Everything I know about ants I learned from a Pixar movie; that is until a few weeks ago when I met the Ant Whisperer.
The Ant Whisperer (my name for him) helped me solve an ant problem I had in my kitchen that had vexed me for the better part of July. Each morning as I stumbled for the coffee pot, I would invariably run upon a tribe of approximately 20 to 40 small dark brown ants congregated somewhere in my kitchen or adjoining dining area. They might be near the cat food….they might be on the counter…..they might be gathered around a small piece of a Dorito on the floor.
Not quite ready to call an exterminator, I started sweeping the kitchen floor each morning to gather up the 30 or so ants that were invariably there, douse them with bug spray, and put them in the trash, each time thinking how disappointed my readers would be at my casual use of pesticides.
In my defense, I have about 40 things to deal with first thing each morning before I sit down to my work desk around 7:30 AM. Nauseated cats, grumpy teenagers, and soccer jerseys that didn’t make it into the dryer the night before leave little time for earth friendly pest management first thing in the morning. I opted for the quick kill method and kept my fingers crossed that the problem would go away.
It didn’t. Finally, with a weekend vacation looming ahead and a deep-seeded fear of returning home to find my entire kitchen overrun with ants, I decided to seek outside help.
Pest Program Pushers
I made 3 phone calls to Greensboro pest control companies, the first of which was to a company that I use for crawlspace care on my home and a rental property. I got pretty much the same story from each company. “It’s very difficult to deal with an ant problem in just one visit – you’ll probably need to get on a regular program.”
That was disappointing to hear, especially since the prices quoted to me for the diagnosis and first treatment alone ranged from $150.00 to $195.00.
In a polite but direct way, I expressed my disappointment to the company with whom I already had a relationship. They had quoted the highest price of all, but countered twice, eventually beating the best price I’d received by a few dollars. And they let me talk to the chief pest guy (a.k.a. Ant Whisperer) about my specific problem on the phone before he came out.
I was prepared (though not happy) to spend $150.00 to solve this problem, but I wanted a real solution to specific ant problem – not a treatment contract. Insects have never been a problem in my home, which is still relatively new. I couldn’t help but feel like this was an isolated situation that could be dealt with more efficiently and less expensively.
Following the Pheromone Trail
The Ant Whisper arrived at my door early one morning a few days before we were to leave for vacation. I’d resisted performing my morning kill routine so he could see the live ants and make his determination. This is where it gets interesting.
First of all, I told the guy I was a little frustrated with the “modus operandi” of a company with whom I had faithfully used for several years. I believed the first price that gave was inflated, and I wasn’t crazy about the automatic suggestion of a regular treatment plan before anyone had actually performed any kind of inspection. Reading between the lines, I think he got the message that I was a loyal customer, but willing to go jump ship if I felt I wasn’t being treated fairly. So he made me a deal I couldn’t refuse. He offered to perform this one time service for free. And he proceeded to sleuth out my ant problem.
He was good. I was instantly impressed (and a little disgusted) when I watched him smash an ant on my kitchen floor with his index finger and then give it an inquiring sniff. Different types of ants have different smells, he explained. He also said that the type of ants I had in my kitchen, seemingly ravenous for breadcrumbs and Doritos, weren’t in my kitchen to eat. They were there to gather food to take back to the queen ant and the nest. Specifically they ingest what food they find into a built-in storage tank and return to the nest where they regurgitate it in order to feed the larvae. More than you wanted to know, I’m sure, but knowing this was helpful in figuring out where these ants were coming from. The Ant Whisperer caught site of one ant hefting a crumb into a crack between the baseboard and from there deduced the general area of the nest.
Ants leave a pheromone trail, he said, that communicates the path to food to others in the nest. I imagine this coded message read something like this, “Mayday!! Mayday!! These people eat way too many carbs and are oblivious to whatever they drop on the floor!”
Next, the Ant Whisperer when outside to inspect the perimeter of the home, where he noted ants entering and exiting at the base of a post on the back porch at the southeast corner of our home, next to the kitchen dining area.
I pointed out some other ants further down the porch but he looked skeptical.
“Nah. That’s not the same type ant in your kitchen,” he said, smashing one and giving it a sniff for good measure.
The Ant Whisperer was pretty resolute about the point of entry. He speculated they were entering in at the base of the post and had made a path through the infill that lay beneath our stamped concrete porch. He sprayed a few puffs of a white powder insecticide into the post area and in a spot or two nearby.
“Call me if that doesn’t do it,” he said.
The whole thing took about 20 minutes, and that was with me slowing him down and asking questions.
Is a Pest Program Really Necessary?
That was about one month ago and I haven’t seen one ant in my house since – and we’re still eating Doritos and dropping plenty on the floor.
What’s the moral of the story? First, don’t be afraid to question the price or approach of a pest management company if you feel like your patronage is being overlooked or your problems generalized. Second, don’t assume you need a regular treatment program if you have an isolated pest problem.
A seasoned pest professional may be able to pinpoint the problem, which means you pay less and use fewer chemicals. And if you are lucky enough to find a pest management company that starts out with this approach before they start selling you on a treatment plan – they may very well be your best partner in pest prevention.