Some species are stinky; others are crazy. Some are destructive carpenters; others are hard-to-see ghosts. But they’re all household pests.
We’re talking about ants. According to HomeTeam customers, ants are the No. 1 most common household bug invading their homes and yards. In most parts of the country, they are a pest that homeowners deal with year-round.
Ants are social and live in large colonies. What seems like “just a few ants” on your kitchen counter or in your pantry could signal thousands of ants nesting nearby. A small infestation can quickly become a major pest control problem.
But not all ants are alike; there are more than 12,000 known species of ants, and 700 types are found in the U.S.
If you have an ant infestation in your home or yard, identifying the type of ants you have helps determine the best method to control them whether you pursue DIY or the help of a pest control expert.
Professionals identify ants based on their size and color, their body type, where they nest, and the part of the country where they live. It’s not always easy to distinguish one type from another, but here’s a basic guide to get you started.
Carpenter ants have the ability to tunnel through wood and can cause severe property damage. While they nest primarily outdoors, in trees or lumber, they can invade roofs and woodwork near moisture. Homes in woodland areas in the northern U.S. are most vulnerable to structural damage caused by carpenter ants. They don’t actually eat wood – they excavate it to build nests. Typical carpenter ants are reddish-black in color and fairly large, about five-eighths of an inch in length. There are multiple variations of this species found around the U.S., but some types are aggressive and will sting if their nest is disturbed.
Fire ants are dark reddish brown and found in the southern U.S. They build mounds outdoors, usually in landscaped areas or near a home or building, but they can also enter a home through holes or cracks. They attack when their nests are disturbed, and the name “fire” comes from their painful sting, which causes a raised welt; people who are allergic may react more severely. If you suspect an infestation, start implementing a program of fire ant control right away.
Pharaoh ants feast on almost anything, even toothpaste and shoe polish. Once established, they spread quickly and are difficult to treat. They are one-sixteenth of an inch long and are usually pale, varying from yellow to red with abdomens that are often dark. Pharaoh ants are of particular concern to hospitals because they may carry and spread more than a dozen dangerous types of bacteria and pathogens, including Staphylococcus, Salmonella, Pseudomonas, Streptococcus and Clostridium.
Crazy ants get their name from the unpredictable, jerky way they move when searching for food. They don’t march in a straight line like other ants but move erratically and quickly. In recent years, this species of ant has established itself in Texas and other Gulf Coast states, displacing fire ants in some places.
Tawny crazy ants are black-brown with a gray sheen and have extremely long legs and antennae. They can nest outdoors or indoors under objects like soil, flowerpots, pavement or rocks, and may develop huge colonies with hundreds to thousands of workers and numerous queens. Tawny crazy ants are attracted to electrical wires and can do a lot of damage, swarming electronic devices in such numbers that they can cause short circuits. They have ruined computers, shut off water pumps in homes and at sewage pumping stations, and caused fire alarms to go off.
Squish one of these and you’ll know why they’re called “odorous” – they give off a rotten, coconut-like smell. Also known as stink ants or sugar ants, these pests are dark brown to black in color and one-eighth to three-sixteenths of an inch in size. They’re found in all regions of the U.S., and tend to nest in dark, damp places outdoors. They find their way indoors through cracks in your foundation or other openings looking for food, especially sweets and meats. While they don’t pose a public health risk or cause structural damage to buildings, they can contaminate food.
Argentine ants are most common in the southeastern U.S. and tend to build colonies in wet environments near a food source. You can often find them nesting in shady spots during the summer. Indoors, they are sometimes found in wall openings or insulation. These ants are light to dark brown and one-sixteenth to one-fourth of an inch in length. These ants don’t sting, but like house ants, they can contaminate food.
Ghost ants are a tropical species, found primarily in central and southern Florida and Hawaii. With their pale color and tiny size, these spooky-looking ants are hard to see. This type of ant is unable to survive in northern U.S. states except in greenhouses and heated spaces. Ghost ants do not sting but can become a serious nuisance when they nest inside homes. Similar to odorous house ants, ghost ants give off a coconut-like odor when crushed.
As with any type of infestation, your best pest defense is prevention. You can minimize the risk of an ant infestation by:
Treating with appropriate pest control materials, with help from a professional
If you suspect you have an ant infestation, don’t wait to take action. Regardless of the type of ant, the problem is likely to grow without proper pest control methods. Wait too long, and you risk contending with a resilient insect capable of hiding in the most obscure nooks and crannies. Contact HomeTeam if you need help properly identifying and treating ants.