Ants are by far the most common insect pests to invade our home and become a nuisance. Controlling ants can be difficult and frustrating at times, but understanding each specific species and their nuances can help your control attempts to be more successful. Ants, have three body regions: head, thorax, and abdomen, and 4 stages in their life cycle: egg, larvae, pupae, and adult. Ants have a constricted or “pinched” waist, a defining characteristic that differentiates it from other insects (more specifically the termite which lacks this constriction). Additionally, ants have bent antennae, whereas termites have straight, beadlike antennae.
Controlling Structure Infesting Ants
- Inspection: A trained technician will conduct a thorough inspection to locate foraging trails, ant colonies, and conditions conducive to ant infestations.
- Identification: Each ant species has particular habits and characteristics. Understanding these nuances enables technicians to develop the most cost-effective and efficient control strategies.
- Recommendation: Based on thorough inspection findings, the technician will make recommendations that address both the current infestation and conditions that may contribute to current and future infestations. They will likely suggest modifications/repairs that will help prevent future infestations.
- Treatment: In most cases, effectively eradicating ants involves the application of pesticides, as well as non-chemical control procedures such as exclusion, removal of conducive conditions, and eliminating moisture problems.
- Evaluation: The customer and technician must both assess the effectiveness of treatment. In some cases, multiple treatments may be necessary.
Ants Indigenous to the Southeast
Acrobat Ants are aptly named for their habit of acrobatically raising their abdomen above their head when alarmed. Acrobat ants are small, ranging in size from 1/16”-1/8” in length, and are normally brown to black in color. When disturbed, this ant emits a pungent odor, and can be provoked to bite, although they are not known as a stinging insect. Acrobat ants typically nest in moist locations; outdoors, these may include areas of high mulch concentration, under stones, in tree stumps, logs, and firewood. Outdoors, the Acrobat ant is predatory, feeding on other insects. Indoors, Acrobat ants nest in wall voids, baseboards, or door and window framing (particularly if it has been damaged by moisture or previously infested with other insects – especially termites). Acrobat ants will feed on sweets and high-protein foods indoors.
Argentine Ants are small, with worker ants measuring only 1/16″ and queens slightly larger than 1/8”. These ants are light to dark brown in color, and most common in the south and west United States. While capable of biting if provoked, Argentine ants do not have stingers. Additionally, this species is identified as a “trailing ant,” with thousands of ants traveling in excess of 200 feet from their nest to a nearby food source. These ants prefer to feed on sweet food sources, but will adapt as necessary.
Carpenter Ants are among the most common species of ants found in the United States. While they play an important role in the forest ecosystem by excavating and breaking down wood, they can be both a nuisance and a serious structural pest. Unlike termites, the Carpenter ant does not eat wood, but rather tunnels into it to make a nest; then, they form a network of galleries, where they live and reproduce protected inside the wood. Visual evidence of infestation includes piles of course wood shavings outside a hole or opening; an infestation may further be confirmed by listening for sounds produced as worker ants chew to remove wood. Homes are susceptible to Carpenter Ant infestations if wood contains greater than 20% moisture content.
Red Imported Fire Ants are commonly found only in the southern United States. This species was accidentally brought into the United States in the 1930s aboard a cargo ship, and while initially transplanted into Alabama, they have spread and continue to thrive in warm, sunny conditions. They typically nest in the ground, and can cause serious medical, agricultural, and ornamental damage. Fire ants are incredibly aggressive and will sting repeatedly, especially when their colony is disturbed; each colony can contain several hundred thousand ants, thus increasing the likelihood that multiple stings will be inflicted simultaneously. When attacking, fire ants utilize their mandibles first to grip their prey, then inject venom through a stinger. They are reddish-brown in color possessing a darker abdomen, and can range in size from 1/16” to 1/4” long.
Odorous House Ants are found throughout the United States, and are named for the pungent coconut-type odor they emit when crushed. They are small, ranging in size from 1/16” to 1/8” long and have uniformly dark brown to black bodies. Indoors, Odorous House Ants nest in wall voids, and prefer to feed on sweets and high-protein foods; outdoors, nests are typically found in soil (typically under objects) and they tend to feed on honeydew, plant secretions, and rarely other insects.