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This chapter is from the book

Foreign invasion

They are Argentine ants, an invasive species native to northern Argentina, Paraguay, and surrounding regions. Their ancestors likely hitched a ride on ships carrying coffee from South America in the late 1800s, and Argentine ants now reside in many Southern states, including California.

According to David Holway, a professor of biology at the University of California, San Diego, Argentine ants like damp soils. In arid regions such as southern California, they would primarily live along creeks and the foggy coast if it weren't for extensive irrigation. Irrigation has allowed Argentine ants to spread throughout many otherwise inhospitable areas. If you live in a place with low rainfall, try to convince your neighbors to stop watering their lawns and landscape with native plants instead, as that should help your ant problem.

When ants have taken up residence in your home, they can be difficult to eradicate. I, too, turned to synthetic pesticides out of desperation the day I woke up and found the ant equivalents of Lewis and Clark exploring my hair. Synthetic pesticides can keep killing ants that walk across the pesticide residue for weeks after you spray. Unfortunately, this also means the people and pets in your household are being exposed to these toxins.

Some pesticides are safer for people and pets. For example, ants don't like to walk through talcum powder because it is like walking through broken glass from their perspective. Powdered boric acid is another effective remedy. Sprinkle it behind appliances or dilute it in water and use as a spray. Commercially available alternative pesticides, such as a mixture of peppermint and soap, also work, albeit mostly to reroute the ants.

If you have recurring problems with these ants, try treating the perimeter of your house with pesticides. Spray them right against the foundation, and in places where water pipes come into your house. Sealing cracks in the foundation, around windows, and in similar locations can also help reduce their points of entry.

Argentine ants do like sweets, but they are scavengers that also feast on dander, dead insects, and anything else they can get their tiny mandibles around. So they may infest your house even if all your food is in sealed containers. They also collect water, which explains why they often appear in sinks and water fountains, especially in late summer and early fall.

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