Ant Survey Executive Summary: Exploring America's #1 Nuisance Pest

In late 2011, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), partnered with Dr. Laurel Hansen of Spokane Falls Community College and Washington State University to survey a nationwide sample of pest professionals to gain a better understanding of ant infestations and control measures across America. This summary highlights the findings of that research.


   Exploring America's #1 Nuisance Pest

By Dr. Laurel Hansen, Jim Fredericks, and Missy Henriksen

For many Americans, ant infestations are an irritating nuisance and a source of disgust, concern and frustration. Recently, pest professionals across the country explored this issue in an online ant survey designed to better understand the pervasive nature of the pest in homes and businesses through the United States.

The pest professionals who participated in this research tend to serve suburban and urban communities, have firms with fewer than 25 employees and derive approximately one-quarter of their total revenue from ant-related services. Data for the survey was collected over a nine-week period, from mid-November 2011 through early January 2012. Pest management professionals from 37 different states participated in this research by completing a self-administered, online questionnaire. The data was weighted to better reflect known population parameters.

Ants Everywhere

Every participating pest management professional from Maine to California treated ant infestations during 2011. Most firms treated several hundred infestations -- some, many more.  Though carpenter ants (66%), odorous house ants (62%) and pavement ants (59%) were treated most often, more than a dozen other species prompted service calls, as well.

Ant infestations were especially common in the following structures:

  • Office buildings (88%)
  • Restaurants (83%)
  • Apartments and condominiums (82%)
  • Single-family homes (80%)
  • Nursing homes (70%)
  • Hospitals (58%)
  • Schools (58%)
  • College dormitories (34%)

Within these structures, the following areas were found to be particularly vulnerable:

  • Kitchens (96%)
  • Bathrooms (89%)
  • Inside walls (73%)
  • Bedrooms (61%)
  • Living rooms (60%)
  • Basements (54%)
  • Air conditioning and heating units (37%)

Outside, ants were reportedly pestering home and business owners on driveways, walkways and in landscaped beds (91%).

Ants on the Rise

More than five out of ten pest professionals (54%) claim that ant infestations are on the rise.  Among them, nearly six out of ten (57%) have seen more infestations of odorous house ants.  No other species was mentioned nearly as often, suggesting that these insects are the primary cause of what many consider a growing problem. 

Pest professionals that were surveyed suspect that ant infestations are on the rise for several reasons.  The most common include an increase in moisture (27%), changing pest control practices (22%) and new species (14%). Many professionals also believe that, today, ant infestations are reported more often because the typical consumer has become less tolerant.

To stem this trend, these professionals offer their customers IPM tips for preventing ant infestations.  The most popular include clearing shrubs and other vegetation from the base of a structure (82%) and cleaning up crumbs and spills whenever possible (81%).  Other tips involve controlling moisture (78%) and sealing cracks and crevices (73%).

Finding and Treating Ants

Visual inspection is the most common method of finding ant infestations.  Indeed, every pest professional surveyed employs it.  Fewer (42%) use glue traps as inspection and monitoring tools.

When ants are found, pest professionals control them with a variety of exterior and interior treatments, as well as sanitation efforts like eliminating the sources of their food and water (57%).

Whatever treatment is used, the survey indicates that a single visit is often not enough. A majority (58%) of pest professionals report that at least two treatments are required to get an ant infestation under control, while fewer (20%) find that three treatments are necessary.

According to respondents, ants are considered one of the most difficult pests to control, along with bed bugs.  In addition, two out of three respondents (67%) believe that ants and cleanliness are correlated.

Integrated Pest Management.  Nine out of ten pest professionals (90%) feel that IPM is an effective method of controlling ants. IPM, or Integrated Pest Management, is a process involving common sense and sound solutions.  The latter involves three steps: (1) inspection, (2) identification and (3) treatment.  The treatment options vary from sealing cracks and removing food and water to applying pesticides when necessary. 

One of the IPM approaches that is particularly important to ant management is the removal of vegetation in contact with the structure at any level plus the removal of nesting sites such as debris, boards, etc. in areas around the structure.   

Additional IPM tips include:

  • Repair any leaky pipes, especially in areas under sinks where pests can often go unnoticed.
  • Seal up cracks and holes around pipes and wiring.
  • Keep all foods in sealed containers, including pet food.
  • Eliminate sources of moisture or standing water.
  • Wipe counters, floors and other surfaces frequently.
  • Store garbage in sealed containers and dispose of it regularly.
  • Vacuum often. 

Tis the Season

For most pest professionals, spring (64%) and summer (67%) are the busiest seasons for ant-related service calls.  Only a handful (14%) claim that ants are a year-round pest, which is especially true for Northern areas as Southern regions have a longer season for ant-related calls due to their warmer climate.

Regardless of season, consumers contact professionals when they see ants crawling where they don't belong (96%).  Fewer calls result from flying ants (32%), and fewer still from evidence of structural damage (10%) or an ant bite (10%).

Public Attitudes.  Consumers who encounter ant infestations often are frustrated, annoyed and irritated.  Some are embarrassed and disgusted, others anxious and concerned.  Therefore, consumers look to pest professionals to eliminate the problem as quickly as possible.

According to three out of four pest professionals (74%), the typical consumer knows little about the risks posed by some species of ants, like painful stings and allergic reactions as well as the threat of food contamination.  However, almost as many (61%) believe that consumers are well informed about the property risks posed by ants, especially carpenter ants.

The severity of these food contamination and property risks depend largely on the species and the region in which it is most often found. Red imported fire ants, found mostly in the Southern states, are capable of painful stings that can result in welts and severe allergic reactions, while carpenter ants are known to cause significant property damage and are found across the United States. 

In Conclusion

Ant infestations are on the rise throughout the country, especially in the places we frequent most. Luckily, pest professionals agree that a mixture of IPM tactics can effectively prevent and manage most infestations, keeping consumers safe from the health and property risks posed by these nuisance pests.

Ant Survey 2012 Infographic

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