Ants are fascinating creatures that are very distinct from other types of insects. They form closely knit colonies that communicate so efficiently they’re often referred to as superorganisms. Ants are so prevalent around the world that some estimates indicate the combined weight of all ants on earth might exceed that of humans.
While ants are interesting creatures in an outdoor environment, they’re typically unwanted invaders in the home. If you’re looking for ant control solutions for ants in your home, it helps to start with ant identification. Examining the characteristics of ants will help you understand what you’re dealing with.
Ants are an incredibly diverse type of insect. It’s estimated that there are around 22,000 ant species around the world, although just around 12,500 have been classified to date. Ants live on every continent on earth except Antarctica. They have modified their behavior and physical features to exist in a variety of habitats, so most ant characteristics can vary widely between species.
One of the most characteristic traits of an ant is its body shape. Though ants vary greatly in size and color, all have the following features:
Ants usually range from around 0.08-inch to 1 inch in length. Some common ants and their typical sizes include:
Most ants are black, brown, or red in color. However, a few species have a metallic luster and green hue. Acrobat ants, argentine ants, and pavement ants are all brown in color. Odorous house ants and crazy ants are brown or black. Big-headed ants, Caribbean crazy ants, and fire ants have a red hue. Carpenter ants can be found in nearly any hue including tan, black, and red.
Ants live in structured communities. They can build their nests in many different places, depending on the species. You might find them dwelling underground, in rotten wood, in plants and trees, or within mounds built at ground level. Ants can also take up residence in your home. They might nest in the walls or tunnel into rotten wood if you have baseboards, door frames, or other areas that have suffered from rotten wood. A few ant species migrate from one home to the next. Army ants are one such species, as they do not maintain a permanent home.
Ants can survive on many different food sources. Some species have a preferred food source, which can help you identify the type of ant that you’re dealing with if you have an infestation. Ants may eat nectar, seeds, fungus, and other insects.
Fire ants, pavement ants, and pharaoh ants are not very discerning and will eat almost anything. Sugar ants prefer sugary substances but will eat any other food that they find. Thief ants prefer fat, oil, and meat. Despite the common misconception, carpenter ants don’t eat wood. They simply tunnel through it. Carpenter ants prefer to dine on honeydew from aphids or on other insects.
Army ants may even pursue larger prey such as birds, reptiles, or small mammals. The Amazonian ant species Allomerus decemarticulatus builds traps with a series of small holes in the top. When an insect walks over the trap, the ants hiding below reach up to grab it with their jaws.
Ants belong to the Formicidae family, which indicates that they are social insects. Within this family, ants are of the order Hymenoptera. Insects in this order frequently live in large colonies that have a complex social organization. Other insects in the Hymenoptera order include bees and wasps.
A single ant colony can contain up to 50 million ants. Within the ant colony, there are three types of adults.
Ants communicate through pheromones. They secrete these distinct chemicals throughout the day and use different formulas to convey different messages. A foraging ant will leave different pheromones behind to signify food than it will to warn of danger. For this reason, you can often address an ant problem simply by disrupting the pheromone trails that the ants are leaving behind. Washing the floor with soap and water or applying a deterrent like lemon juice or vinegar may stop the trail of ants from entering your home.
Any time you’re dealing with unwanted ants in your home, the first step should be a careful analysis of the ants’ characteristics to determine what species you’re dealing with. This can help you locate the nest, select the right bait, and properly handle the problem.
An experienced exterminator can help you promptly identify the ants in your home if you’re having trouble with an infestation. While ants are beneficial when they’re outdoors in their natural habitat, they can be destructive, unsanitary, and even dangerous in the home.