There are an estimated 1 quadrillion ants and 12,000 ant species of ants on Earth right now, and sometimes it feels like most of them are in Calgary. This summer has been particularly bad for ants – they’re digging up yards, making time spent outside uncomfortable (can we just have a picnic, please?), and even making their way into homes.
Ants are as old as the dinosaurs. They’ve logged from 110 to 130 million years on the planet, and outlived their original giant reptile compatriots. Ants have survived several major environmental incidents, continuing to exist while many thousands other species went extinct, and they are still going strong. The only place they don’t live, somewhat ironically, is Antarctica.
The City of Calgary describes ants as “an adaptable insect,” that, although a nuisance, do not generally cause a lot of damage. There are more than 100 species of ants in Canada, with the most common one in Calgary being the (appropriately named) odorous house ant. Despite its moniker, the odorous house ant thrives both indoors and outdoors. They usually measure less than half a centimetre, and apparently smell like rotten coconut when they are crushed (we cannot confirm this).
Odorous house ants are not fun house guests, but the ones that you really have to watch out for are carpenter ants. They are pretty easy to spot – they can grow to be more than one centimeter long, so they’re noticeable for their size. They bore into rotting, moist wood, eventually making their way into healthy wood and potentially severely weakening the structures of homes. Thankfully, carpenter ants don’t usually venture into cities and towns. They love damp wood and so they prefer the forest where it can be found in abundance.
Why are ants bad for a yard?
First, let’s clarify that ants in Calgary do perform a very important purpose in the life cycle and there’s a reason why they thrive. Ants not only aerate the soil much in the same way that earthworms do, but they also aggressively patrol it, looking for their kinds of foodstuffs. Many ants will even attack the larval forms of other insects that feed off of your plants, such as caterpillars. They can even act as pollinators as they steadfastly march their way through your perennials and annuals.
But, while ants are digging and crawling, if there are too many of them, they can cause a lot of problems. As they disturb the earth, they can also disturb the roots of shrubs, trees, and perennials, reducing their defenses and exposing them to the elements and pests. As they bring up soil they can also kill lawns in spots where they have managed to dig up large piles.
So a healthy population of ants in Calgary that helps keep your soil aerated and healthy is good. An overly large population of ants will uproot and upset the integrity of your lawn and garden is bad.
Why are ants in Calgary particularly bad this summer?
A hot and dry summer makes for the perfect conditions for ants to become more of a problem than usual. They live deep underground in their intricate colonies during the winter, emerging to hunt for food and water in the spring and summer. Ants are attracted to warmth, so high temperatures don’t bother them much, but right now what they really want is water. The ants are thirsty, so they are surfacing more to send off their scouts to find what they need to survive.
How to ease the ant population in your yard
An old-school, but effective remedy for ants in your yard is to pour boiling water on ant hills. This doesn’t necessarily eliminate a colony, but it does encourage them to move. You can also soak areas where you’ve noticed a lot of ants with the hose. This will cause nests to collapse and make the soil inhabitable, again encouraging the ants to move on.
Ants also love aphids, which secrete a sweet, sticky substance similar to sugar. If you can control your aphid population, you can also help bring down the number of ants in your yard.
Other natural strategies to drive away nests include spreading diatomaceous earth, which cripples the ants by micro-cutting them, or spreading fine talcum powder, which can desiccate ants or asphyxiate enough of them to force a change of address.
There are also several different types of outdoor ant killer products on the market. Be sure to read the directions carefully so that you do not endanger your pets or plants.
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With three generations of experience serving the southeast communities of Calgary, where we live and work, Mirage Landscaping is a professional provider of landscape maintenance and landscape construction services for both residential and commercial properties. If you have any questions about how you property can be improved, please contact us.