With the mild, warm UAE winter in full swing, ants are a noticeable problem in households across the country.
Pest control companies received hundreds of complaints of insect infestations from residents in neighbourhoods including Jumeirah Park, Arabian Ranches and Victory Heights.
It is a similar story in Abu Dhabi, with residents filing more than 16,000 service requests for ant control with Tadweer, the emirate's waste management company – up 1,000 on last year.
The increase is attributed partially to warmer than usual winter temperatures, with Rentokil confirming they are currently receiving more call-outs than usual.
"Ants are there throughout the year, but in the UAE, the time of their sightings varies with temperature,” said Dinesh Ramachandran, health and environment manager at Dubai pest control company, Rentokil.
“This isn’t necessarily a seasonal thing, though we do tend to do more call-outs during the summer months.
“We step in to control the ants or infestations, not eradicate them. All ants can be managed and controlled in an urban set-up.”
Technicians said ants were most active during sunrise and sunset because of the ambient lighting and higher chance of humidity.
The National joined Rentokil experts during a pest control call-out at a large villa in Jumeirah Park on Tuesday.
Kim Ocbina, technical inspector, said each visit starts by identifying what species of pest has been sighted.
“Once we know, we then locate the nest, recommend good practices such as building proofing, better storage options and waste management, then we formulate a treatment regime that best controls the ant species in question,” he said.
“In areas that have a lot of vegetation, such as villas with gardens, we tend to get a lot of call-outs.
“Some ants enjoy gardens because they're a great source of food. Water sources, such as sprinklers, attract them too.”
The UAE is host to a number of ant species. While some of them are similar in size and shape, they could be different species.
Because of that, Mr Ramachandran said their habitat, biology and behaviour varies.
Pharaoh ants are primarily nocturnal, feeding on a variety of foods including small insects. Crazy ants get their unique name from the way they scurry around erratically when searching for food. They are mainly found outdoors and in kitchens.
Pavement ants get their name from nesting beneath pavements or in cracks in buildings. They can also inhabit structures.
“Generally ants enter a property through open doors, windows, gaps, cracks and crevices,” he said.
“It is important to ensure the property is pest proofed to help prevent any unwanted pest incursions.
“Most ant species are nuisance pests, although some can bite.”
He said the biters include fire ants and samsun ants, which can be best controlled using granular bait.
These ants carry a stinger and if threatened, may inject venom that may cause anaphylactic shock, but only in severe cases.
Pharaoh ants, which are common here, can be controlled using gel bait.
Baiting is a highly effective method whereby the ants take the bait or poison to their nests and feed it to the queen ant.
This in turn targets the main source, the queen, and diminishes the number of ants. This process is slow and can take three to seven days to work.
“General broad-spectrum insecticides work if the nest is soaked, but this is largely not recommended because it pollutes the environment,” he said.
“However, depending on the type of infestation, this is sometimes the only solution.”
The company uses chemicals approved by Dubai Municipality, including a mix of water, penta and provecta. Visits cost upward of Dh300 depending on the infestation.
Scottish resident Cheryl Sophie, 36, said her apartment in Dubai Sports City was overrun by ants recently.
“I moved into a brand-new building and was the first tenant in my one-bedroom apartment so was shocked when I noticed an army of ants gathered around my window,” she said.
“The problem was driving me mad because I am meticulously clean and never leave food out.
“After I called out pest control to sort the situation, they told me it was likely they were garden ants entering through my balcony.
“I have a lot of high-maintenance house plants that I water every two days so the damp soil was attracting them.”
Bana Shomali from ServiceMarket.com, an online platform for home services, said sugar ants are often found in apartments and villas.
“They are tiny reddish-brown ants that do not bite,” she said.
“They are not dangerous and are usually found because of sweet and sugary foods.
“Garden ants, which are about 4mm to 6mm in size, can be found outside in the garden or balcony.
“The main reason for this is that they often breed in potted plants, breeding in the compost.”
While the most effective method when targeting certain ants, such as samsun or fire ants, is baiting, homeowners can control the type of infestation.
Ms Shomali said use a paper cover or plastic sheets in cabinets used to store food, avoiding food spillages, not leaving food uncovered and adding disinfectant in water, such as bleach, before mopping floors would all help.