Learn to identify the main types of ants that invade homes — most are harmless, but all are a nuisance and can cause plenty of damage
Quicklist: Ant Types
- Black Garden
- Red Wood
- Yellow Meadow
- Asian Needle
- Dark Rover
We’ve had a few nasty ant outbreaks in our house. We have these French doors from the family room to the patio where the rubber seal strip on the bottom peeled away. There is now a sizable gap from the bottom of the door to the floor. While it’s not big enough to let mice and other creatures in, ants get in no problem. Add to that two young boys who leave food stuff on the floor and we have a recipe for regular ant invasions.
There are thousands of species, each with their own distinctive habitats, characteristics, features, eating habits and defense mechanisms. Ants are known as ‘eusocial insects’ which refers to their high levels of socialization defined by cooperative brood care, division of labor and generations of large colonies. They have colonized almost every part of the world, except Antarctica and some other remote and inhospitable areas.
Ants typically thrive in all ecosystems and their ability to operate in such a wide variety of environments is due to their tendency for elaborate social organization.
Interesting Facts about Ants
As tiny and simple as ants appear to be, they are equally fascinating insects with unique habits and characteristics.
- Ants don’t have ears so they hear with the help of their feet: they basically feel vibrations through the ground.
- Ants have special powers – a single ant has the ability to lift 20 times its own body weight.
- These insects don’t have lungs so oxygen basically enters their body through small holes.
- They are great at colonizing and as many as 50 million ants can come together to form a single, cooperative and highly efficient colony.
- The queen ant of a particular ant species has been reported to be able to live up to 30 years.
- They are the fastest moving creatures in the animal kingdom and the trap-jaw ant has the ability to close its jaws at about 140 mph.
- One of the largest ant’s nests found to-date was over 3,700 miles wide.
- Ants are normally super aggressive and feisty so when they fight among themselves, it is usually to the death!
- Red fire ants are unusually small however, they cause over $6 billion worth of damage annually!
Anatomy of an Ant
Different Types of Ants
Although there are more than 12,000 species of ants found in various parts of the world, very few will invade your home and attack your lawn or garden. Some of the most popular types of such ants are mentioned below.
What Type of Ants Do You Have?
If you are ready to declare war on ants, the first thing you need to do is figure out what type of ants you have, so you can find the best way to combat them.
Here are some common types of household ants:
Scientific Name: Crematogaster
This is an ecologically diverse variety that is spread all over the world. They are also known as the ‘Saint Valentine Ant’ primarily because of their distinctive heart-shaped abdomen. Some of their species are called ‘Cocktail Ants’ because they tend to raise their abdomens in alarming situations.
Acrobat ants are almost 2.5 to 3 millimeters long and consist of two nodes. They are typically found in a range of colors including brown, yellow-brown, black and red-black. Their food and eating habits mainly include predation of other insects like wasps that they stun with the help if their venom.
Acrobat ants have very interesting predatory behavior. They hunt both large and small prey so when they do detect their prey and make contact, they immediately attack by releasing a small amount of venom with a sting. However, when they feel threatened or under attack, they lift their abdomens over their head that makes them look almost like a scorpion. With their abdomens held up in the air, they run away from a threatening situation. This makes them look like they are tumbling which is what gave them the name ‘acrobat ants’.
Scientific Name: Linepithemahumile
Ant variety native to southern Brazil, northern Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay. They have further been introduced by humans to other regions like Europe, Australia, Hawaii, South Africa and New Zealand.
Argentine ants are typically 2.2 to 2.8 millimeters long and they consist of only one node. They are known to build their quarters in cracks in concrete walls, within wall spaces, in the ground, as well as in spaces between boards and timbers. These ants, unlike most other species, do not have the ability to sting.
Argentine ants are also known to be extraordinarily successful, primarily because different nests of their species rarely attack each other or compete with one another. They have a very uniform genetic makeup that helps them get along with neighboring nests without getting attacked.
Scientific Name: Camponotus
Found in various forested areas of the world. They are known to infest buildings and wooden structures, and they usually build their nests inside dead and damp wood. Several variations of this species also exist in various parts of the United States.
Carpenter ants grow to an average length of 6 to 13 millimeters. They are considered both scavengers and predators and some varieties are also foragers that feed off on parts of dead insects. Worker carpenter ants are wingless and usually sport a dark black or shiny brown color.
Most of their species come out at night for foraging during which they collect and consume dead insects. Interestingly, when these ants find a dead insect, they extract all its bodily fluids, leaving behind the remainder of the shell.
Scientific name: Solenopsis
These ants are found in minority with only about 200 species worldwide. These are stinging ants and some of their other common names include tropical fire ants and ginger ants. Some of the species are also called “red ants” mainly because of their light brown-reddish color.
Fire ants typically sport a copper brown head and a dark-colored abdomen. You can expect a typical fire ant to attack small insects, kill them and feed on them. They also produce large mounds in open areas where they often feed on seeds and young plants.
Fire ants are notorious ‘invasive pests’ in various regions of the United States and also in other parts of the world including Taiwan, China, and Australia.
Black Garden Ants
Scientific name: Lasiusniger
Also known as the ‘formicine ant’ they are found all over Europe, as well as some parts of Asia, North America, South America, and Australasia. Queen black garden ants are typically 9 mm long and sport a glossy black color with light brown stripes on the abdomen. The workers on the other hand, also have a glossy black color, but they grow up to be only 3-5 mm long.
Black garden ants are known for exploring their surroundings particularly during the summer months. They do this as a way to test and experiment new grounds and spaces for their summer flight. Another reason behind this behavior is that they want to increase the food supply for the queen ants.
We often call these common household ants. They are small and dark brown or black. They will enter your home for a dry place to invade during the rainy season. They typically come in looking for foods, their favorite being sweets, and other dead insects. They get their odd name from the smell they emit when they are crushed, which some say can smell like rotting food or blue cheese.
Red Wood Ants
Scientific Name: Formica rufa
Native to Anatolia and Europe, these ants are also known as horse ant and southern wood ant. They are usually brownish-black in color while some species may be bi-colored red. They have large mandibles and one of their most interesting features is their ability to spray formic acid from their abdomen as a way of protecting themselves in times of threat.
Red wood ants reach an average length of 4.5-9 mm and are polymorphic. Their nests are fairly large in size which makes them easily noticeable. The nests are often dome-shaped and are made of twigs, grass, and conifer needles.
The primary diet includes aphid honeydew however, they are also known as voracious scavengers so you may also find them feeding on insects and arachnids. Their scavenging behavior mostly aligns with changes in the environment. They prefer the kind of prey that resides near their nests. However, if food resources are scarce, they may explore other trees to find more food further from the nests.
Yellow Meadow Ants
Scientific name: Lasiusflavus
Also known as yellow hill ant they are most commonly found in North America, Central Europe and Asia. Their color usually ranges from brown to yellow with some species sporting darker shades.
The worker species of these ants grow to an average length of 2-4 mm, the queen grows to 7-9 mm long and the males grow to an average of 3-4 mm in length.
Yellow meadow ants are known to form their colonies underground in lawns and meadows. They often also nest under concrete slabs and large rocks. They usually feed on honeydew from root aphids and because of their feeding habits, they normally forage outside their nests.
The small eyes of yellow meadow ants and their lack of pigmentation give away evidence of the underground lives they lead.
Asian Needle Ants
Scientific name: Brachyponerachinensis
The Asian needle ants are native to Asia and Japan but can also be found in the United States. They are notable for being invasive and adventive species. The worker ants of this variety have only a single node and grow to an average length of five millimeters.
They sport black-brown bodies with dark orange colored mandibles. The ants are known to be less aggressive to other ant types and colonies. You will often find them outdoors and especially in areas that are shaded with high moisture. If trapped in clothes or pressed against human skin, their sting is extremely painful and dangerous.
Scientific name: Formica
They are also known as thatching ants and mound ants and typically grow between four to eight millimeters long in length. As the name wood ants suggests, they primarily live in wooded areas. Another interesting feature about these ants is that sunlight is very important for their colonies to survive.
Wood ants prey on other insects and in many countries they have been introduced to control other varieties of invasive pests. Their nests often appear in the form of a chamber and shaft excavations built into the soil.
Wood ants exhibit opportunistic slave-making and parasitic behaviors. They are known to invade other ant groups unable to form colonies of their own.
Dark Rover Ants
Scientific Name: Brachymyrmexpatagonicus
A relatively new kind of ant species found in the United States numbering about 10 species. Monomorphic in size and two millimeters long in length they are one of the smallest indoor ant pest species.
A key distinguishing feature is their nine-segmented antenna and dark brown colors which help tell them apart from other structure-invading ants.
Native to South America they are now also found in California, Arizona, New Mexico and southern Nevada. Their nests and habitats are typically found in soil, bricks, wall voids, mulch and potted plants.
Although rover ants don’t sting, they are still problematic insects because they forage indoors on counter tops, floor and walls.
Scout ants aren’t a type of ant, but they are important because as their name denotes, they are responsible for going out on the road to find a source of food. They leave their scent as they leave the nest so other ants can follow them if they find a source of food.
If you’ve ever seen a line of ants that look like they’re on a mission, it’s because the scout ant has successfully found food and the rest of the soldiers are on their way to fill their bellies.
Ghost ants are tiny and nearly colorless. They are most commonly found in Florida, Hawaii and other warm climates. Searching for sweet foods and dead insects they nest underground as well as in moist areas like sinks, showers and tubs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do ants have:
Wings: Yes, but only reproductive ants.
Hearts: Yes, ants have a pumping organ called the dorsal aorta that is considered their heart.
Eyes: Yes, ants have two compound eyes with many units in each.
Lungs: No, but ants do breathe through “spiracles” around their abdomens.
Blood: Yes, blood in an ant is called hemolymph.
Ears: No, ants cannot hear, but they feel vibrations.
Bones: No, ants have an exoskeleton.
Are ants insects?
Yes, ants are insects. Unlike other insects, however, they have developed unusual traits in behavior over the centuries that make them unique in the insect world.
Where do ants come from?
The ants in your house most likely have a nest somewhere outside and have come in looking for food and water. Originally, ants evolved from an ancestor of the wasp way back in the Jurassic period.
How long do ants live? How long do queen ants live?
Queen ants have been known to live as long as thirty years. As for the worker bees, both males and females live for approximately a year. Males who are only around as sperm donors live no longer than a week.
How much do ants weigh? How big are fire ants? How big are carpenter ants? How big are queen ants?
Ants vary in size depending on what species they belong to. Dinoponera is the largest known ant species, some growing as large as an inch and a half. The smallest species of ant is the Pharoh Ant only reaches about 2 mm. Ants can weigh anywhere between one and five mg. Fire ants run between 1/8′ and 1/4″ and carpenter ants have workers close to 1/2″, with queens sometimes being just under an inch long.
Do ants feel pain?
Scientists have determined that insects don’t have pain receptors in the same way as humans do, but they can feel discomfort and know when something is wrong. While they do not feel what we recognize as pain, they do understand that something is wrong and they may feel irritated or uncomfortable.
How strong are ants?
Ants are one of the strongest living creatures. Most ants can lift weights up to 5,000 times their own weight. That is equal to a human who weighs 120 pounds lifting 600,000 pounds. That is equal to three tons!
How do ants reproduce?
A queen ant may mate with several male ants but she normally only mates once, so how does she produce so many babies? The queen stores the sperm in a special area of her abdomen and releases some each time she is ready to lay her eggs. She is able to control the sex of the ants she gives birth to.
How do ants communicate?
Ants produce a number of chemicals called pheromones that help them communicate with each other. While this is their major method of communication, some species of ants actually make noises to “talk” with each other! They make this noise mainly in times of distress to call for help.
How do ants breathe?
Insects have little holes on their sides called spiracles. They take in oxygen through these holes and the oxygen travels through many air tubes to the various parts of their body. While this method is perfect for allowing oxygen to reach all the ant’s vital organs, it would not be a viable method in an animal that is larger and has more space between its major organs.
Why do flying ants suddenly appear?
Flying ants and other insects produce large swarms of fliers in order to start new colonies. Most often, you will see these swarms in the summer months. The swarm has outgrown its current habitat and has split off from a larger group in order to continue growing new colonies.
Why do ants carry dead ants?
Ants are actually very clean insects who carry their waste to special areas outside the colony. When an ant dies, it emits a certain chemical that causes the other ants to consider it harmful. They carry the dead ant to their waste pile so that it does not contaminate the colony or kill the queen.
How many ants are in a colony?
The average ant colony can contain between 100,000 and 500,000 workers. In addition, there are several hundred winged ants and a queen.
Why do ants bite?
Ants bite for the same reason most animals bite or sting. They feel threatened and are trying to protect themselves from that threat.
Do ants lay eggs?
Only the queen ant has the ability to lay eggs. In an ant colony, everyone has a special job to do and these do not change throughout their life cycle. The queen ant is in complete control of not only laying eggs but also determining what sex the emerging ants will be.
Do ants carry disease?
While ants don’t transmit diseases like other insects, studies show they do harbor mold and yeast contaminants that they transfer to the foods they have access to. These things can cause potential illness in humans who then consume that food.
Will ants cross a chalk line? Will ants cross a salt line?
Ants actually have been known to eat salt and a salt line is not going to keep them from coming in. As for whether or not they will cross a chalk line, the answer is yes. It is a myth that they won’t do so.
Do ants go to sleep? How long do ants sleep?
Ants sleep in a series of naps throughout the day and night. They can take as many as 250 naps a day but each nap only lasts about a minute. That means that they sleep a total of nearly five hours a day.
Are ants bad for a vegetable garden, potted plants, dogs, or trees?
Ants may not be wanted in either your garden or potted plants, but they won’t harm the plants. In fact, ants help aerate the soil and will eat much of the waste that could harm the plants. As for trees, they won’t harm a tree but their presence indicates the tree may have a problem and be dying. Your dog may not want to eat its food if he finds ants in it but ants normally won’t do any harm if ingested by a dog. The only exception is if your dog happens to have a rare allergy to them.
Can ants get into sealed containers?
Ants can get into sealed containers that are flimsy enough for them to chew through. The best containers are made of glass. Airtight containers are useful as long as they are thick. They make it hard for the food odor to seep out and attract ants, which keeps them away.
What temperature can ants survive?
Ants do their best in temperatures between 75 degrees and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. At colder temperatures, they will slow down and go into hibernation. An upper limit for survival appears to be 114 degrees Fahrenheit. After that, ants die.