Ants are social insects that operate in colonies with strict castes. You’ve probably seen an ant mound before—and the way some ants will swarm when a colony is disturbed.
How does a supercolony work?
Before we go into more detail on the Argentine ant, let’s take a minute to look at supercolonies. Supercolonies are different than most ant colonies. In most ant colonies, there is one queen at the top of the caste and the head of the colony. She is in charge of reproduction. Underneath the queen are the drones, fertile males who mate with the queen so she can lay eggs and then go on to die. The queen’s daughters are the worker ants. And finally, there is a combination of eggs, larvae, and pupae—commonly known as the brood. One of the most obvious differences between a regular any colony and a supercolony is a supercolony can include anywhere between a few thousand to several hundred thousand members.
You’re probably wondering how supercolonies are different. Supercolonies do not lack any of the traits that make up the usual ant colony. Instead, they are, well, super. Supercolonies are made up of many separate ant colonies working together—with each colony in a supercolony sometimes being referred to as a sub-colony. This cooperative behavior is in fact quite rare. In many ant species, one colony may actually exhibit aggressive, territorial behavior to ants from another colony and attack them if they encroach on their territory. Of the many thousands of ant species across the world, only a few are known to exhibit this supercolony behavior, including the Argentine ant. In addition to the Argentine ant, red fire ants are also able to create formidable supercolonies.
The Argentine ant and its supercolony
The Argentine ant is an invasive species. While it is native to Argentina and Brazil, it can now be found all over the world including in the United States. In fact, the Argentine ant is found somewhere on all of the world’s continents except Antarctica. In the US, the Argentine ant can be found several different states, including Florida, Texas, California, and North and South Carolina. The ant was thought to have come over in the late 1800s in coffee shipments. Like other ants in the United States, Argentine ants are small—usually only about 1/8th of an inch. They’re often shiny, and brown or black color. Argentine ants feed on aphid honeydew, as well as fruit and plant buds.
When operating as a supercolony, the Argentine ant is known to let multiple breeding queens operate within one colony. This ensures rapid growth and spreading of the Argentine ant supercolony. Another way that an Argentine ant supercolony will grow is through budding. This occurs when a fertile female leaves an existing colony, takes some workers and finds another location to start a sub-colony. Argentine ants will often look for shallow, sheltered areas to build colonies, such as in lumber or debris, in mulch, or behind bricks. Argentine ants are so adept at their ability to live cooperatively that they can create supercolonies that grow to be hundreds of miles in length! In fact, Argentine ants are able to set up new colonies with only 10 workers to one queen ant.
This supercolony behavior is a major reason why they can be such formidable pests. (They’re a particularly common and pesky pest in Southern California.) And while Argentine ants aren’t aggressive to one another, they will sometimes drive native ant species away. Finally, it’s worth noting that though these ants are mostly found outdoors, it is possible for them to invade homes.
Ants are a common nuisance, and sometimes one that is difficult to get rid of. If you are fighting a losing battle against ants—or don’t want to wage war all on your own—don’t wait to contact Terminix. A Terminix pest professional will be able to help you manage pests such as pesky ants.