How to Make Sugar Bait for Ants

Notice:

  1. I live in northwest Indiana, and the ants I get in the house are almost always sugar eaters, whether they're small or big. If you have picky ants in your area, you might need to find a specialized recipe. This guide is for ants that you know will take sugar.
  2. Baiting will only affect the current colonies living in your house. Depending on your area and your history of ant problems, there's a good chance that new colonies will move in several weeks after the previous ones die or leave. I recommend making new baits for new colonies. Always be on the look-out for new ants.

Ant Attack

When spring and summer roll around, ants emerge from their many hiding places and invite themselves into our homes. No place is safe from an ant invasion, whether it be a kitchen, bathroom, or bedroom. So what do you do?

While commercial bug sprays provide an instant solution, some may be uneasy about all those chemicals they're breathing in while they spray. Also, sprays will only make the colony move to another location, not cause its collapse. This could lead to adjacent rooms getting infested.

If you want a longer solution that affects the whole colony, it's better to bait the ants.

Notice:

Be careful if you have pets or small children when using boric acid. Boric acid, while not as lethal as other poisons, is not really safe for humans or animals to ingest. Make sure all bait stations are either out of their reach or well hidden and blocked.

What to Use, and How Much

The first step to making bait is knowing what you're using. For food, I usually go with white sugar, though other sweet foods, such as syrup, honey, and jams/jellies could also work. The poison of choice is boric acid powder, which is available in places like drug stores. You could also find some online.

One of the biggest problems I had when first making bait was determining how much food and poison to use. This is important because too little poison will do nothing, but you also want to make sure the queen gets fed the contaminated bait, which can't happen if the workers die too quickly.

Personally, the formula I use is one 1/8th teaspoon (tsp) of boric acid for every tablespoon (tbsp) of food used (I never make so much bait in one sitting that I need to use cups). That means 1 tbsp = 1/8 tsp, 2 tbsp = 1/4 tsp, 3 tbsp = 3/8 tsp, etc. Remember that these are exact measurments, so no heaping spoonfuls.

How to Make the Bait

After figuring out how much bait you want to make, it's time to actually make it. Find a container that can hold the amount you need, like an old glass or cup. First, add your food into the container. Then, add the appropriate amount of boric acid. Mix until the two are as blended as possible.

If you're using white sugar, like I do, you'll need to add water. Turn on the faucet to the lowest drizzle you can, then quickly run the container under it. Stir the contents. You want the bait to have a slurry-like consistency, so you may need to quickly pass the container under the water again if it's too cakey. As long as the bait is thicker than water, you should be fine. I usually make mine really runny, like thin syrup.

While some people recommend using boiling water, I never have. While I've noticed that sugar will sometimes thicken at the bottom of bait stations (like adding too much sugar to a bowl of cereal), it doesn't seem to make a difference in its effectiveness against ants.

Bait Station

This is one of the bait stations I have around the house.  It's in a small water bottle cap, and is dried out due to being out for a few days.  Though this is a white sugar bait, it's colored blue due to the type of boric acid I use.
This is one of the bait stations I have around the house. It's in a small water bottle cap, and is dried out due to being out for a few days. Though this is a white sugar bait, it's colored blue due to the type of boric acid I use.

Setting the Bait

Now that the bait is made, it's time to set it in place for the ants. You'll need a small container to hold the bait. I use old milk carton caps and water bottle caps, and soda bottle caps would probably work just as good. If you don't have enough available caps to make the amount of bait you feel you need, try finding something else that's waterproof to adequately hold the bait.

Place the bait stations were the ants frequent, preferably placing one right outside their entry point. Spread the others out to where you see multiple ants wandering around, especially if it's a place their trail passes. If the ants' entry point is on or close to the ground, please remember to be very mindful of any pets or small children that you have when deciding where to place your bait. I don't live in a house with small children, and the dog can't reach where the ants usually come in, so I don't have a lot of experience in hiding baits.

After placing the bait in a place where ants can easily find it, the ants should start swarming it after a little while. After several hours of swarming, the number of ants at the bait will slowly start to decrease. Over the next few days, you'll see a few ants wandering around, either going to the bait, or just out scouting. At some point, you might start seeing more ants around than you did after the first few days of baiting, but don't become immediately discouraged. I've seen it happen when baiting, and within a couple days, the ants disappeared. This could be a case of the colony sending out more ants to find food in a last ditch effort to avert starvation.

Finishing Off Ants

I would give the baits about a week to work. All things mentioned in the previous section should happen within that amount of time. If you're still seeing ants after that week, you may need to remake the baits with a lower amount of poison. If you do, use different holding stations, or wash the previous ones to make sure the ant sent is gone. However, there's still a chance that the ants could start avoiding bait if the same food is used repeatedly on the same colony. Try using a different food if this happens.

If the ants appear to be gone after the first week but you're unsure, keep the baits around for awhile longer, possibly for another week. If you don't see anymore ants after the second week, they're probably gone and it's safe to remove the bait. If ants show up in the same spot several weeks after they disappear, it might be a new colony, so make new bait and reapply the bait stations. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Final Tips

  • Sometimes ants need to be immediately removed from a surface, and you can't wait for the slow process of baiting to work. If you buy a spray bottle, or use an old one, you can make your own ant spray with water and dish soap. This is good for places you don't want to contaminate with commercial spray, like kitchen counters. Spray the ants, and wipe them away.
  • While the baits and homemade sprays are useful, you may want to keep a bottle of commercial bug spray around as a last resort for areas that you don't want to bait or can't wait on baiting (I spray the doors leading outside) and need keep ants away from (homemade sprays kill on contact, but don't repel ants like commercial sprays do). As with anything toxic, be cautious when using these products around pets and children.
  • If you think the ants might be more receptive to liquid baits and are worried about the drying bait in the stations, wait a day after placing the bait, then use a toothpick, needle, or anything else narrow and long to break the surface of dried sugar, then stir it up. The sugar on the surface, being in contact with the air, dries out faster and covers the rest of the bait, which dries a bit slower. You might be able to do this two times before all the bait dries, and by that time, it should already start affecting the ants.
  • If the surface still looks wet, but it looks as though the sugar sunk to the bottom, use the same method as the above.
  • And, as always, make sure counters and floors are clean of food so that the baits are more attractive to the ants.

© 2014 JayArBee

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