Ants are fascinating creatures that are both intriguing and, at times, a nuisance in our homes. It is important to understand the different types of ants we may encounter and take appropriate measures to address them.

In this article, we will explore the common ants found in homes, particularly pavement ants, odorous house ants, and pharaoh ants. Additionally, we will delve into the more destructive carpenter ants and termites, highlighting their distinguishing characteristics and potential threats they pose.

Common Ants in the Home

Pavement ants, odorous house ants, and pharaoh ants, also known as sugar ants, are the most prevalent ant species found inside homes across the United States. These ants can be found in various colors, including dark brown, black, and pale yellowish-brown.

While they may be unwelcome guests, they do not pose significant threats and are primarily attracted to sugars, greases, and other kitchen compounds.

Carpenter ant guarding its nest. This ant is a major pest on houses. Shot with extreme high magnification.

Carpenter Ants: A Different Story

Carpenter ants, belonging to the genus Camponotus, are a different story altogether. These large ants, measuring up to ⅝ inch, can range in color from reddish-orange to black. If you spot ants with wings, it is likely that you are dealing with worker carpenter ants.

Unlike other species, carpenter ants pose a greater threat because they primarily feed on decaying wood. As they tunnel through a home’s wood framing in search of decaying wood, they can cause significant structural damage.

Signs of infestation include residual wood dust and debris near the foundation and sill plate of the home, which the ants remove as they burrow tunnels.

Termites: A Greater Danger

Termites (Isoptera spp.) are even more dangerous than ants. At first glance, termites and carpenter ants may appear similar in color, size, and the type of damage they inflict. However, there are key distinguishing features. Unlike carpenter ants, termites lack the small “waist” and segmented body commonly found in ants.

Termites have four equal-sized wings, whereas carpenter ants have shorter hind wings compared to their forewings. If you discover either of these pests, it is crucial to seek advice from an exterminator, as they can cause significant structural damage if left unchecked.

The small termite on decaying timber. The termite on the ground is searching for food to feed the larvae in the cavity.

Understanding Ants: Fascinating Facts

To truly appreciate ants, it is worthwhile to explore some fascinating facts about these remarkable creatures:

  • There are more than 10,000 known species of ants worldwide. They can be identified by the constriction between the abdomen and thorax, resembling a narrow waist. Their bodies are covered with a hard exoskeleton.
  • Most ants are red or black in color and range in length from 1/3″ to 1/2″. They have six legs, each with three joints. Ants possess large heads with compound eyes, elbowed antennae, and powerful jaws.
  • Within an ant colony, there are three types of adult ants: the queen, female ants, and male ants. Queen ants, the largest in the colony, have wings and can live up to 30 years. Female ants, known as workers or soldiers, care for the eggs, tend to the larvae, build and repair nests, forage for food, and protect the colony.
  • Male ants, also called drones, develop from unfertilized eggs and have wings. They are smaller than females and have longer antennae. Males emerge from the colony for just one day to mate and usually die 10-14 days after mating.
  • The ant life cycle consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The queen lays the eggs which hatch into larvae within a couple of days. The helpless larvae are then cared for and groomed by the worker ants until they enter the pupal stage. After a little over a week, adult ants emerge, and their metamorphosis is complete.

Ants are social insects that live in structured nest communities worldwide. Their habitat varies depending on the species, ranging from underground nests to mounds built at ground level, and even within wood structures or plants and trees. Ants construct their nests using soil and plant matter.

In colder regions, ants become inactive during the winter months, while in warmer temperatures and climates, they remain active year-round. It is worth noting that ants have been around for millions of years, with some species existing for approximately 100 million years. They survived a mass extinction event that wiped out many dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals around 65 million years ago.

Ants are incredibly cooperative creatures. They can come together in massive numbers, with as many as 50 million ants functioning as one highly organized and efficient colony. Despite their small size, ants possess remarkable strength. Their unique physiology enables them to lift objects around 20 times their own body weight.

Moreover, individual ants possess impressive cognitive abilities, with one tiny ant having as many as 250,000 brain cells. In fact, a colony of 40,000 ants collectively has the same number of brain cells as a human.

In conclusion, understanding the differences between common ants, carpenter ants, and termites is crucial for effective pest management. While common ants may be an annoyance, carpenter ants and termites can pose significant threats to the structure of our homes.

By familiarizing ourselves with their characteristics and seeking professional advice when necessary, we can protect our homes and coexist with these fascinating creatures that have roamed the Earth for millions of years.