Types of House Ants
Several ant species in Maryland and Virginia can make their way into your house when they’re looking for food. If you see little black bugs running around your kitchen, you may be wondering if these pests are ants, termites or another insect. This ant identification guide will help you figure out the different types of ants and how to prevent them.
What Are Ants?
Ants are strong, intelligent insects that live in colonies and work together to gather food. They can be a nuisance if they try to steal crumbs from your kitchen, and their parade marching on your countertops and floors may be a little unsettling. Beside making your house feel messy, certain species can also contaminate your food and destroy your property’s structural integrity.
If you believe you have ants in your home, check the insects and see if they have these qualities:
- Distinct body segments: As insects, ants have three primary body regions — the head, thorax and abdomen — that are each a different shape and size.
- Long antennae: Ants have two long antennae which have bends, called elbows, in the middle. Some species have clubs, which are dilated segments at the end of each antenna.
- Heavy lifting: Since ants typically work together, they can lift items that are 10 times their weight. You may find them carrying objects along the floor or counter, like pieces of cereal or berries.
- Six legs: Like all insects, ants have six legs, three on each side of their bodies. Ant legs have an adhesive pad and claws that help them climb walls and counters.
Contact your local pest control specialist if you aren’t sure what kind of insects you have in your living space. Since ants are small, it may be challenging to identify their features without touching and examining them. An expert can look at their marching or flying patterns to determine what kind of pests have infested your house.
How Many Types of Ants Are There?
There are more than 12,000 different species of ants around the world, but only a few of them are typical inside a house. Every ant colony features three castes — queens, males and workers. Queens are the fertile females that repopulate the community, mating with males during the swarming process. Female workers gather food, take care of the nest, feed larvae and protect the colony.
How to Spot Ants in the Home
You may be able to see dead or slow-moving ants in your household if you have an infestation. They rarely travel alone, but if they do, that means they’re not far from their colony. If you see an ant by itself, search the nearby area for similar bugs, or watch them go back into hiding. Most of the time, they’ll go outside, but you’ll want to deal with them if they’re inside.
Beside noticing ants as they march around the house, you could also look for these signs to find out if you have an ant infestation in your living space:
- Moisture: These insects usually come into your home when searching for food and water. If you have leaky pipes or areas with lots of condensation, you might be attracting house ants. Check your bathroom, kitchen and laundry room for drips and leaks.
- Wood shavings: Certain species shred wood as they make nests in your living space. Check the beams in your attic or cellar for signs of wood deterioration.
- Swarming bugs: When ants swarm, that usually means there’s a nest inside. Flying ants have a similar appearance to termites, so it’s easy to confuse the two. Termites have longer wings than ants, and ants have curved antennae.
Types of House Ants
The most common house ants are odorous house ants, carpenter ants, pavement ants and Argentine ants. Each of these species looks and acts differently, so you should learn about their characteristics to find out which ones are inside your property.
1. Odorous House Ants
Odorous house ants release an unpleasant smell similar to rotten coconuts or blue cheese when crushed. They are native to the United States and are prevalent in all regions, including Virginia and Washington, D.C. Since they enjoy eating sweets, they’ll swarm toward what you keep in your pantry. You may find them running along the floorboards or on counters.
Here are the physical qualities of odorous house ants:
- Size: Odorous house ants are generally about 1/8 of an inch in length. Female worker ants are all one size.
- Shape: Their body is oval and segmented, and the thorax is uneven.
- Antennae: The antennae of odorous house ants feature 12 segments without antennal clubs.
- Color: The color of their bodies ranges from black to dark brown.
- Mandibles: House ants have strong jaws with two prominent teeth and several smaller teeth.
Outdoors, house ants like to make their nest under stones and mulch. These ants will crawl through cracks in the foundation or openings in the home if they nest outside. If they invade your living space, they tend to build their nests near warm, moist areas.
While they don’t cause any structural damage or health threats to humans, their bodily waste can contaminate food. The unpleasant odor they produce could also affect the air quality of your house.
2. Carpenter Ants
Carpenter ants are widespread throughout the United States, and they tend to build their nests in wood. Most of the time, they’ll make their homes in trees or firewood outside of your property, but damaged or decaying wood inside of your home could attract them. If you have a carpenter ant infestation, you may find them in the framing of your doors or your basement or attic.
You can recognize carpenter ants by these features:
- Length: Carpenter ants are one of the longest ants in the United States, measuring between 1/4 and 1/2 of an inch. Each of the workers in this species varies in size.
- Shape: They are generally oval, with a curved, smooth thorax and a single pedicel.
- Color: These ants can take on various shades of colors ranging from red to black.
- Mandibles: The strong jaws of the worker ants allow them to excavate wood so they can make their nests.
These types of house ants are typically nocturnal, so you probably won’t see them during the day. If you notice carpenter ants in your living space, you should deal with them immediately to prevent costly damage to your property. While they aren’t harmful to humans, they might ruin the structural integrity of your home. As they make nests inside residential wood, the material weakens and could affect your property’s foundation.
3. Pavement Ants
Pavement ants make nests in your concrete sidewalk or driveway, but they can travel inside your property through the foundation of the house. They mostly make their habitat in the eastern region of the United States. Look for insects with these qualities to find out if you have these ants in your living space:
- Size: The colony workers are relatively small in length, measuring at around 1/8 of an inch. Males and queens can grow to as long as 3/16 of an inch.
- Shape: They are oval and segmented, with three distinct regions — the head, thorax and abdomen. The males of this species also have wings.
- Color: Pavement ants are usually a darker color, ranging from dark brown to black. Their appendages are lighter than the rest of their bodies, and they have parallel lines running on their head and thorax.
- Antennae: The antennae of these ants are composed of 12 segments with a three-segmented club.
Pavement ants are attracted to the proteins and sweets inside your home, so they’ll sneak through cracks in your foundation or basement floors to try to find food. They also feed on dead insects and leftover pet food.
These insects don’t damage the structure of your home or cause physical harm, but they can contaminate food through their bodily waste. Outdoors, they could also live deep under the soil and become hard for homeowners to control.
4. Argentine Ants
Argentine ants are native to Argentina and Brazil, but they made their way to the United States through trading over the years. Today, they are common in the southern region of the United States and several states across the northern region, including Maryland. They tend to nest outside, but they’ll infest a kitchen indoors if they find crumbs or sugar there.
You can recognize Argentine ants by these qualities:
- Size: Argentine ants typically are 1/8 of an inch in length.
- Shape: Their bodies are oval, and the thorax is uneven on one side.
- Color: The bodies of these ants are generally shiny, and their colors range from dark brown to black.
This species enjoys sweets, oils and proteins, so they tend to attack your home’s food supply. Argentine ants might also find a cozy home in moist areas like mulch or under debris on the ground outside of your home.
While they don’t damage your property or make marks on your skin, they can contaminate food by leaving behind their bodily waste. They also tend to form large supercolonies that can extend to several properties, so you should deal with them before they spread if you notice them on your property.
What Attracts Ants in Your House?
Most of the time, ants like to stay outside and burrow in warm soil or underground materials. They’ll start to look inside your home to find water and food or expand their colony. You may see a stray ant walking on your countertop every once in a while, but you should be concerned if you see a large group of them at once.
Here is some of what causes ants in the house:
- Food: You may have an ant problem because you have uncovered food or crumbs on your kitchen counters. Typically, one of the colony workers will search an area for food. If it finds something sweet for the colony to enjoy, the ant will release pheromones as they make the trek back home to tell the others where to go. After that, several workers will infiltrate the area to bring the food back to the colony.
- Moisture: Beside food, these insects need water to survive. While soil and mulch usually provide the moisture they need, they could end up wandering through your living area if there’s water damage in your kitchen, bathroom or basement.
- Rotten wood: Carpenter ants are attracted to wood decay, especially in your basement or attic. This damage is usually the result of mold or mildew buildup in a neglected area of the house. If you see wood shavings throughout your home and suspect that you have a carpenter ant infestation, check the wooden joists and other parts of your property where wood decay could be present.
How Can I Get Rid of Ants?
Follow these tips for how to get rid of odorous house ants and other species:
- Identify the ant species: The method for getting rid of odorous house ants is different for how you would get rid of carpenter ants. Figure out what kind of ant you have in your living space so you can eliminate it for good.
- Minimize moist areas: Do your best to remove excess moisture in and around your house. Get rid of standing water outside and fix leaking water pipes to prevent moisture buildup. Routinely inspect the pipes under sinks and tighten them as necessary.
- Check your greenery: Most ants like to make their nests in soil. Inside the home, regularly check indoor potted plants for any insects. Outdoors, cut back tree branches and plants away from your house. Keep firewood away from your property so ants don’t wander inside after nesting in the wood. You can also use crushed rock or stone instead of mulch or pine straw around your house to repel ants from your living space.
- Get rid of food: If ants detect food in your kitchen or pantry, they’ll create a trail from their colony to the food source. Clean up spills immediately and store food in the fridge or airtight containers. Clean the inside and outside of your trash cans and pet bowls.
- Remove access into the house: Since ants are small, they can fit in the cracks in your home. To prevent them from coming into your living space, seal up all holes and openings around your windows, doors and walls. You should also have your foundation inspected if you think it has cracks.
- Call a pest control specialist: Dealing with large populations of ants can be complicated because they each have different habits and behaviors. The best option for dealing with these pests is to call an expert to inspect your living space. You have to make sure you get rid of all the ants so you don’t repopulate the area. Professionals know where they like to hide and can target the colony’s habitat.
Contact Senate Termite and Pest Control to Get Rid of the Ants in Your Home
If you’re concerned about ants in or around your house in Maryland or Virginia, contact Senate Termite and Pest Control or call us at 1-800-433-9409 to schedule a visit.