Ants are commonly found in households thanks to their eating and building habits. According to experts in pest control in Houston, ants feed on human food that is easily accessible, infest structures and build dirt mounds in lawns. Unlike other pests that are found in the home, ants don’t damage or attack fabrics, leather or wood that is indoors. Some ant species, however will establish nests in decaying wood that is found in a structure.
Ants are distinctive in their shape, with a narrow waist and one or two joints (or nodes) between the thorax and the abdomen. Ants also have elbowed antennae. The reproductive ants that have wings feature one pair of wings that is much larger than the back pair.
Ants are social insects by nature. Most colonies include two castes, consisting of workers, reproductives and males. Worker ants are sterile females who usually don’t have wings. These ants vary greatly in size and appearance within each species. The function of the worker ants is to build, repair and defend the nest, and to feed the immature and adult ants of the colony, including the queen.
Queen ants normally have wings, but lose them after mating. The primary function of the queen is reproduction, but in some species, she also cares for and feeds the first brood of worker ants with her salivary secretions. The number of queens that ants have depends on the colony and the species.
Males are usually born winged and retain their wings until death. The main function of the males is to mate with unfertilized female reproductive. The males die after mating has occurred. Males are produced in old or large colonies that have easy access to food. The male usually doesn’t remain in the colony very long once it has reached maturity.
Ants have an egg, larva, pupa and adult stage. Six week to two months are required for development from egg to adult in some species. Ants establish new colonies by flights of winged reproductives and budding. The most commonly used method is for male and female reproductive to leave the nest on mating flights. The mated queen rears a brood, and a new colony quickly begins growing in population.
Budding occurs when one or more queens leaves the nest with workers who help to establish and care for a new colony. The most difficult species to remove are the ants that colonize by budding.
Ants will feast on a variety of foods, although some have more specialized tastes. Common foods eaten by ants are honeydew, sugars, protein, oils, seeds, plants and insects. Exterminators in Houston recommend keeping the home clean is the best defense against ants, as food particles in the home can attract them. Be sure to store foods in tightly sealed containers and remove any plants that can attract ants. Repair any sources of moisture in the home, including any leaks or areas of excessive condensation.
Inspection of the home for ants in the key to ridding your home of the insect. It’s important to locate the nest, as you can easily kill hundreds of individual ants but still have an intact colony. Look for signs of ants in your yard, in the form of small hills, and in ant trails throughout the home. They can be treated with baits, crack and crevice treatments, indoor space and surface treatments, outdoor barriers, and broadcast treatments. Although crack and crevice repair may provide a quick fix, it is not a long term option as it doesn’t reduce the population or affect the queen.
Ant baits are highly effective in treating an infestation. The bait is distributed throughout the nest and kills not only the foragers who brought it back, but the queen as well, preventing future reproduction. Baits comes in granule and liquid forms and are designed for use in an ant control station. The liquids are typically prepackaged for use as is, or are ready for use in a bait station. Gel baits are usually in syringe form and are intended for crack and crevice treatments.
Larger areas should be treated by broadcasting bait with a granular. Granular ant baits can be broadcast in the landscape surrounding the property and on lawns.
Prevention. The best approach to ant control in the home is cleanliness. Any type of food or food particles can attract and provide food for ants. Store food in tight containers. Remove plants that can attract ants or control aphids, whiteflies and other insects that produce honeydew. Reduce moisture sources, including condensation and leaks.
Inspection. Location of the nest is the key to control because ants are social insects. Large numbers of individual ants can be killed without ever solving the problem. Determine the kind of ant species. Most species of ants never enter buildings; others build their nests near buildings and forage indoors. Others usually nest indoors.
Keep a record of where ants have been seen. Some ants follow definite trails. If possible, follow these trails to the nest. Placement of attractive materials, such as jelly, oils, protein and other materials can attract large numbers of ants so they can be followed to their nest.
Often children like to watch ants and can be very useful in tracing their trails. Outdoors, ant nests can often be located by seeing ant hills on the ground. Some ants deposit earth on the soil surface when they construct the nest. Fire ants and certain other ants build conspicuous mounds. Nests may also be constructed next to or under the house foundation, under sidewalks, driveways and patios, or in decaying logs or tree trunks.
Indoors, ants may nest in walls, behind a baseboard or under the house. Often ant trails enter through a crack but the nest may be some distance away. Some ants may also nest in decayed or rotting wood in the house.
Chemical Control. Ants can be controlled with baits, crack and crevice treatments, indoor space and surface treatments, outdoor barrier and broadcast treatments, as well as void and attic treatments. However, methods that target individual trails of ants such as crack and crevice treatments and indoor space and surface treatments are usually a “quick fix” and ineffective in the long term because they do not significantly reduce the ant population and do not affect the queen.
Ant baits, however, were developed to exploit the foraging and nest mate feeding behaviors of ants. Bait treatments are effective for control of many ant species and are available in homeowner and professional product versions. Since ants rely heavily on trophallaxis (reciprocal feeding), the bait toxicant can be thoroughly distributed to the members of the colony, including the queen and brood. Baits are effective because they not only kill the foraging members of the colony, but they kill the queen(s) so no other ants are produced.
The ideal bait contains a slow-acting, non-repellent toxicant that is incorporated into a preferred food substrate. There are many types of baits on the market.
Both granules and liquids can be used in specially designed stations. Liquids are usually prepackaged for use or come as part of a system that uses a bait station. Gel baits usually come prepackaged in large syringes for crack and crevice treatments.
For large areas, the most efficient management method is to broadcast bait with a granular. The application rate for most granular bait labels is 1 to 1.5 lb. per acre. This rate translates into about 7 to 9 granules per square foot for most baits. Granular ant baits can be broadcast in the landscape around structures and in lawns. Most granular baits that are labeled for broadcast use are also labeled for individual mound or nest treatments.
Carpenter ants get their common name from their habit of hollowing out pieces of wood for nesting purposes, often resulting in structural damage. Carpenter ants are found throughout the United States.
The workers are polymorphic and large (1/8-1/2″ or 3.5-13 mm), but vary greatly in size. The queens are about 1/2-5/8″ (13-17 mm) long. They may be black, a combination of red and black, or completely red or brown. The carpenter ant’s antenna is 12-segmented, without a club. Their thorax lacks spines, with an evenly rounded profile. Their pedical is 1-segmented, and gaster with anal opening is round, surrounded by circlet of hairs. A stinger is absent. Workers are capable of emitting a strong formic acid odor.
Although carpenter ants do not sting, their bites can be quite painful, especially when they inject formic acid into the wound.
The only external indication of infestation other than the presence of workers and/or swarmers is the appearance of small openings or windows on the surface of the wood. Through these, the workers expel debris consisting of sawdust-like shavings or fragments of insulation and insect body parts. The accumulation of such debris below such holes is a good indication of an infestation.
Inside, the hollowed-out galleries follow the softer spring wood with numerous connections through the harder, dark summer wood. The gallery walls are smooth, with a sand-papered appearance. The active galleries are kept clean of debris.
Fire ants prefer to attack wood softened by fungus and are often associated with moisture problems.
Black Carpenter ant colonies are of moderate size, usually containing over 3,000 workers (up to 10-15,000 including satellite nests) when maturity is reached in about 3 to 6 years. The typical western carpenter ant mature colony contains about 10-20,000 workers, with large colonies having up to 100,000 workers.
Developmental time (egg to adult) for workers takes at least 60 days. Workers are polymorphic, with majors, minors and intermediates present. There is usually only one functional, wingless queen per colony. Swarmers are not produced until the colony is more than 2 years old. Swarmers appear from May until August in the east and from February through June in the west.
Most carpenter ant species establish their first nest in decayed wood and later expand or enlarge this into sound wood. Inside, nests are located in wood (preferably softened by fungus rot), in insulation or in wall voids. Workers are a nuisance when out searching for food but are destructive to timbers used for nesting activities. Outside, nests are typically located in rotting fence posts, stumps, old firewood, dead portions of standing trees, and under stones or fallen logs.
The presence of a carpenter ant nest is sometimes indicated by a rustling sound coming from wall voids or from wood where the colony is located. Otherwise, the emergence of swarmers indoors may be the first indication of an indoor colony.
Carpenter ants feed primarily on insect honeydew, plant and fruit juices, insects, and other anthropods. Inside they will also feed on sweets, eggs, meats, cakes, and grease.
The workers forage for distances of up to 300 feet (91.4m) from the nest. They typically enter buildings around door and window frames, eaves, plumbing and utility lines, and shrub and tree branches in contact with the building. Although some workers are active during the day, most activity is from dusk until dawn, with peak activity between 10 pm and 2 am. The trail between the parent and satellite nest is usually about 1/4-13/16″ (6-20 MM) wide and is kept clear of vegetation and debris. The trail usually follows contours but typically will cut across lawns.
The crazy ant, a native of Asia, has become a familiar species due to world trade, and is now well-established in many towns and cities along the Gulf Coast of the United States. Crazy ants get their common name because the workers often run in a haphazard, or “crazy” manner.
The workers range from 2.2 mm to 3 mm in length. Only one node is present on the pedicel. The thorax is not evenly rounded, and the antenna has 12 segments, lacking a club. The stalk of the antenna is very long — about twice the length of the head. The eyes are large and strongly convex.
Crazy ants have long and slender legs, allowing for rapid movements. Their dark brown to black bodies contain widely-dispersed long, coarse, grayish-white hairs.
The crazy ant is highly adaptable, and can live in both dry and moist environments. The colonies typically contain about 2,000 workers and have anywhere from 8 to 40 queens. A single colony consists of a number of satellite colonies connected by foraging trails. Crazy ant colonies are very mobile and can move to new locations when their environment become unfavorable. New colonies are formed through budding from the original colony. Winged reproductives swarm mainly during the summer months, but in very warm and moist climates, they swarm throughout the year.
Crazy ants are omnivorous, feeding on live and dead insects, seeds, fruits, honeydew and household foods. Their keen sense of smell enables them to locate food rapidly, and are attracted to honeydew-producing insects during the spring and the fall. They have a seasonal preference for high-protein diets during the summer months.
Despite their erratic movements, these ants form foraging trails, following structural guidelines such as sidewalks and the edge of buildings, and are capable of foraging for more than 100 feet. Crazy ants forage both outside and inside structures with relative ease. Common nesting sites outdoors include areas under heavy vegetation, landscape vegetation that grow against a solid surface, trash, rotting wood, potted plants and plant and tree cavities.
Outdoor colonies will readily forage indoors, while indoor colonies tend to nest inside wall voids and under items on the floor that have not been moved in a long time.
Fire ants live in colonies called mounds. It all begins with the “Nuptial” flight. Winged male fire ants take to the sky and form large masses. The winged females then fly into the swarm and mating occurs. Shortly thereafter, the males die and the fertile new “Queens” begin their search for the perfect nest area. Once found, she discards her now useless wings and begins to make a tunnel. She then lays about a dozen eggs, which hatch in 7 to 10 days.
She will feed and care for them for another week, at which time they will begin the task of building the mound. They will also care and feed their mother “queen” and she will continue to produce more eggs. Once the cycle has progressed, the queen can lay between 800 to 1000 eggs per day. The established mound really begins to grow rapidly from this point.
Dirt and sand taken from building the tunnels are deposited into a mound, sometimes reaching several feet in height. Most ants have one main tunnel leading into their nest. Not so with the fire ant. They can have hundreds of tunnel openings spreading over a very large area. Fire ants even have tunnels leading straight down to the water table. This is one reason why many fire ant mounds are so difficult to destroy.
A mature colony can have between 100,000 to 500,000 fire ants and many queens within the mound. After a rainy period, the worker ants prepare new openings for the winged breeder males, who will then fly out to form another mass.
The females then follow and another nuptial flight occurs. These new queens begin their journey and new colonies are formed. The queen ant can live over 7 years. Nuptial flights occur usually in spring and fall, just after a rainy period. Although fire ants can not survive extreme cold, the mild southern winter has little effect on them. When it gets too cold, they simply move deeper within their nest.
Fire Ant Attacks
The fire ant is a VERY aggressive ant. It will attack anything, no matter what its size, if it disturbs the mound or their feeding area. The attacks are carried out by many ants, sometimes numbering in the hundreds or more. The classic attack occurs when the fire ant mound is disturbed by accident. The unaware victim won’t even notice the attack until many ants have positioned themselves on the victims skin. Then, all at once the ants begin to bite with their powerful jaws, arching their backs and stabbing the victim with a stinger located in its rear abdomen.
Each ant can sting many times and each sting releases a toxin that is responsible for a burning pain, hence their name “fire ant”. A few stings are really not much of a problem, as not enough toxin is released to really do any real harm. But hundreds of ants, each stinging 8 or 9 times can be painful enough to make any victim look from then on “where thy foot lands”!!!
After being stung, the wound forms a red welt, about twice the size of a normal freckle. The next day, a white pustule (blister) forms. The most common symptom, other than the burning pain when the sting happens, is a mild itch. The itch usually lasts no more than a few days. If the pustule is popped or broken open, an infection and scaring can occur. It is best to just leave it alone and let nature do its work. Most of the time, no real damage is done other than a few new four-letter words learned and a renewed and long lasting respect for these midget sized warriors.
Odorous House Ant
Its name is derived from the pungent, rotten, coconut-like odor given off when the worker ant is crushed. It is a native species and is found throughout the United States.
Workers are monomorphic, about 1/16-1/8″ (2.4-3.25 mm) long. Their bodies are brown to black, with 12-segmented antenna, without a club. Their thorax lacks spines, with an unevenly rounded profile. Their pedicel is 1-segmented, with a small node concealed from view from above. A gaster with a slit-like anal opening lacks a circlet of hairs. A stinger is absent.
Colonies may be composed of several hundred to 100,000 ants usually with many queens. Developmental time is 34-83 days, varying with temperature during summer months, though it may take up to 6-7 months during the winter. Colonies typically produce 4-5 generations a year. The first swarmers appear from May to mid-July, with workers and queens living for several years. Individuals from different colonies are not hostile to one another and workers normally move along trails.
Inside, these ants usually construct their nests in wall voids especially around hot water pipes and heaters, in crevices around sinks and cupboards. These ants prefer sweets but also eat foods with high protein content and grease such as meats and cheese.
Outside they are usually found in larger nests, sometimes in exposed soil, but mostly under objects. Workers feed on insects, seek honeydew and plant secretions, and even feed on seeds. They are most likely to enter buildings when their honeydew supply is reduced such as during rainy weather or with leaf fall in the autumn.
When workers are alarmed, they run around in an erratic manner with their gasters or abdomens raised up.
Pharaoh ants are thought to be native to the African region. Their name resulted from the mistaken belief of Linnaeus that this ant was one of the plagues of Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs.
This ant is found throughout the United States. Pharaoh ants have been strongly implicated in the spread of various disease pathogens. Worker ants are about 1/16″ (1.5-2.0 mm) long. Their bodies are usually pale, varying from yellowish to reddish, with the abdomen often darker to blackish. Their antenna are 12-segmented, with a 3-segmented club. The thorax lacks spines, and its profile is unevenly rounded. The pedicel is 2-segmented. Stingers are present. Queens are about 1/8″ (4 mm) long, with or without wings, and slightly darker in color than workers. Males are about 1/16″ (2 mm), winged, black in color, and with straight antenna.
The colonies tend to be large with workers numbering in the thousands to several hundred-thousands. There are usually several hundred reproductive females present in such a colony. Although winged reproductives are produced, there are no flights of swarmers and mating takes place within the nest. New nests can be formed by “budding” with as few as 5 workers, 10 preadults, and one queen migrating from the original colony. Development time (egg to adult) for workers is about 38 days at 80 degrees F. Workers live about 9-10 weeks, with only up to 10% out foraging at any given time. Queens live about 4-12 months, and males die about 3-5 weeks after mating.
These ants are of particular importance in hospitals where they will enter wounds, enter in-use IV bottles, seek moisture out of sleeping infants, etc. More than a dozen pathogenic bacteria have been found on Pharaoh ants collected in hospitals.
Pharaoh ants nest in warm (80-86 degrees F/27-30 degrees C), humid areas near sources of food and/or water. Nests are usually located in inaccessible areas such as wall voids, behind baseboards, in furniture, under floors and between lines. The workers range widely from the nest in search of food and water, and establish trails to food and water sources. They commonly use electrical and telephone wires as a highway system to travel through walls and between floors. Pharaoh ants are common problems in commercial food handling establishments such as hotels, grocery stores, hospitals, and in apartment complexes.
Outside, these ants seem to be of little importance today. In the temperate/northern areas of the United States, they usually cannot survive outdoors year round.
They have a wide preference in food, ranging from syrups to fruits, pies, meats, and dead insects. They use carbohydrates primarily for maintenance whereas, protein is primarily required for larval development and egg production by the queens.