How to Get Rid of Harvester Ants: A Complete Guide

Harvester ants are considered to be more of a nuisance to humans than a threat. This doesn’t mean that they are entirely harmless or that they should be left to multiply as they wish in your back yard. Certainly not because if left unchecked, these ants have the capacity to grow to around 12000 workers per colony in only 5 years.

This is not all though because they also can live for around 15-20 years! Pretty resilient right? While these pests are somewhat advantageous for your farm, they also have several disadvantages, so in most cases, you will have to get rid of them.

So, how to get rid of harvester ants? The best way to completely eliminate the harvester ants in and around your home is by using ant baits. The worker ants will find and take the bait back to the colony, and other harvester ants, including the queen, will consume this bait, and eventually, the whole colony will die. The harvester ant queen’s death affects the entire colony, which means that no more new ants will be hatched.

Ant Exterminators

This process is certainly effective but it has its challenges because some harvester ant colonies have deep tunnels and it may take several baits to get to their queen. If this method does not seem attractive to you, we have mentioned many more methods that are just as effective in some of the following sections of the article.

It is important to keep track of every pest that you have in or around your house and harvester ants are not to be underestimated but they are nothing compared to some other pests that can attack your household. So, stick around and explore our guide for getting rid of the harvester ants. Let’s begin!

What Are Harvester Ants?

Harvester ants get their name from their lifestyle of collecting seeds and mushrooms. They dig deep and create chambers inside the soil causing aeration which definitely helps the plants. Their transfer of seeds increases seed dispersal and seedling survival of arid area plants.

Their foraging and colony building helps to mix the upper and deep layers of the soil as well as mixing organic refuse into the soil. Unfortunately, they can also damage land used for cattle grazing as they can definitely reduce the vegetation in their daily routine of harvesting seeds.

Harvester ant workers have only ¼ to ½ inch long bodies which are red and dark brown in color. A queen is chosen as a larva and is then fed special food to help the body to grow as the preparation for a life of reproducing. Once it is ready, it digs a tunnel and produces eggs.

Larvas hatch and go through several instar stages, after which, they join the worker ant population where they take care of their younger siblings, scrounge for food and expand their settlement. A colony has the potential of surviving for as long as the queen survives because she is the only one with the duty of laying eggs in order to grow the population.

Harvester ants tend to sting only when their nest has been disturbed and their sting is rather painful. Given their secluded choice in the settlement location, and their conspicuous nests, it is not easy to get in their way, which means that they rarely sting humans.

• What Do Harvester Ants Eat?

Harvester ants specialize in collecting seeds then taking them back to their colony for food. Basically, if the seed has starch, it is suitable for their consumption. These ants have square-like heads with large mandibles designed for chewing. Their diet consists mainly of seeds and dead insects which is a complete diet given the fact that they get their water from the foods that they eat.

Related: What Attracts Ants? Information and Facts

How to Get Rid of Harvester Ants – Step by Step Instructions

How to Get Rid of Harvester Ants – Step by Step Instructions

Nest Toxicants

The most effective way of getting rid of these ants from your back yard is by using nest toxicants but sadly this can be only performed by professional exterminators. If you decide to call a specialist for the purpose of eliminating these ants from your garden this is their go-to method. A sure way to kill the entire colony at once.

Ant Baits

As discussed above, harvester ants collect seeds to take back to their colony. With this in mind, place ant baits in their paths and they will carry it back to the colony. After some time the harvester ants and their queen will consume the bait.

Once the queen ingests the poison, she will be dead in a few days and that is the beginning of the end for that colony. Be sure to place several baits along the ants foraging trails to ensure that they get back to the queen. Below are our recommended ant baits for harvester ants.

Terro 1806 Outdoor Liquid Ant Baits

Terro 1806 Outdoor Liquid Ant Baits, 1.0 fl. oz. - 6 count
  • Kills the ants you see and the ants you don’t
  • Pre filled bait stations are ready to use
  • Contains sodium tetraborate decahydrate (Borax) (5.40%) and other...
  • Flexible placement: in the ground using the stakes or on decks,...
  • Patented station protects the bait from the elements, prevents it...

Syngenta – TRTD11568 – Optigard Ant Bait Gel Box

Syngenta - TRTD11568 - Optigard Ant Bait Gel Box - 4 Tubes w/ Plunger - 30g each tube
  • Target pests: For indoor and outdoor control of...
  • Highly attractive formula promotes ready transfer of the active...
  • Powerful, active ingredient knocks out workers, brood and queens
  • Approved for use indoors and outdoors, applied in cracks and...
  • How does Optigard Ant Bait Gel work? Ants that feed on the gel...

How to Get Rid of Harvester Ants Naturally

Boiling Water

Using hot water to eliminate an ant colony can be effective if done properly. Fill your container with hot water and carry it out to the field/ location of the ant colony. Then simply pour copious amounts of hot water into the opening of the harvester ant settlement. Be careful when carrying hot water so you don’t burn yourself. Since established harvester ant colonies have already destroyed the vegetation around their settlement, pouring hot water into the ground has no negative effects on the vegetation.

Baking Soda

Apply this to the base of your plants as it is poisonous to ants and therefore they will definitely not touch your plants. This is an environmentally friendly way of dealing with the harvester ants even though it might not completely eliminate them from your yard.

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth is effective if sprinkled into the harvester ant nest mound. It dehydrates every ant that it comes into the contact with. Repeat this process until you are certain that the population is gradually diminishing in size.

Are Harvester Ants Dangerous?

Harvester ants are not considered dangerous because they technically do not go looking to sting humans. They only attack when their habitation is disturbed, which is rare since they colonize open fields and their colonies are rather obvious.

They have really painful stings which some have compared to be worse than a bee sting. The pain could last for a couple of hours or days. In most cases, there won’t be allergic reactions and simply cleaning the wound with warm soapy water will do the trick. Additionally, you can also apply calamine lotion to soothe the wound, this is enough to take care of it. However, some people can have an allergic reaction to these stings and because of that will need to seek medical attention.

Difference Between Harvester Ants and Fire Ants

Difference Between Harvester Ants and Fire Ants

Harvester ants have often been confused for fire ants because these pests have many things in common. Not only do they look alike, but they also sting using the same mechanism of attaching their mandibles into the flesh of their victim and then proceeding to sting using the stinger attached to their abdomen. However, it is said that harvester ants have a worse sting than fire ants.

The major difference between these two ants is the fact that harvester ants’ diet mainly consists of seeds while fire ants will feed on pretty much anything, all the way from animals, vegetables to anything sweet.

Another difference is their nests:

  • Harvester ant nests are characterized by only one opening in a bare patch of land. The land is often surrounded by vegetation except for the portion left bare by foraging harvester ants. You can also clearly see foraging paths leading to the bare patch.
  • Fire ants do not specialize in harvesting every possible seed in the sight and so their nests are not as easy to spot as harvester ant nests. They are characterized by a soft mound of soil protruding on a random section in your yard. It can be located under the trees, in a grassy patch, etc.

How to Prevent Harvester Ants From Invading Your House

Harvester ants have no business being in your house. They prefer to live in open fields where they will have access to seeds that constitute their main diet. If by some chance you find them roaming around your house, then maybe consider sealing your windows, doors and any cracks they may have used to come in. However, your problem doesn’t stop there since if you have harvester ants in your house, then you certainly have them in your yard.

To eliminate harvester ants in your yard, any of the above-mentioned methods will come in handy but if you are looking to apply preventative measures to avoid future infestations, then you may need to contact a specialist who will know what are the best chemicals to apply to protect your plants and your family as well.


In a nutshell, harvester ants are not a major concern for your physical health. They do have their advantages for the soil they inhabit but they can also cause significant damage if left unchecked. This article gives you different techniques to get rid of the harvester ant population in your yard.

With the information above, you are now able to identify if the ants in your yard are in fact harvester ants or fire ants, the knowledge that will certainly come in handy as you are trying to eliminate the ant colony from your land. Remember, if any of it seems intimidating for you, the best course of action would be to call in professional help.

List of Sources

Davis J., Management of the Red Harvester Ant Pogonomyrmex barbatus, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Pinter-Wollman, N., Bala, A., Merrell, A., Queirolo, J., Stumpe, M. C., Holmes, S., & Gordon, D. M. (2013), Harvester ants use interactions to regulate forager activation and availability, Animal behaviour, Stanford University, University of California

Tschinkel W. R. (2013), Florida harvester ant nest architecture, nest relocation and soil carbon dioxide gradients, Department of Biological Science, Florida State University

Red Harvester Ants, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Ants Management Guidelines, Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California