News > What you need to know about pharaoh ants and apartments
What you need to know about pharaoh ants and apartments
November 30, 2021
Seeing ants in your building in winter?
They’re probably pharaoh ants.
If you live in Ontario and see ants in your home in the spring and summer, you’re probably seeing the usual species: Carpenter ants, odorous house ants, sugar ants, pavement ants – all of which are annoying, kind of gross, and can do damage, but which, generally speaking, are just as happy living outdoors and can be dealt with fairly easily.
However, if you’re still seeing lots of ants into the late fall and winter months, you’ve probably got pharaoh ants. And they can be more problematic.
What are pharaoh ants?
They’re a small ant, distinguished from the ‘average’ pavement or sugar ant by the fact that they’ve got a lighter-coloured body and dark head. They’re pretty small, at about 1.5mm.
How do pharaoh ants get established?
They’re considered ‘tropical’ ants, so in colder climates like Canada, they prefer to spend their winters in heated, moist spaces – like homes, apartment buildings, restaurants and stores. Once established in a nice, temperate environment, they settle in and start growing.
Pharaoh ants don’t rely on ‘swarming’ to start new colonies. Instead, existing colonies can have more than one queen, meaning that a small infestation can quickly become a big one as additional colonies are continually expanding around each new queen. They’ll take up residence in furniture, behind baseboards, in garbage areas, in sheets in the back of the linen closet – they aren’t particular.
Additionally, pharaoh ants aren’t picky about food sources: They’ll eat everything from fruits and sugar products to garbage and dead insects, so they’re happy to take up residence anywhere there’s some kind of food nearby.
Why are they a problem?
While pharaohs typically don’t bite humans or pets (at least not often), they do function as disease vectors, and this can be a big problem in apartment buildings.
The ants get established near a lower-level garbage area, for example, then expand to other parts of the building. As they move through the walls, they can pick up bacteria like salmonella and staphylococcus and carry it from the kitchen and bathroom of one unit to the kitchens and bathrooms of other units, thus spreading disease through a building relatively quickly. This can also be problematic in healthcare facilities like hospitals and retirement homes.
Additionally, because they’re so small, they can find their way into food in cupboards or on counters far more easily than larger species: A carpenter ant may be unlikely to get through to a piece of pie covered in Saran Wrap on the counter, but a pharaoh ant will definitely find it.
Pharaohs also have a greater affinity for infiltrating wall and floor cavities than other species. By the time you’re seeing a few running around on the floor, there may be hundreds of colonies in the walls already.
They’re hard to get rid of. Really hard.
The combination of colony budding and ability to infiltrate walls and floors means that it takes a concerted effort to get rid of pharaoh ants in multi-family residential properties.
Spraying a single colony once it’s spotted may kill a few ants, but will likely also trigger a budding process – meaning that in a month or two you’ll end up with more ants than you had in the first place.
So the first step is to use ant baits, where the ants enter and ingest poison which is then taken back to the colonies to take effect.
However, the truth is that in apartment and condo buildings, as well as in health-care settings, it probably makes sense to call a professional who can both assess the severity of the problem and then provide a strategy for eliminating the pharaohs.
Our pro tips for selecting a pest control provider to deal with your pharaoh ant problem in your multi-family residential property:
- Ask for a detailed assessment of the infestation. The pest control technician should check all units as well as garbage areas, common areas and the laundry room. An infestation that’s confined to, say, the garbage area will require different treatment to one that has spread to multiple units on several floors.
- Look for a treatment plan that has multiple stages. Even the best pest control practitioners in the world can’t eliminate a pharaoh ant infestation in one treatment, so if they say they can, they’re not being realistic.
- Look for a treatment plan that includes follow-ups. Good pest control pros always come back to check on their work, but it is especially important that follow-up inspections are done for pharaoh ants because of their ability to bud new, unseen colonies quickly. The few extra dollars for those follow-up inspections and/or treatments is a smart investment in pest prevention in the long term.
As always, if you have any questions about pharaoh ants or any other pest in your property, don’t hesitate to get in touch!