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I have ants all over my yard. I also have domestic cats and wild birds. Is there any organic or other non-toxic way to kill the ants without putting poison in my yard? If not, what is the most effective, least toxic substance I can use?

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A

There are some organic ant control products on the market, but I have not seen an evaluation of their effectiveness.

The best first step in ant control is to have the ant identified.  If you collect a bunch of ants in a vial or jar with rubbing alcohol, they can be sent to the lab and I can identify them (go here: http://utahpests.usu.edu/uppdl/htm/forms for more information). If that is not an option, then we will have to work under the assumption that we are dealing with pavement ants. I have had a few people, including myself, collect ants that were all over their yard, around the house
foundation and in cracks in the concrete.  In all cases they were pavement ants.

The best way to get rid of these ants is to use baits. Spraying ants with insecticides is not a very effective control. To kill ants you have to kill the queen.  When myou use baits, the slow-acting insecticide in them allows the ants to carry it back to the nest where they feed it to other ants, immature ants, and hopefully the queen.  The chemical in the products is slow acting, so it may be a while before you notice a significant impact.

Eliminating ants from your yard without repeat and continuous applications of insecticides (which I do NOT recommend) is unrealistic.  You will have to live with some ants in your yard and around the house.  You should target the areas where you spend the most of your time, and ones that invade your residence.

There are multiple formulations of ant baits: liquid, gel and granular.  Since you have cats and birds, spreading granular baits around is probably not a good idea.  You can find Maxforce baits (liquid and gel) at your local garden store or a place like Lowes.  The bait stations are either covered or not.  If they are not covered, then you might consider putting a wire cage around the baits to keep your pets away from them. Using both formulations is better than one, and remember that you want to use a sweet (sugary) bait (some ants like protein-rich baits instead of sweet ones).

Let me know if you need more information, and I'd be happy to help.

Good luck!

Posted on 30 Jun 2008

Ryan Davis
Arthropod Diagnostician, Utah Plant Pest Diagnostic Laboratory

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