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Ant Control for Reptile and Amphibian Owners – Diatomaceous Earth

AntsDrawn by uneaten food, shed skins and other organic material, ants sometimes become pests around reptile, amphibian and invertebrate collections. As pesticides are harmful to humans and other creatures alike, eliminating ants in areas used by pets and people takes some care.  Today I’d like to highlight a substance that I used with great success in various zoos, and which works equally well at home – diatomaceous earth.

A Most Formidable Insect

Famed entomologist E.O. Wilson has demonstrated that ants “rule” many habitats, driving evolution and other processes to a degree that is hard to imagine.  What little work I’ve done with them has convinced me that they are, at the very least, extremely resourceful creatures. When working with Leaf Cutter Ants (Atta cephalotes) at the Bronx Zoo, I observed a dramatic increase in egg production shortly after empty nesting chambers were added to the colony’s enclosure – the workers somehow communicated to the queen that more space was available, and more bodies were needed. This likely holds true for other species as well – killing a few dozen workers will not reduce ant numbers but instead may set up a call for more eggs!

Boric Acid

Toxins that are taken to the nest and shared among the colony can be effective against Pharaoh Ants (Monomorium pharaonis, the most common indoor ant in many locales) and other species. You can create your own ant poison by mixing 2 tablespoons of Boric Acid to 6 tablespoons of sugar, and dissolved the paste in a quart of water; this mixture will also kill crickets and roaches. As with pesticides, however, there is a chance that your insectivorous pets may consume ants that have fed upon boric acid.

Diatomaceous Earth

I much prefer diatomaceous earth, the crushed remains of prehistoric diatoms (algae-like organisms), to pesticides and boric acid. I can’t imagine how people came up with the idea to harvest this unusual resource, but it has long been used for a variety of purposes; amazingly, the famed White Cliffs of Dover are comprised largely of fossilized diatoms (please see photo).

Aquarists know diatomaceous earth as an excellent filtering medium that is used in specially-designed diatom filters. A slightly different product, marketed as pet/food-grade diatomaceous earth is utilized by dog and cat owners to combat internal and external parasites.

Diatomaceous earth is a desiccant, in that it kills insects by drawing moisture from their bodies. I believe it also clogs the spiracles, and so may interfere with respiration. Of course, an ant colony can send workers to replace those that are killed, but this seems not to happen for very long once diatomaceous earth is used. Ants lay down scent trails for others to follow…I imagine that if workers do not return from foraging trips (i.e. if they encounter diatomaceous earth and are killed), then that particular route is abandoned in time. Diatomaceous earth will also kill roaches and crickets, but in my experience molasses traps are more effective…more on this technique in the future.

Note: the product used in filters is different from that marketed for use on dogs and cats; only pet grade diatomaceous earth should be used for ant control.

Favorable Qualities

White Cliffs of DoverI particularly like the fact that diatomaceous earth can be used around kitchen sinks and other areas frequented by people. Also, pet grade diatomaceous earth can be consumed by dogs and cats without ill effects (check label for any precautions re amounts consumed).

When pushed into cracks along walls, it will remain in place for years if kept dry. In fact, I’ve noticed that diatomaceous earth barriers remain intact even when splashed with a bit of water. Diatomaceous earth is not easily dispersed by air movement, and tends to remain stationary even as people walk nearby.

Safety Concerns

Care should be taken that this product is not inhaled or allowed near one’s eyes. People with certain respiratory conditions should not use diatomaceous earth.  Please consult your doctor or write in for references to experts if you have any questions.



Further Reading

Beyond Pesticides: a great resource for those interested in alternative pest control methods

Controlling Ants without Toxins: a wide variety of ideas

Toxin-Free Carpenter Ant Control

White Cliffs of Dover image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by http://www.flickr.com/people/fanny/


  1. avatar

    Can anyone tell me if Diatomeceous Earth is dangerous to Anole Lizards?

    • avatar

      Hello Charmaine,

      It’s fine to use near terrariums as long as the lizards do not come in contact with it. It’s not toxic, but can irritate eyes, clog nostrils etc. Also, the anoles should not consume ants that have become covered with DE.

      Be sure to take precautions yourself…do not inhale it or get the powder in your eyes.

      Best, Frank

  2. avatar

    Literally have ant superhighways on my brick front porch steps and concrete sidewalk. Have in past used Terro and pest control company’s “under and around” treatments. Last two years, have been afraid to use either, as I’ve noticed several little lizards sunning selves on front steps and sidewalk/driveway. Think they live in the shrub bed foliage. I have recently purchased food grade diatomaceous earth plus duster applicator, but am wondering how to use in a way that would avoid contacting the lizards? Don’t want to hurt them but must do something about the ants before they set up shop in the home’s crawl space.

    • avatar


      The DEis ony a problem for lizards, possibly, if they were confined in a cage with it. It is not toxic per say and would not bother them outdoors. You will not likely control an outdoor ant pronblem with DE. Better to use bait stations..ants enter, take the food back to the colony and, in theory, all eventually die. less of a hazard to nontarget insects than spraying.

      Best, Frank

  3. avatar

    So, if lizards / geckos walk through DE, it won’t harm them? I want to sprinkle DE around my porch and carport to kill roaches and spiders, but I want to keep lizards / geckos.

    • avatar

      Hello Kerry,

      It is a safer option than sprays, etc. and has been tested on dogs and cats (contact, ingestion); however, best not to place where reptiles will be walking through it.

      Best regards, Frank

  4. avatar

    I use this to debug my hibiscus plants as well before bringing them indoors for the winter. killed the bugs and the plants are still safe to feed the tortoises 🙂

  5. avatar

    I’ve had a couple problems with sugar ants getting into the bedding of both my Boas, have heard the food grade DE is safe to sprinkle on substrate, but of course am very suspicious. When I say I’ve had a problem with abyss in the bedding I mean I had ants trying to set up a nest on one enclosure. I change and clean enclosures frequently, but I need to know how to keep them out of the enclosures or get rid of them. Do you think DE would be a viable option?

    • avatar

      Hi Kylie,

      We don’t usually use it in enclosures, although it would most likely be safe for boas. Their entry point should be easy to locate…spread the DE so that they have to cross it in order to reach the tanks. You can also use the boric acid mixture mentioned, or commercial ant baits, as there’s no danger of secondary poisoning with boas. Baits that are taken back to the nest (Raid Ant Bait) can be effective in eliminating colonies, but it takes some time, Please keep me posted, Frank

  6. avatar

    can you tell me if DE will harm frogs.
    I have a couple of ponds and areas on my property that are wet and the frogs love it and I also love to hear them at night.
    I would like to try DE to control slugs & bugs but I don’t want to use anything that will harm the frogs.

    • avatar

      Hello Cheryl,

      DE is not something frogs should come in contact with…abrades skin, draws out water and other fluids, etc. In any event, it is only useful in enclosed areas…rooms housing animals, etc. You would not be able to make any noticeable difference in invertebrate numbers outdoors Best, Frank

  7. avatar

    I appreciate the reply, Thank-you!!

  8. avatar

    You probably answered this question already in so many words, but still: I feel really paranoid about the fact that I applied DE all over my windowsills (outside) to get rid of roaches. Today, two days later, I’m wondering if I should clean it all up meticulously because I really don’t want to harm my gecko and lizard population. I started using DE last year, and I have this suspicion that the gecko/lizard population already as declined; I used to have a LOT, and really enjoy watching them at night…. Feeling so guilty 🙁

    • avatar

      Hello Ulrike,

      Free-living lizard populations will fluctuate greatly from year to year, so DE may not be involved; we do not have much info on it’s effects if consumed along with food (roaches). In any event, it will likely be very difficult to control roaches with DE outdoors,…best results are in small rooms and other enclosed areas…could be useful if you are able to ID their entry point into a room, however. You might try molasses traps…you’ll need to figure a way to exclude lizards, but they can be very effective. Pl see this article and let me know if you need more info, best, Frank

  9. avatar

    Hello, I have been using the food grade version of DE to get rid of te fleas in my house, I have a bearded dragon and now have found fleas in his tank can I use the food grade DE or will that be harmful for him?

    • avatar


      It would probably be fine but I do not believe you’ll be able to control fleas with DE…eggs are resilient, and they reproduce very quickly; a professional exterminator would be your best option for the home. The terrarium can be broken down and cleaned with hot water and bleach (1 OZ or so per gallon); typical fleas spread by dogs/cats do not feed upon reptiles, but the animal should be bathed/rubbed down in case any are using it as a retreat. I hope all goes well, Frank

  10. avatar

    Hello Frank,

    I just happened on your Blog( grateful to have something like this at my disposal, THANK YOU), when I was searching whether or not I can use food grade Diatomaceous earth, I purchased to use around my chickens. It says you can put it in their food to help control parasites, I am always hesitant to feed anything other that something I would eat to anything, but that being said felt more comfortable about using it around them, since they scatter their food and eat it off the ground. My question is can I use this in my box turtles enclosure, I have a problem with insects that seem to come in the bedding (Bedocob made from ground up corn cobs)I was instructed to use when I got the box turtles more that 15years ago. I used to have a freezer that I could put a 25 lb bag of the bedocob into to kill the eggs before using it in the enclosure, but no longer have that option, so a few days after changing the bedding they hatch and continue to multiply. It is not possible for me to change the bedding weekly, it is to costly and time consuming. The turtles don’t eat them, but the insects continue to multiply and gather in groups to eat the food I put in for the turtles. Do you think I could safely use the DE around the turtles in the bedding? or is there something else I could use to control the population of the insects, safely and humanely ?

    • avatar


      Thanks for the kind words.

      It’s generaly safe, but box turtles are prone to eye and respiratory problems when they are kept in arid environments (Eastern box turtles, perhaps other sp also), and DE is a desiccant; it may get into the eyes and nasal passages, so it may be safer to avoid in this case. If you can give me a general ID as to what is hatching, perhaps I can offer some advice…small white mites are very common, please see this article and let me know what you think. Best, Frank

  11. avatar

    We have a huge problem with squash borer bugs and worms demolishing out zucchini, squash and pumpkin plants. Thought we would try some DE. Do you know if this will inhibit the egg laying? Also, we have lots of toads in our yard and often put them in the garden to eat pesty bugs. Is the DE safe for the toads?
    Thanks for your expertise!!

    • avatar

      Hi Rachel,

      DE is most effective indoors, when used where insects will crawl over it…kills by blocking spiracles, dessication; it would not likely be effective outdoors. Best, Frank

  12. avatar

    Will somebody please tell me if a toad will hurt my leopard gecko because a toad lives in my yard so I like to play with with it and i was wondering if it would hurt my gecko

    • avatar

      Hello Brooke,

      I’m not sure what you mean by toad hurting gecko…are you planning to collect it and house them together?

      Most toads can be quite bold if not disturbed…you can watch them feed in the evening etc. If handled, however, it will likely re-locate in time. handling not good for any amphibian, removes protective skin coating. Hands must also be washed thoroughly after handling any animal. best, Frank

  13. avatar


    DE is most effective in small, indoor areas where there are definite areas that insects frequent…would not likely be useful outdoors, too many variables molasses traps as described here work very well for roaches, but again in enclosed areas. A professional exterminator may be able to line indoor areas of entry with a pesticide…outdoor area will likely need to be treated by a pro also, and then the area they frequent should be sealed off, cemented, etc if that is possible. Hard to predict effects on toads and others, but your own health etc. indoors is paramount. Holding off until weather cools and toads hibernate would remove risks. Best, Frank

  14. avatar

    Aloha Frank 🙂
    I have two problems (or, depending on how you look at it, possibly three). I live on Maui, in Haiku-Pauwela. Which is very rainy most of the time. We have recently had an infestation of yellow crazy ants. They even forage in the house. And although I have found methods to deter them (Tarro liquid baits, bleach/water mixture at entryways – that I can find, & citrisolve to spray directly on them to kill), I can NOT seem to get rid of them. We used to have skinks. I bred crickets to feed them & their babies. We’ve since set the skinks free, but I had one more batch of pinhead crickets pop up. I noticed they are COVERED in red bumps. I think it’s dirt mites or something. I put the enclosure outside. But, as I said before, I live in rainy Haiku. I do my best to keep it dry when it does rain, but I am sure it’s nice and moist in there for them. I wish I could kill them without killing the crickets, but I don’t think it possible. Will D.E., sprinkled in the tank, do the job? Will it kill the crickets fast? I don’t want them to die slowly. And what can I use on these crazy ants? The baits slow them down, but even after months of using, they are still here, in massive numbers.
    Mahalo for any advice you can give,
    Karen A

    • avatar

      Hi Karen,

      Weather getting cold here in NY, so no sympathy for Hawaiian weather problems! 🙂

      But seriously, the crazy ants are nightmarish…I know well-experienced folks in texas and elsewhere they have established who also have problems…some have lost adults iguanas and tortoises to them. DE etc will slow them down, but they quickly make up for lost members. Baits that are taken back to the nest and fed to others would seem ideal, works for other species; but best to consult with a professional (just be careful in choosing, lots of con-artists in the field) who has experience with local conditions.

      Mites that turn up in temperate zones are generally harmless, but no way to ID those in the tropics. freezing is the quickest, most humane method…they become dormant, then die; DE dumped on insects should be quick, but I’ve not tried. Sorry I could not be of more help, best, Frank

  15. avatar

    Hello Mr Frank,
    I’ve been wondering if is it bad that my small pet turtles are around cockroaches. Is not like its a dirty place since I clean the box every two to three days. Also is it bad if I use spray bug around the box of my turtles? How bad does it affect it? I want to know so I can fix wathever is going wrong so I can have my turtles in a better environment.
    Thank you

  16. avatar

    Hi Frank, I have a moth problem. Theyre invading my tanks and their larva are eating the animal’s food. What should I do?

  17. avatar

    hi frank I noticed that they don’t have any discernible features, theyre larvae looking maggots and are a bit over half an inch. they also seem to have a weird habit of going away from light. mainly the food theyve been eating is gel and pellet type foods.I keep various types of tropical fish, 2 African dwarf frogs, hissing and dubia roaches, and a pair of hermit crabs

    • avatar

      Hi Jordan,

      Hard to say…literally millions of possibilities but much more likely to be flies than moths. maybe put some fly paper with bait around to ID, then re-screen roach tanks (I’m assuming they are there) to exclude adults. Best, Frank

  18. avatar

    Hi frank, I took your advice but there were no flies. I took a look at your roach control article, and learned about molasses traps. Could they be used?

  19. avatar
    jordan lorilla

    hi frank this is Jordan again. I have had another problem. were doing better on the moth problem, but now ants have been invading other parts of my house. as far as I know, they could be in my room. I’m worried they might attack my hissing roaches(unfortunately my dubia roaches died). I’m worried because you say diatomaceous earth harms invertebrates, and im worried if I used it the ants, the borax would be brought into the tank. what should I do?

    • avatar


      It will not be a problem if ants enter the roach enclosure, so D. earth could work. Traditional ant baits are fine also if they are not entering terrariums where they will be consumed by herps…actually, most take baits right back to colony, so chance of secondary poisoning very low, even if you have terrariums nearby; many species take raid ant gel readily..a bit of fish or syrup can be used to lure them to the poison at first, best, Frank

  20. avatar

    I need to know if diatomaceous earth will hurt the worms in my yard? They are under the dirt- so I wasn’t sure. And I just wanted to let you know- diatomaceous earth outside definitely works great. I rescue animals. Every year I fight fleas really bad. Even using insecticide sprays. It still doesn’t kill the fleas. I’ve used every spray on the market- including demon wp with insect growth regulator.- still didn’t kill them. This year I spread the diatomaceous earth over my yard and kennels, gave all animals a bath and dusted each animal with DE about 4 days ago. I have only gotten maybe 5 fleas on my legs. But it has not rained here in Mississippi for several weeks. I will spread it again after it rains. I do not want to kill my frogs, worms, lizards or crickets. I have geese who need the crickets and earth worms to eat. The frogs will be reduced because there will be less flies, etc but I’m doing everything I can to keep them attracted to my yard.

    • avatar


      Thanks for the observations.

      I don’t think DE used outside will make much of a difference to earthworms, given the scale of the area they cover, their breeding biology, etc., and that the health concerns for you (fleas etc) would outweigh any risks. I hope all goes well, Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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