Ants 101

A Guide to Identifying Common Types of Ant Species 

There is one houseguest that no one wants, but nearly everyone gets - ants! A recent survey conducted by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) revealed that various types of ants are everywhere. In fact, ants have been deemed the #1 nuisance pest in America.

With more than 700 types of ant species in the United States, it's not surprising that ants can quickly become a source of disgust, frustration and concern for homeowners. Unfortunately, most people don't realize that these pests can also pose health and property risks - from food contamination to costly property damage. 

Luckily, there are many ways to effectively reduce the potential development of a major ant infestation. To prevent these unwelcome visitors from invading your home, eliminate moisture or standing water near the home by repairing leaking hose bibs and other supply lines, downspouts, drain lines and air conditioner condensate lines. Also, keep tree branches and other plants cut back from the house, as ants often use these branches to get into homes.

Homeowners must pay close attention to signs of an infestation and take action if ants are found. The first step to eliminating an infestation is to identify the types of antsant species, which will help determine the necessary course of treatment. However, this can be a challenge for someone without proper training. You should contact a pest control professional to assist with the pest problem, but you can also use this guide to help determine the ant species:

Types of Ants

Argentine Ants

  • Appearance: Argentine ants are dark brown and between 1/16-1/4 inch in size.
  • Region: This species is found mainly throughout the southeastern United States.
  • Habitat: Argentine ant colonies are located in wet environments near a food source.
  • Threat: Argentine ants do not pose a health threat, but they can contaminate food and excrete a musty odor when crushed

Carpenter Ants

  • Appearance: Carpenter ants are usually reddish black in color and 5/8 inch in size.
  • Region: This species is located throughout the United States, but is most common in cool, damp climates found in the northern part of the country.
  • Habitat: Carpenter ants build their nests outdoors in various wood sources and frequently enter buildings through damaged wood, cracks around doors and windows, or holes in a structure meant for wires. They will also crawl along shrubs or tree limbs that touch a structure far above the ground.
  • Threat: Carpenter ants can cause severe property damage as they tunnel through wood to build nests. However, the extent and cost the damage usually depends on the number of nests inside the structure and how long they've been active.

Crazy Ants

  • Appearance: Caribbean crazy ants get their common name from the worker's habit of running in an erratic, jerky manner when searching for food. Crazy ants are dark brown to black in color with a gray sheen. They range from 1/16-1/8 inch in size.
  • Region: Crazy ants are found throughout the United States as this species is highly adaptable to both dry and moist habitats.
  • Habitat: Crazy ants tend to enter homes in the autumn or after rainfall because both conditions reduce the supply of honeydew - their main food source. Inside, these ants usually nest underneath floors or carpeting. Outdoors, the nests are shallow and commonly found in soil under objects or next to foundations.
  • Threat: These ants do not pose a health threat, but if they gain entry to a structure, they can become a nuisance.

Odorous House Ants

  • Appearance: Odorous house ants are dark brown to black in color and range in size from 1/16-1/8 inch.
  • Region: This species is found in all regions of the United States.
  • Habitat: Typically living for several years, odorous house ants are known to make their homes in exposed soil. They also nest in walls cracks and under floors inside homes.
  • Threat: These ants do not pose a public health risk or cause structural damage to buildings, but they can contaminate food and should be avoided. In addition, they give off a rotten coconut-like smell when crushed, which is why they are known as "odorous" ants.

Pavement Ants

  • Appearance: Pavement ants are darkish brown to black in color and are about 1/8 inch long.
  • Region: This species is found throughout the United States.
  • Habitat: Pavement ants get their name because they make their nests in or under cracks in pavement. They can infest structures by entering through holes in the concrete.
  • Threat: These black pavement ants do not pose a public health risk, but they can contaminate food and should be avoided.

Red Imported Fire Ants

  • Appearance: Fire ants are dark reddish brown in color and range from 1/8-3/8 inch long.
  • Region: This species is found in the southern United States from Maryland to Texas, California and New Mexico.
  • Habitat: Red imported fire ants build their nest mounds outdoors in landscape areas or near a structural foundation. They can also gain entry to a building through holes or cracks in the exterior structure.
  • Threat: Red imported fire ants attack with a painful sting when their nests are disturbed. The sting often results in a raised welt that becomes a white pustule. Anyone allergic to insect stings will react more severely.

Ants are social insects that live in large colonies, so what may seem like a small infestation can quickly become a major pest problem for homeowners. If you suspect an ant infestation, don't wait to take action. Infestations of all types of ants will continue to grow without proper treatment. Rather, be sure to contact a licensed pest professional to assist in proper identification and treatment of the species. 

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