging ants properly placed near ant trails and food sources. Foraging pharaoh ants will locate baits, collect from the bait and feed it to other members of the colony, including the queens. The goal of the baiting program is colony elimination. Baiting programs are not a short-term tactic and must involve the entire structure to be effective. Homeowners and building occupants must be patient since effective pharaoh ant management is a matter of weeks, not days.

  • Pharaoh ants are very small and can enter a home or building through small cracks and crevices, or through electrical wires and plumbing pipes, so sealing the structure’s exterior is likely impossible. When inspecting for ant trails, make sure to let your PMP know the location of both exterior and interior trails to help him or her decide where to place baits.

  • Sanitation is important to Pharaoh ant prevention. Keep countertops clean, remove food scraps from sinks and dirty dishes, keep garbage cans clean and pet foods covered and picked up at night. In addition to reducing access to foods, sanitation is important because fewer food sources means foraging ants are more likely to accept and feed on baits.


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