Do Ants Learn To Avoid Poison? Some Things To Consider

by Derrick | Last Updated: April 14, 2022

If you’ve accidentally left food crumbs lying around, you can be sure to find a line of ants a few hours later. Smaller black ants may be nothing more than a minor annoyance, but larger species like fire ants can be dangerous. Because of that, many of us take to setting ant traps to exterminate the colony, but you may occasionally notice that the ants somehow learn to avoid your traps.

Ants learn to avoid poison. That’s because ants have a fantastic sense of smell, and they can communicate with other ants in the colony, allowing them to detect and avoid poisons and areas where other ants have died. 

In the rest of this article, I’ll answer all of your questions about how ants learn to detect and avoid poison. I’ll also share some creative ways to get rid of an ant infestation, even if your pests have learned to avoid your traps.

How Do Ants Learn To Avoid Poison?

Nothing is more irritating than setting a pest trap and finding out that the pests are avoiding it. Ants are pretty intelligent and quick learners, so it’s essential to understand how ants detect poison or other harmful substances.

Ants learn to avoid poison through a few different methods. They use their excellent sense of smell, experience, and messages left by fellow worker ants to detect and avoid poison.

Below, I’ve explained some of the most common ways ants learn to avoid poison.

Scent

An ant’s most robust sense is its sense of smell. Ants use scent to do the following:

  • Travel
  • Find food
  • Communicate

They communicate by releasing pheromones – secreted chemical substances that trigger social responses in other members of the same species.

Their strong sense of smell allows ants to detect different kinds of substances. Thus, if an ant trap contains a large amount of poison or chemicals, the smell of the poison could overpower the scent of the food. In this case, the ants would simply avoid the trap and look for another food source.

Alarm Signals

The most common pest control mistake is using a quick-acting poison in a trap to kill the ants immediately. These poisons kill the ants that eat the poison, but as an ant dies, it will release an ‘alarm signal’ through pheromones. These pheromones leave a stinky spot to mark the area for other ants.  

The alarm alerts other ants of the poison and lets them avoid it. You may have succeeded in killing a few ants, but the rest of the colony is still alive and thriving in your house, and now the ants have all learned that there are poison traps nearby.

Lack of Interest in the Bait

Sometimes, you may be under the impression that the ants can detect the poison in the bait and are avoiding it. However, their avoidance could be due to a lack of interest in the bait. 

Ants look for specific food sources depending on the colony’s needs. For example, they require food sources rich in proteins and fats during spring to develop the colony further. However, in summer, they require food sources rich in carbohydrates. 

If the ants are avoiding your bait, it could be because the food does not suit their nutritional needs.

How To Get Rid of Ants

If you want to get rid of the ants in your home, it’s necessary to implement a plan that includes extermination, cleaning, and prevention of further pest issues. Below are a few tips I recommend to anyone trying to solve their ant problem.

  • Seal any cracks in the windows or walls through which ants might enter. If you can’t afford a professional to seal the area, you can use this Silicone Sealing Tape from Amazon. This tape works just as well as a professional seal, and it will last long enough for your ants to die. 
  • Clean and disinfect the kitchen, dining room, or any place in which anyone eats to prevent stray crumbs.
  • Place bait stations in several parts of the house to ensure complete coverage.
  • Use slow-acting poisons in the bait so that the entire colony gets affected.
  • Clean up the dead ants regularly and sanitize the area to remove traces of pheromones around the traps. 

Best Ant Baits

Although there are several methods of killing ants, such as sprays, quick-acting poisons, and powders, using an ant bait is the best ant killing method. Ant baits are usually liquid, granular, or gel-based substances containing food sources like sugar mixed with a variant of slow-acting scentless ant poisons. 

These are left in a shallow tray or dish so that worker ants carry bits back to the rest of the colony, thereby feeding them the poison. By using ant bait, you can get rid of the entire colony instead of just a few worker ants.

If you prefer to make your ant bait, you can look at this YouTube tutorial by Greg Hadley.

If you choose to buy ready-made ant bait, the following table summarises the properties of the most popular ant baits available, along with my analysis of the best ones. All of these products are available on Amazon.com. 

ProductTerro Liquid Ant BaitAdvion Fire Ant BaitAmdro Fire Ant BaitAdvion Ant Gel BaitHarris Liquid Ant Killer
Active IngredientBoraxIndoxacarbHydramethylnonIndoxacarbBorax
Safe for PetsYesNoNoNoYes
Indoor UseYesNoNoYesYes
Outdoor UseNoYesYesNoNo

Best Overall

Based on my analysis, the Terro Liquid Ant Bait is the best overall. This attractively priced ant bait is perfect for indoor use. 

It uses Borax as the active ingredient, making it pet-friendly in small quantities.

However, I would still advise you to keep your pets away from this product because Borax can cause diarrhea and nausea in large amounts.

Best Budget Buy

Once again, the Terro Liquid Ant Bait tops this list as the most budget-friendly option. You can buy 12 bait stations for one low cost, allowing you to take care of multiple ant infestations on a tight budget. 

However, for a more eco-friendly version, you can also try the Harris Liquid Ant Killer, which is similar in price.

Best for Fire Ants

The Amdro Fire Ant Bait is the best option for eliminating fire ants. Unlike smaller black ants, these ants are prone to biting people, causing intense pain and itching. They’re also more resilient than common ant species, so killing them takes a more robust solution. 

Luckily, the Amdro Fire Ant Bait, which uses Hydramethylnon, is proven to work against even the most stubborn colonies.

Final Thoughts

Ants can detect and avoid poisons through their scent and signals given by other ants. Using strong-smelling chemicals and quick-acting toxins may get rid of some ants, but the ant colony will soon create more to take their place.

The best way to eliminate all seen and unseen ants is to use ant bait. These contain food for the ants mixed with a slow-acting substance that kills them. The delayed response of the poison allows the entire colony to die before the ants realize they’re being poisoned.