Ants are one of the most common nuisance pests in the United States. Although in warmer climates (like the southern US) they can be active year-round, ants are prevalent in the summer months and will swarm in overwhelming numbers. Even though ants rarely transmit diseases, they can contaminate food, inflict painful bites and stings, and cause structural damage to your home. They are often found in kitchens and bathrooms as these have abundant sources of food and water they need. Ants can be extremely difficult to get rid of once they make their way into your home. There are several types of ants that are common in our area. Identification of the proper ant species is critical for appropriate treatment and prevention. Here are 5 of the most common species, as well as tips on how to prevent ants.
Carpenter ants are named for their ability to chew through wood and create tunnels (also known as galleries) through it. These ants can be red, black, brown, or a combination of these colors. They range from 1/2″ to 5/8″ in length and can bite with their powerful jaws. They don’t actually eat the wood; instead they chew through it, tunneling to build their nests. This can cause significant structural damage to your home. Other than spotting a worker or swarming carpenter ant, the only visible sign of their presence is the appearance of small holes or openings on the surface of wood structures. The ants use these holes to expel debris as they tunnel through the wood.
Odorous House Ants
Odorous house ants are named for the rotten coconut smell they emit when they are crushed. These brown or black ants are found nesting near moisture sources or in termite damaged wood. They range from 1/16″ to 1/8″ in length. They are known to use branches and plants touching homes to access them. Indoors they are often found near hot water heaters, under leaky fixtures, and under stacks of firewood. They will also move their nests every 3 months or so in response to rain. They can contaminate food but don’t pose a significant health risk to humans. They like to eat sweets, especially honeydew melon.
Little Black Ants
Little black ants are named for their appearance. While usually jet black in color, they can actually range from dark brown to black. They are about 1/16″ in length. They are commonly found in wooded areas and can often be found under rocks, in rotting logs, and under piles of lumber or brick. Once indoors, they can be found nesting in woodwork, wall voids, decaying wood, masonry, and behind facades. Because of their small nest sizes, they can be difficult to locate and eliminate. Little black ants are scavengers and will eat a variety of sugary or fatty foods like fruit, grease, candy, oil, and meat). These swarming ants are common from June to August.
Pavement ants are named for their tendency to make their nests under pavement cracks. These dark brown to black ants are about 1/8″ in length. They are attracted to moisture and most often build their nests in ground level masonry, walls, insulation and under floors. Outdoors they will nest under stones, pavement cracks, and next to buildings. Pavement ants will eat anything and will forage up to 30 feet to find food. They can contaminate food but do not pose a significant health risk.
Red Imported Fire Ants
Red imported fire ants (RIFA) are named for their color and ability to inflict painful bites and stings. They are dark reddish brown in color and range from 1/8″ to 3/8″ in length. They build large mound nests that are flat and irregular in shape and can be up to 6 inches tall and 1 to 2 feet in diameter. These mounds can damage the roots of plants. RIFAs are common in the southern United States. They are an invasive species and often build their nests near structural foundations. They are commonly introduced to new areas through potted plants, trees, and shrubs. They access homes and buildings by crawling through cracks and crevices or by accessing HVAC systems and AC units. They can be aggressive and will sting when disturbed, leaving a painful red welt that develops a white pustule. Those who are allergic to their stings can have significant health risks.
Regardless of the species, ants can be a nuisance and extremely difficult to control. Preventing them from getting into your home is the first critical step in ant control. Here are 4 tips to prevent ants from taking over your home.
- Eliminate Nests: Prevent ants from breeding and nesting in and around your home by removing excess vegetation, old landscaping materials, and yard debris; move mulch and landscape timbers at least 1 to 2 feet from foundations. Keep ground cover plants thinned out or eliminate them all together.
- Eliminate Water: Eliminate moisture sources by eliminating standing water; repairing leaky pipes and faucets; routinely checking under sinks for moisture; and using dehumidifiers in basements, crawlspaces and attics.
- Eliminate Food: The main reason ants come indoors is in search of food. Get rid of food sources by keeping your kitchen tidy; wipe counter tops daily and clean up spills and crumbs immediately; store food in sealed containers; keep ripe fruit in the fridge; wipe down sticky jars before storing them; use trashcans with lids; empty the garbage regularly; don’t leave food and dishes out overnight; clean appliances regularly; and keep grills and patios cleaned frequently, as well.
- Eliminate Access: If ants can’t access your home they can’t take it over. Eliminate access points by inspecting the outside of your home routinely; trimming trees and bushes away from the sides of your house; and sealing cracks and crevices with silicone caulk, especially around utility pipes.
If you suspect you have an ant problem, contact a professional pest control company who can help identify the type of ant you are dealing with and provide you with the appropriate treatment and prevention techniques for your home.