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How to Identify Different Ant Types

5/20/2015

Ants. They’re everywhere, hiding in the shadows in your kitchen cupboards or marching proudly across your picnic blanket. With more than 700 types of ant species in the United States alone, it’s no wonder you can’t escape them. Thankfully there are many ways to prevent ant infestations, one being ant identification. Identifying the type of ant helps determine the course of action needed to eliminate the infestation.

Do ants have the same body characteristics?

Ants have three main body regions: the head, thorax and gaster (abdomen). What distinguishes ants from other insects are the connecting segments between the thorax and the gaster. These are called pedicils.

Don’t ants have stingers?

Some do, with the most common stinging ant being the red imported fire ant. Fire ants are usually found in the South, from Maryland to Texas, as well as California and New Mexico. They’re dark reddish brown and range in size from one-eighth to three-eighth of an inch long. They build their nests in mounds outdoors and enter homes through holes or cracks. Fire ants pack a painful sting, especially when their nest is disturbed, and can cause severe reactions in those with allergies.

Which ants cause the most property damage?

The carpenter ant can cause severe damage to your property if left untreated. They don’t consume wood, as termites do, but they tunnel through wood to build their nests, wreaking havoc along the way. Carpenter ants are found throughout the United States and are reddish black, solid black or dark brown in color and about five-eighths of an inch long.

Some ants are just a nuisance, right?

When there’s an ant infestation, ants are more than just a nuisance and should be avoided. Pavements ants, for example, don’t pose a major health risk, but they can contaminate your food. Pavement ants are darkish brown to black in color and are one-eighth of an inch long. They can be found throughout the United States and make their nests alongside pavement, sidewalks and under stones and concrete pads.

Similar to pavement ants, odorous house ants don’t cause a public health risk or damage to your home, but they can contaminate food. Odorous house ants are found throughout the United States and are dark brown to black in color. These ants are one-sixteenth to one-eighth of an inch in length and make their nests in exposed soil. When crushed, odorous house ants give off an odor similar to that of rotten coconut, hence their name.

The crazy ant is probably the biggest nuisance of the ant species. Crazy ants get their name from their fast, erratic running behavior, which they engage in when they’re searching for food. Their key identifiers are their antennae and legs, which are very long in relation to their bodies. They are dark brown to black in color with a gray sheen and range from one-sixteenth to one-eighth of an inch in length. Crazy ants typically infest buildings, especially in warmer, more humid areas of the United States, but their nests can be found both indoors and outdoors. They don’t pose a health threat, but they’re very difficult to treat once they gain entry into a structure.1

The ants I see around my home aren’t like the ones you’ve described. What should I do?

With more than 700 species in the United States, ant identification can be quite a challenge. Start by looking for trails. Ants very rarely travel alone and are usually spotted when they’re hunting as a colony along paths that have been well established. When you’ve found a trail, look at the sizes of the ants. Are they identical or do they vary in size? Also observe when the ants are active—during the day or at night? Look for nests at the end of trails—especially in areas with soil. Soil nests have distinct shapes or patterns depending on the ant species. Also try to identify the type of food they’re feeding on.2 

It’s the tiny things that usually go unnoticed that are key to ant identification. Your best bet? Contact a Terminix® specialist to help with ant identification and protection.