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Ant Facts, Identification, and Control

Scientific Order: Hymenoptera

Family: Formicidae

Appearance

There are over 12,000 described species of ants, but while there are several thousand species, their anatomies do consist of the same general characteristics.

  • Size: Ants range between 3/100 of an inch and 2 inches in length and have bodies that consist of three sections: the head, thorax, and abdomen.

  • Color: Most ants are black or red.

Behavior and Diet

Some of the ant’s food preferences are dead insects, dead animals, plants and pest species. They are also attracted to certain food debris like sweets, grease, fats, cake, fruit juice, syrups, eggs, sugar, honey, meat and pet food.

Larvae serve an important purpose in the ant colony: adult ants cannot eat solid foods, but larvae can process solids into liquids. When fed, the larvae will regurgitate its food into the “social stomach” so the adult ants can feed when necessary.

Reproduction

Ants are social insects with 3 distinct castes: workers, queens and males. Queens live the longest – anywhere from 1-30 years – and the colony will survive through her lifetime. The workers will generally live 1-3 years, while the males have the shortest lives, sometimes only a few weeks.

Most ants mate in swarms (with some exceptions). These swarms tend to happen during the warmer months of the year – between spring and fall – at which time winged males, followed by the winged reproductive females leave their colony’s nest and go out to mate. The females will follow a pheromone emitted by the male.

Other characteristics

  • Some ants have wings, others do not, and others start out with wings and eventually lose them.

  • Ants have a head characterized by a pair of strong jaws, known as mandibles, which are helpful in carrying food, defense, and manipulating or moving objects for survival or social needs.

  • There is also a pair of compound eyes, which are made up of a number of tiny interconnected lenses. Their eyes are good for small movement but not for high resolution or distant traveling. Ocelli are light detecting organs on the head that use polarized light from the sun to aid in direction.

  • Every ant has six legs and all six are attached to this section of the body. There is a hooked claw at the end of each leg. These claws are useful in hanging or climbing.

  • There are a number of more common ant subspecies and those include carpenter ants (larger than other ants, black, common in the Northeast), pharaoh ants (very small, light tan), pavement ants (brown or black with pale legs, small), odorous ants (brown or black, very smelly), and red imported fire ants (red, with larger than usual queens).

Signs of an Ant Infestation

The most common signs of an ant infestation is... seeing live ants. That aside, they also leave behind visible ant pathways and nests that look like small piles of soil, garbage, or dirt. 

Treatment and Prevention

In general, the main approach you should take when trying to find the source of an infestation is to follow the ants back to their nest and then attempt to destroy the nest and the entire colony, including the queen.

If the infestation is occurring outside on the lawn, there are certain lawn chemicals that can be applied for control. There are also other types of spot treatments or chemical treatments that can be used. No matter which treatment method is picked be sure to read the labels carefully and apply and keep them out of the reach of children.

The best way to get rid of ants though is to reduce the chances of them coming into your structure or lawns in the first place. There are several things that can be done to eliminate the resources that ants are in search of and cause them to nest nearby:

  • Keep the home clean

  • Throw away or store uneaten foods

  • Repair dripping faucets or leaks

  • Keep mulch and firewood away from the house

  • Use a barrier treatment around the exterior of the property

  • Weatherstrip and caulk around cracks and opening into the premises

  • Clean out the gutters on a regular basis

  • Use traps and baits to catch ants and pinpoint sites of possible infestations

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