If you’ve seen small black ants after the sweets in your kitchen, you probably dubbed them sugar ants. While you may have genuine banded sugar ants, or Camponotus consobrinus, you may also be dealing with one of their many close relatives such as acrobat ants, pharaoh ants, and odorous house ants. True sugar ants are native to southern Australia, though they’re widely found throughout the United States today.
Sugar ants are harmless intruders. They never sting and don’t have a painful bite. If threatened, the ant may attempt to use its mouthparts to defend itself, but most people wouldn’t even feel the bite, and reactions are rare unless the individual is highly allergic.
Though their moniker would lead you to believe that sugar ants seek primarily sweet foods, they’re omnivores and will consume a variety of different substances. In the wild, these ants live in forests and woodland habitats. They can build their colonies between rocks, in wood, around shrubs, and in the soil. They prefer nectar from plants and honeydew from aphids as their food source. In outdoor environments, the ants will tend to aphids, protecting them from predators so they can collect the honeydew secretions.
Sugar ants seek food at night, so you may have a problem with Camponotus consobrinus long before you realize it. The worker ants move diligently along their marked trails at dusk in search of food and return with their spoils by dawn. They remain safely in the nest during the day. In your home, these ants are most attracted to sugary items, but they will seek out any spills, stains, or food that’s left standing out. The best way to prevent an infestation is to keep food containers tightly sealed and clean all kitchen surfaces often.
Queen sugar ants produce eggs in early autumn and late spring. Their mating season is in autumn, when you can often see thousands of the winged ants mating in the air. During this time, the worker ants remain on guard on the ground.
Before you dub any black ant in your kitchen as a sugar ant, take a moment to look more closely at its identifying marks and compare it with the other common species native to your area. You’ll often find that your “sugar ant” is something entirely different.