Ants and other insects, interesting as they may be in their own right, are the bane of pet and zoo keepers alike. Eliminating them around pets is especially difficult as commercial sprays are harmful to a wide variety of creatures (ourselves included, no doubt!), with birds being particularly sensitive (please see my article “Protecting Birds from Hazardous Fumes” for further information).
Ants are extremely resourceful creatures. When working with leaf cutter ants (Atta cephalotes) at the Bronx Zoo, I observed a dramatic increase in the queen’s egg production shortly after empty nesting chambers were added to the colony’s enclosure – the workers somehow communicated to her the fact that more space was available. So merely poisoning a few workers will not reduce ant numbers at all – in fact, it may set up a call for more eggs!
What is needed is a toxin that will be taken by the worker ants to the nest, and shared with the queen and larvae. A number of commercial ant baits promise just this, but usually deliver mixed results. The most effective and relatively benign poison I’ve run across consists of a mixture of 2 tablespoons of Boric Acid to 6 tablespoons of sugar, dissolved in a quart of water.
To apply the bait, soak cotton wads or household sponges in the solution and place them into small plastic containers (i.e. take out food containers). Cut small access holes along the bottom and keep the containers tightly covered to retard evaporation. Re-dip the sponges when they begin to dry. Use latex gloves when handling the mixture. A wide variety of ant species accept this bait, and it usually eliminates the colony in short order. It is tasty and toxic to roaches as well, but I have another trick up my sleeve for them…please stay tuned.