27 August 2014

How to get rid of Ants

Unlike Nigeria (snakes, spiders, crocodiles, termites, scorpions, rats, cockroaches), Turkey (camel spiders) and Venezuela (beautiful but aggressive iguanas, ants, mice, cockroaches)  postings in Europe and Kazakhstan were dream destinations as far as creepy crawlies were concerned.  In fact, for the nervous expat Astana is a bit of a dream – no spiders, no snakes, no ants – no nothing.  There are benefits to cold postings! 

Borneo is different we live on a lush, tropical island and share our space with many different animals and insects.  Some we welcome - our house is full of little geckos who keep down the mosquitoes and small spiders.  The kids have named each one (Bug Muncher is the largest) and we hear their little chirrups in the evening as they perform their public service.  Others are less welcome, luckily having dogs helps keep a lot of the less welcome visitors (rats etc) down.  If our older dog dies while we are here we would probably consider getting a cat to keep any visiting snakes at bay. Kipper, our Nigerian tabby was very effective at this although sadly they also like to go for geckos which is a real shame. 

I am a reluctant housewife and generally the further north we are the easier going I am.  When we are in the tropics my standards of housekeeping soar.  No-one is allowed to eat a biscuit without a plate (and all washing up is done immediately), crumbs are swept up straight away and the area bleached.  The kitchen surfaces are bleached twice a day and straight after any use, the floor is bleach cleaned morning and evening, cupboards once a week and appliances wiped down after every use.  All food is kept in lock and lock airtight containers or in the fridge.  Our bread bin has a strip of double sided tape along the outside. 

Despite all these precautions our kitchen has been home to a steady procession of tiny little visitors. I find ants endlessly fascinating – if I see a line of them outside I love to watch them at their work to see how they co-operate and work with their group mind.  This is, however, outside, I hate ants in my house and I particularly hate ants that come into my kitchen. 

I searched the shops for borax or ant killer but it is difficult to track down.  Cockroach killer is prevalent and very, very effective on the ones that come out of hiding.  It does not, however, tackle the problem at source and allow the ants to bring the poison back to the nest.  Our two dogs also seem to love licking the spray from the walls so I do not like to over use it.

A large number of my friends live abroad in various places around the world and came up with the following suggestions:

  • Cinnamon:  Luckily this is fairly cheap in Sarawak and smells good.  Ants dislike it, however, and try to avoid it.  It does not seem to kill them but it does reduce the number who get into the house if you sprinkle it by their entry points.  It is also non toxic to dogs.
  • Jam Traps:  For outside tables place the legs in jars of water with jam or honey to stop the ants climbing up and walking over your food.  Less useful in the house as children and pets could knock them.  We did use these in the kitchen in Nigeria from time to time. 
  • Black pepper:  much like cinnamon but less fragrant.
  • Cornmeal/Polenta/Cream of Wheat:  The granules swell inside the ants and kill them.  This is completely non toxic to pets and before eating it the worker ants carry it back to the nest so it destroys them at source.

I have been using a combination of cinnamon and polenta to reduce our problem.  They work to keep it down but sadly the ants keep coming back and I was not convinced that the nest was being affected.  While the house is only rented I do not want my landlord to have to deal with an entrenched structural problem caused by ants.  

In the end I managed to track down some ant killer and put the boxes down for a few hours.  The effect was amazing – the whole nest seemed to come out to eat the granules as they were gone very rapidly.  My walls were covered in black workers and queens – the advantage of this rather revolting visitation was that I could track down all the entry points and shock dose them with targeted spray of cockroach killer.  It took the housekeeper and me about three hours to clean the corpses from the kitchen (we ate out for two days) and the landlord has since siliconed the gaps shut.  Hopefully this will solve the problem.  

Click on the picture for more information on the challenges of expat life.

Ersatz Expat


  1. Ants really are pests aren't they!! When we first moved here any hint of a crumb, or drink would cause ants to seemingly appear from thin air and swarm said piece of anything!!!!
    We are lucky here in that we can have a fumigator to come round every six months or so and this deals with ALL creepy crawlys (unfortunately this does mean the lovely little geckos too, although they come back within a month or so) we only need to be out the house for a few hours so it's perfect!! The clean up afterwards is like some sort of insect armogeddon but at least it means I don't have to be the broom/bleach fairy 24/7!!!!!
    Glad you managed to get some good ant killer!
    Love the tip about polenta, and cinnamon, never heard that before it's amazing!!

  2. I use the Blubonic Industries 100% Orange Oil d-Limonene to kill black ants. After 2 weeks i don't see any of them.