Urban Legends Abound! Don’t Be Fooled

By Chris Williams on May 19, 2011.

Q. A friend, who knows I’ve been having trouble with ants, forwarded an email to me. It said that Nutrasweet, the artificial sweetener, can be used to kill ants. I’ve tried all kinds of things so I’m willing to try this. How much should I use and where should I apply it?

A. First of all, save your energy and your Nutrasweet. There’s no truth to this; it’s another urban legend. An urban legend is kind of like an Internet old wives’ tale. It’s provided and believed to be an account of an actual incident that befell or was witnessed by someone the teller “almost” knows. There are many, many such urban legends that circulate on the Internet on many topics, not just pests. Some of these tall tales have been going around and around for years.

This particular urban legend started with a satirical article published on a website called The Spoof! which was titled, “FDA Certifies Aspartame as Ant Poison.” In the article, the chief of the Food and Drug Administration reveals that aspartame (Nutrasweet) was originally developed as an ant poison but was changed to nonpoisonous status after it was realized that a lot more money could be made on it as a sweetener rather than an insecticide. The article contained a disclaimer revealing that the story was fictitious. Apparently, not everyone read the disclaimer. Some instead took the information to heart and, as is the way with the Internet, eagerly passed it on to friends and family.
carpenter-antsIn one circulating email, the writer sings the praises of aspartame as an ant killer. She tested it on carpenter ants (and hasn’t seen any for two years since), she mixed it with apple juice and got rid of her little black ants, and she sprinkled it on fire ant mounds and eliminated the fire ants.

No scientific evidence supports her claim that aspartame kills ants. Many other nontoxic household items (like talcum powder and pepper) are also sometimes purported to kill ants. This is because these materials act as deterrents and keep ants away (at least temporarily) simply because sprinkling them disturbs the ants’ environment, covering up the scent trails that they typically follow.

So, how do you know what to believe? is a highly reputable web site that devotes its time to researching and debunking (or verifying) urban legends, rumors, and scams. researches each Internet legend, explains its origin and history, and tells you whether it’s true or false. In the case of this urban legend, Snopes even set up a controlled experiment. Result? The ants fed on aspartame thrived.

With the Internet, it’s reader beware. If someone sends you a tip or a story that seems rather bizarre or too good to be true, it’s probably another urban legend that just won’t go away! Check before you choose to believe. Or, if it’s a pest question, email or call our experts at Colonial. We promise to tell it like it is.



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