Of all the pests that can infest our homes, ants can be among the most difficult to deal with, and while they might not be as disgusting as roaches or as scary as spiders, seeing interminable lines of ants marching into and out of your house can be infuriating.
However, there’s one secret that can make dealing with ants much easier – and that’s knowing that if you kill the queen, you kill the colony. And to help you learn how to do it, in this post we have all the info you need about how to kill the queen ant.
How does ant society work?
Before we talk about how to kill a queen ant, it’s worth saying a few words about ant society and how ant colonies work – because this will help us understand the importance of queen ants and why we need to kill them to exterminate a colony.
There are thousands of species of ant around the world, and they organize themselves in a variety of different ways, but in most cases, at the center of everything lies the queen.
Queen ants are responsible for founding a new colony, and after a queen does this, she then spends the rest of her life laying eggs – and since the queens of some species can live up to 30 years, this means some may lay millions of eggs in their lifetimes.
The eggs hatch into larvae, and most of these will develop into worker ants. These are sterile females that take care of searching for food, feeding the queen and the larvae – and doing everything else that needs to be done in the nest.
Sometimes, larvae will also develop into fertile winged males and females, and at certain times, these leave the nest to fly up and mate with breeding ants from other colonies.
After this, the males die, but the fertilized females then start new colonies, becoming new queens and starting the cycle again.
So why do you need to kill the queen?
The important thing to note is that with most species, if you kill the queen, the colony is doomed since no more eggs will be laid. As a result, the remaining ants will gradually die off, and within a few months, the whole colony will cease to exist.
Since the queen controls the workers through pheromones, chemical messages that tell the ants what to do, after she dies, the remaining ants will continue to carry out the last orders they received until they die.
This is why you may continue to see some ants going about their business for some time after the queen has been killed, but eventually, they will all die off.
However, if you don’t kill the queen and just kill the workers, the queen will simply continue to lay eggs, and the colony will continue, sometimes for many years, until she eventually dies naturally.
This is why, if you want to exterminate an ant colony, you have to kill the queen. So how do you do it?
The first step is to find the nest.
Finding the nest
Since the queen is so vital to the colony’s survival, and her death means the death of the colony, queen ants are rarely seen above ground. Instead, they are kept deep in the nest where they are safest from all danger.
For this reason, the first step in killing the queen is finding the nest.
Ant nests can be located in many places, depending on the species. They may be found beneath the ground in your lawn, in sheds, in potting soil or even outside your yard.
However, if you have a problem with ants, you should follow them back to where they came from.
Look out for ant “highways” where long lines of ants are marching back and forth following trails of pheromones left by other ants to guide them – if you follow these trails, they will lead you back to the nest.
Then, once you’ve located the nest, you can then think about which method of regicide you plan to employ.
Ways to kill the queen
Here are some of the best ways of killing a queen ant once you’ve located the nest.
1. Root out the queen and kill her
If you can disturb the nest and dig the queen out, you may just be able to pick her out and kill her – although this might not always be practical since a queen ant is likely to be hidden deep underground, depending on the species and the construction of the nest.
However, if you want to try, the key is being able to identify the queen since to most people, ants all look alike.
The queen will usually be located close to the chambers where the eggs and larvae are located, and she will usually be two or three times larger than the ants around her.
Ant queens usually discard the wings they used to fly up and mate when they left their original nest, but you may be able to see the stubs where the wings were attached.
The lower part of a queen ant’s body will also be noticeably elongated compared to the other ants in the nest since this is the part of her body used for producing and laying eggs.
If you manage to find her, you can then finish her off in any way you choose. Stepping on her will usually do the trick.
Note that if you attempt to dig up a fire ant nest, you risk receiving lots of painful bites since these aggressive ants will swarm over you and sting you in an attempt to protect their queen.
2. Use boiling water
Perhaps a simpler way of exterminating an ant nest is to pour boiling water into it.
There’s nothing complicated about this method. You just need to find the nest and then flood it with two or three gallons of water that’s hot enough to kill all the ants it comes into contact with – including the queen.
The disadvantage of this method is that you won’t know if you’ve killed the queen since she’ll still be underground – you won’t be able to see her, which means you’ll just have to wait a few weeks to see if the ant population rebounds.
Another problem is that if you use this option on your lawn or in your vegetable garden, it will also kill any plants or grass growing there.
Also, note that you can’t drown ants with cold water since they can go without breathing for up to 24 hours.
3. Use water and detergent
Another similar option is to mix up a solution of water and regular detergent like dish soap, and the advantage of this over using boiling water is that it won’t kill your lawn or plants.
This works because ants breathe through special holes in their bodies called spiracles – when they come into contact with detergent, it blocks the spiracles, suffocating them to death.
However, as with the boiling water method, you can’t be sure that the soapy water will reach or coat the queen, so even if you kill a large number of the workers, the colony may eventually repopulate.
4. Try corn starch
For a slower but perhaps more effective method, you can try spreading corn starch around the area of the ant nest.
The workers will collect the corn starch as food and will carry it back into the nest for all the other workers, larvae, males and the queen to eat.
However, due to its high fiber content, the corn starch will cause the ants to swell up and eventually die.
For this method to work, you may need to be patient – but all the ants, including the queen, will eventually die, and this method will also help prevent new ants from making a nest in the same area for some time.
This technique has the added advantage of being completely natural and not relying on any unnatural or toxic chemicals.
5. Use homemade borax bait
If you can’t wait for corn starch to do the job, you can use borax to make ant bait.
To do this, mix up ¾ cup of maple syrup or honey with ¼ cup of borax powder and then leave the mixture on any ant trails you see.
The ants will collect up this source of food and take it back to the nest – and all the ants there, including the queen, will eat it and die of poisoning.
You can also mix borax and sugar together in the same proportions, and the workers will take this mixture down into the nest to feed the larvae, killing them too.
However, note that borax is toxic, so don’t use it around children or pets.
Also, don’t place it directly on the ground – rather, use small dishes to leave it out for the ants to find.
6. Use commercial bait
If you don’t want to go to the trouble of mixing up your own DIY ant bait, you can buy commercial bait instead.
This works in the same way as borax and will kill all the ants, including the queen, eradicating the colony.
However, some people might choose to avoid methods like this, preferring not to introduce toxic chemicals into the environment.
7. Use pesticide
Another “nuclear” option is to use pesticide to kill an ant colony. However, this also means using toxic chemicals that you might not want to spread near your vegetable garden where you grow plants to eat.
You should also be very careful when using pesticides around children or pets.
8. Call in a pro
Failing all else, you can consider calling in a professional exterminator, but when there are so many other effective – and natural – methods to try first, this should really only be considered as a last resort.
Consider leaving them
An alternative option is simply to leave the ants where they are.
Although if you have a large colony of ants, especially biting ants such as fire ants, living near your house, you might prefer to exterminate them, there are good arguments for just letting them be.
Ants can be a highly beneficial species, not least because they are effective at controlling other pests.
If you kill off all the ants in your yard, you might suddenly find you’re dealing with an explosion in the population of aphids for example, and when they start eating all your plants and flowers, you might end up wishing your ants would come back.
Keeping ants out of your house
Of course, you won’t want the ants coming into your home, so here are a couple of suggestions for ensuring they stay outside.
Clean up all spills quickly
If you spill anything, especially sugary foods or drinks like soda, make sure you clean up the spills as quickly as possible to avoid attracting ants into your home.
Don’t leave food out for ants to find
Clear up any cookie crumbs or anything similar. Otherwise, you will quickly start seeing long lines of ants filing into your home to help clean up the mess for you.
Store food in plastic containers
Store food in plastic containers to prevent ants from getting to it. This is especially important for things like sugar – because if ants find open bags of sugar, the bag will soon be filled with ants, and you’ll need to throw the sugar out.
Keeping food stored in sealed plastic containers is a good idea anyway because it will also help prevent other bugs like weevils from getting to it.
Kill the queen and the colony dies
As we have seen, if you take out the queen, the rest of the colony will soon perish, and there are several relatively easy natural ways to do it.
However, at the same time, you should consider whether you want to kill all the ants in your yard since they can perform valuable pest control – and anyway, even if you kill them, more will eventually replace them, so you might just decide to leave them where they are.