One of the first insects to become active each year is the irritatingly persistent ant. When warmer weather arrives, ants can begin invading our homes. A recent survey conducted by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) revealed that this pest is everywhere. In fact, ants have been deemed the #1 nuisance pest in America. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize that this pest can also pose health and property risks – from food contamination to costly property damage.
Understanding Ants – What Are Ants?
Ants are social insects and typically live in large groups or colonies. Depending on the species, ant colonies can consist of millions of ants. Their structured nest communities are commonly constructed with soil and plant materials and located underground. However, depending on the type of ant species, nests can also be found in mounds built on the ground level or even in trees.
There are three kinds of ants in a colony, divided into classes by the type of job they perform: the queen, male drones, and the female workers. The queen heads the colony and lays thousands of eggs to ensure the colony’s survival. Depending on the ant species and the nest community size, there may be one or more queens in the colony. The fertile male drone ants often have only one role – mating with the queen. They usually die within a few days after mating. The worker ant (the ones typically seen in your home) are wingless females that never reproduce, but instead forage for food, care for the queen’s offspring, build and repair the nest, protect the community, and perform many other duties to benefit the colony.
Ants will eat practically any kind of food, but are especially attracted to sweets as they supply a large amount of energy to the relatively small ants. Depending on the species, ants can range in size from 1/12 to 1 inch and are usually red or black in color. Ants are close relatives of bees and wasps and can be identified by their three distinct body regions: the head (including antennae), the thorax, and the abdomen. Ants have a narrow “waist” between the abdomen and thorax, while a termite’s body is not constricted and they have a broad waist. Like other insects, ants have six legs, each with three joints. Ants also have large heads with compound eyes, elbowed antennae, and powerful jaws. They can live from several weeks to several years.
Winged forms of ants are often mistaken for termites. In warm weather, both species “swarm” and leave the nest in large numbers to mate and establish new colonies. However, shortly after their flights, both ants and termites lose their wings, so wings usually aren’t present.
Common Types of Ants You Can Find At Home / Ant Infestation
While most ants are considered harmless, an ant infestation can be a major nuisance and may be difficult to control. There is the common myth that seeing one ant indoors does not equal a full-blown infestation. Although this can be true, ants cooperate by leaving an invisible chemical trail (pheromones) for other ants to follow once they locate a promising food source. If that food source is in your home, you can count them quickly entering your home through the smallest cracks and crevices. Ant colonies can be found anywhere in and around your home. Although they typically won’t harm you, there are those – such as fire ants (that sting) and carpenter ants (that damage wood) – that can actually pose a threat to your family’s health and property.
There are more than 700 ant species found in the U.S., although only about 25 species are known to commonly invade homes. Many have been given nicknames based on their distinguishing characteristics:
- Acrobat ants get their name from their ability to acrobatically raise their abdomen over their thorax and head as if they were performing a balancing act. It is common for acrobat ants to enlarge cavities formed by other insects such as old galleries of termites, carpenter ants, and other wood-infesting insects
- Argentine ants are native to the Paraná River basin in South America, which spans across northern Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and southern Brazil. Argentine ants are common in urban areas and can nest in diverse types of habitats. They can produce large numbers of offspring and survive on a wide variety of food.
- Big head ants get their name from the appearance of the major workers – they have very large heads in relation to their bodies. Big head ants can quickly move into new areas to establish nests and kick out other ant populations.
- Crazy ants get their name from the worker’s habit of running in an erratic, jerky manner when searching for food – the trail it leaves behind is highly irregular. They also have the potential to change the ecological balance in the southeastern U.S. largely because the ants can wipe out colonies of fire ants, widely considered the insect villain of the region.
- Fire ants were first brought to the U.S. from Brazil in the 1930s and without any natural predators in the U.S., have been able to spread relatively quickly throughout the Southern U.S., from Maryland to Texas, as well parts of California and New Mexico. The bite and the sting that these ants deliver give them their name.
- Florida carpenter ants (aka red and black carpenter ants) are largely found throughout Florida with colonies that may contain up to eight thousand individuals. They do not eat the wood they remove during their nest-building activities but can severely damage it, digging smooth tunnels inside the wood causing structural weakening. Florida carpenter ants are considered one of the most serious structural pest species.
- Ghost ants get its name from its incredibly small size (less than 1/16 inch long) and pale color of its legs and abdomen, which make it difficult to see.
- Pharaoh ants (aka sugar ants) are possibly named from the mistaken tradition that it was one of the plagues of ancient Egypt during the time of Pharaohs although it is more commonly referred to as the “sugar ant.” It is one of the more common household ants, and carries the dubious distinction of being one of the most difficult household ants to control.
- Rover ants are native to Argentina and Paraguay, and were introduced relatively recently to the U.S. They may be seen excitedly running up and down vertical objects in yards, such as blades of grass, chairs, and fence posts, accompanied by larger winged individuals.
At Home Prevention / How To Get Rid of Ants
If you have an ant infestation:
- Determine what the ants are attracted to and remove the food source. For example, keep your kitchen clean. Seal food items properly, clean counters, do the dishes, fix leaky pipes, and general maintain your household. Doing so will ensure you can more easily avoid persistent ant problems.
- To help reduce the amount of ants currently in your home, put out bait stations or apply gel bait at entry points. Baits, purchased at hardware and grocery stores, can be effective for a bit. However, ants are highly adaptable and able to change their diets. If they see that consuming something like bait isn’t advantageous to their colony, they will simply stop eating it. Baits may only be a temporary solution.
The main tactic in effective prevention plan is to create a less inviting environment for pests around your home. This includes eliminating access and removing suitable sources of food and water. Exclusion is the process of keeping pests outside of your home. This involves caulking or sealing cracks, holes, and any other potential entry points such as cable entry points as well as doorways and other entrances that aren’t completely sealed like window and sliding glass doors. Prune all shrubs and trees at least 4 feet away from your home – this prevents easy access for pests into your home. However exclusion can prove difficult to the untrained eye and covering every entry point is virtually impossible. The most effective method is for a trained pest control technician to apply a chemical treatment around the exterior of your home that is safe for pets and humans.
Reduce moisture content around the exterior of your home in surrounding flower beds and other landscaping. Reduce the watering times and increase the frequency of your irrigation system. Direct the downspout flow as far away from your home as possible; add downspout extensions if needed. Also, reduce the depth of mulch around the exterior of your home to no more than one inch – the deeper the ground cover, the more moisture will be trapped, creating an ideal breeding area for all pests.
Many times DIY efforts do not totally eliminate the ants — especially the nest, where the queen lays her eggs. And since ants are not at the top of the pest food chain, so they may invite other predators like roaches into your home. Some species are particularly troublesome to get rid of. For example, Sugar ants often have more than one queen. A professional pest control company is the most effective method for eliminating an ant colony. They have access to professional level insecticides that are not available to the general public, and are very effective at getting rid of colonies inside a structure.
A Truly Nolen pest control professional can treat your home regularly to not only get rid of any bugs that may lay dormant within walls or hard to reach places, but also keep new pests away. Our ant treatment program treats the both the inside and outside of your home, further reducing the risk of future infestations. A professional has the expertise and experience to find and eliminate the source of the infestation. Having your Truly Nolan pest control specialists eliminate the ants in your home can save you time, money, and a huge headache.
Ant Bites and Treatments
There is a wide range of ant species in the world. Most ants are usually just a nuisance; however, a few varieties are capable of biting people. Red imported fire ants can both sting and bite. Carpenter ants and acrobat ants are also capable of biting – these two types of ants will bite and inject venom into their victims but this is rarely dangerous, and may commonly result in a mild itch.
Most ant bites cause itching, which may last from a few hours to a few days. These mild reactions are very common and home treatment is often all that is needed to relieve the symptoms. Before applying any type of medication to the area, you should wash it thoroughly with cool water and soap to lessen the risk of an infection. This is also why you should refrain from scratching as much as possible. Once the area is clean you can apply topical medications. An ice cube, a cold washcloth, calamine lotion, a paste of baking soda, or an over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment can soothe the discomfort. If you have a large number of ant bites, you may want to go to your doctor for a prescription strength antihistamine or topical ointment. If the bite causes a severe reaction, seek immediate medical attention.