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Gardening Myth: Aspartame Can Control Ants

20160620A.jpegThere seems to be no limit to the number of urban legends about gardening. I heard a new one just the other day.

Apparently, when if you want to get rid of ants, all you have to do is to provide them with a package or two of sweetener containing aspartame and the colony will quickly die. According to this tip, aspartame was originally developed as an ant poison before it was discovered it could also be used as low-calorie sugar substitute for humans. According to the tip I heard, it is important use a sweetener containing a blend of aspartame and dextrose, as the ants will not touch aspartame when it is presented alone.

Looking for Truth

Although this is the first time I’ve hear this urban legend myself, it turns out it’s been around since 2006.

That’s when the satirical website The Spoof ran an article called “FDA certifies Aspartame as Ant Poison“, an attempt to parody the many anti-sweetener sites that claim various sugar substitutes (aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, etc.) are toxic to humans.

Unfortunately, even if the article ended with the phrase “The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious”, several sites took the article seriously and began to spread the information that aspartame is toxic to ants. And so a new urban legend was born!

According to Wikipedia, aspartame is not a an ant poison and cannot be used to control ants. Whatever you may believe when it comes to the effects of aspartame on humans (I have no intention of discussing that issue, which is in no way related to a blog about horticulture), ants are not poisoned by aspartame, nor does it repel them. Sites that claim otherwise are merely spreading yet another urban legend about gardening, making life more difficult for gardeners everywhere.

My Homemade Ant Poison

20160620b.jpg
Ants feeding on a sugar/borax blend.

Personally, in the rare cases where I have a confrontation with ants (usually, I consider them harmless to helpful denizens of my garden), I use the old borax and sugar treatment featured in the article Controlling Carpenter Ants Indoors. Borax and sugar are still the main ingredients of most commercial ant traps and are used by professional exterminators to control of ants. If the combo is good enough for exterminators, it’s good enough for me!

 

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, laidbackgardener.blog will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

14 comments on “Gardening Myth: Aspartame Can Control Ants

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  7. Regardless of what Wikipedia says, I used sachets of aspartame sweetener as a low cost ant poison myself in ’07, when my place at the time had an ant problem. I’d lay out the contents of a sachet on the window sill at night before bed and in the morning, the pile of sweetener 951 would be covered in dead ants.
    They can publish however many studies they want to the contrary, but I’ll believe my own lyin’ eyes thanks! I choose not to eat or drink ant poison, but it is otherwise fit for purpose.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • I’ve used the Borax and sugar solution on stale bread… It’s amazing, works overnight,no dead ants visible,but they are gone

    • Wikipedia is not a reliable source for anything. There are plenty of studies showing aspartame and saccharine have a mortality of above 80% on fire ants.
      There’s also a documentary about how Equal came about. It was literally invented as an ant poison. It was an ant poison before it was a sweetener. This is a documented fact. The Surgeon General under Reagan was replaced with a patsy named Arthur Hayes who ignored the studies and approved Rumsfeld’s request to reevaluate Aspartame. He rubber stamped it, later admitting he promised a lucrative job at the FDA in return. He made his decision without looking at a single study ( his words).
      There is a reason Merisant had their employees alter the Wikipedia data, which is easy to do. If ever Aspartame was reevaluated by the FDA it would be banned immediately. Millions has been spent to insure that does not happen.
      All of that aside, Equal is absolutely proven as an effective way to get rid of ants. At least 5 Peer Reviewed Studies and hundreds of thousands of anecdotal reports. It is clearly less toxic than standard pesticides as many people put it in their tea.

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