How Did These Ants Get in Your Kitchen?

Posted by Mark A. Puglisi, ACE on Mon, Oct 03, 2016 @ 02:19 PM

In Southern California, ants are fairly common and can easily invade your kitchen when food is left out. If you leave a bit of cake out overnight, you may wake up to lines of marching ants on your counters, floors, or walls. But how did they get there so fast? And what kinds of foods attract these ants?

In this blog, we'll discuss how ants are able to locate food and lead their colony to it, and we'll also address which foods ants prefer and don't prefer.

How Do Ants Find Food?

Ants are able to sense unique chemical combinations from great distances, and this ability helps them find their favorite foods and bring them back to the colony. But they may have to wander for a while before they sniff out the right foods.

To find food, ants essentially fan out from the nest, walking randomly until they find what they're looking for. They don't necessarily walk in straight lines, instead walking meandering paths as they push on. As they search, they lay down pheromones so they can find their way back home or so other ants can follow their trail. Every ant has a unique scent, so ants can identify if a route was left by a friend or foe.

When ants find food, they take a piece back with them to the colony, following their own trail back as they lay down more pheromones, thus doubling the strength of the scent. Once they've dropped off their findings, they'll go back on the path to further strengthen the scent of pheromones for their nest-mates to follow.

If the other wandering ants happen upon another ant's trail, they'll abandon their own and follow the scent. If they end up back at the nest without any food, they'll turn back around to keep following the trail and see where it leads. And all the while, they're laying down their own pheromones to strengthen the trail.

So, if an ant happens upon a strong trail that leads to food, they'll further fortify the trail with their own scent, and other ants will eventually happen upon the path.

After a while, enough ants will gather to collect food, resulting in a small group swarming a large muffin crumb or drop of syrup. This tactic allows ants to quickly find food and communicate with their nest-mates. But it can be inconvenient for a homeowner, especially when he or she finds the kitchen crawling with ants the morning after a dinner party.

What Foods Attract Ants?

Southern California is home to a number of different ant species, including:

  • Thief ants
  • Odorous house ants
  • Argentine ants
  • Pharaoh ants
  • Carpenter ants
  • Imported fire ants
  • Pavement ants

But not all ants share the same food preferences. For the most part, the diets of ants can be divided into three main groups: greasy foods, sugary foods, and everything else.

Greasy Foods

Some species of ants, such as thief ants, love greasy foods. They're attracted to foods like cheese, peanut butter, and nuts, and they'll often go for cooked foods as well. You can find them on counters or stoves, and you can sometimes find them in cabinets or sinks.

Sugary Foods

Many ants favor the sweeter foods, surrounding a lone cookie crumb or a spot of honey on the counter. These ants are often more persistent than some of their cousins, and you can find them just about anywhere in your home. They'll even target fruits and nectar, and sometimes, they'll seek out the sweet honeydew excretions aphids leave behind.

Everything Else

Other ant species are happy to eat just about anything. They'll take sugary and greasy foods, and they'll even add a few other items to their diet, including insects, meat, oil, and eggs.

Some ant species eat things that are easily found in nature, such as seeds and plants. While they may scurry through your garden, they probably won't be a prevalent presence in your home.

What Foods Do Ants Dislike?

While a variety of ants can love a variety of foods, there are some foods and spices that can drive ants away. Ants dislike foods with strong scents, such as cinnamon, peppermint, and chili powder. They also avoid cloves and bay leaves, and throwing some of these in your picnic basket can help you have an ant-free meal in the outdoors.


Even if you keep your kitchen and home as clean as possible, ants can still infiltrate your home in search of food. When you notice them crawling along walls and floors and overtaking your property, call in the professionals at Greenleaf Organic Pest Management. We can provide you with effective pest control for ants of all varieties.

We use natural, non-toxic solutions to keep you and your family safe, and our friendly staff members can provide tips for keeping pests at bay.

Tags: ants, food pest, Food Safety