Ants

Little Black Ant

ANTS ..ANTS …ANTS …they march their way into your home during the month of March.Little Black Ant

by:Margaret Siligato, PEST PRO for Narragansett Pest Control  (401)783-3933

Ants are the most recognizable insect in the world.  From the time children begin to walk and explore they are intrigued with the movement of the ants. Whether during a picnic in the woods, relaxing at the beach or camping in the mountains, we encounter ants and even expect to see them.  Most people do not realize that ants are beneficial to our environment:  they break down dead and dying trees, aerate our soil so plants can grow and help decompose organic matter that riches the soil.  Most ants in Rhode Island do not spread disease or cause allergic reactions however, people are disturbed when ants invade their home.  A common first reaction to seeing ants roaming in the kitchen is to reach for a household ant spray.  The application of sprays is not always the best way to control the ants, often the problem gets worse as ants seek out new areas of the home to invade.

Before beginning to rid ants from inside the home, it is important to first consider their behavior.  Ants are considered a social insect because their focus is on the survival of the colony, each ant with a specific duty.  Worker, soldier, queen and male ants will ensure that the family is fed, protected and will grow in size.  All ant types have a similar life cycle but their food choices and nesting habits are different.

1. INSPECTION:  Prior to spraying any ant nest or foraging ant, try to identify the ant species. We have several types in Rhode Island here are just a few:

a. Carpenter Ants can be black or reddish black and are generally larger than most ants.  They can establish large nests in dead trees or in wood timbers of the house. They do not digest the wood so residents will often find sawdust in the area of an active nest.

b. Odorous House Ants are black, small and feed on sweets, vegetables and fruits.  Heavy mulch around a structure attracts these ants and then they can easily enter homes when they crawl up the doorsteps or enter around window frames.

c. Pavement Ants are dark brown and often produce small mounds of soil at the entrance to their nests. They prefer greasy and protein foods and will enter homes in search of food or water. Heavy vegetation, sandy soils, mulch and leaf litter enable ants to hide and nest.  These ants can also be a nuisance around patios and swimming pools.Little Black Ant

 

2. LOCATE TRAILS AND NESTS: Since ants are very social and need to feed their family, they lay down trails with scents so other ants can find the food source.  These trails can be followed and residents can find the main nest to be eliminated.

3. CONTROL METHODS:

a. Ant Baits: These are low toxicity poisons that work slowly and allow the ants to bring the poison back to their nest and feed it to the rest of the colony.  This is the most effective method of removing a nest from a home.

b. Interior Sprays: These are products sprayed to baseboards that will quickly kill ants as they walk across the spray.  Inside sprays will not kill a nest in the wall; their use is limited to control of the ants foraging for food.

c. Exterior Sprays: These products are applied to the outside foundations of structures to deter ants from moving indoors and allow them to stay outside, where they are beneficial to the environment. This is a successful way to prevent ants from coming into the home.

Little Black Ant4. PREVENTION: Avoid conditions that attract ants into the home.

a. Keep grass short and cut back vegetation that is close to the house.

b. Avoid storing firewood inside the home or near the foundation of house.

c. Clean inside surfaces frequently and do not leave crumbs on the floor for ants to feed on.

d. Be observant and note where ants are entering the home and treat those areas with baits or liquid sprays.

 

Life History and Habits

Ants are social insects that live in a colony, usually consisting of thousands to tens of thousands of individuals. Within the colony are various ant “castes” of different forms and function. Colonies are overwhelmingly comprised of workers, wingless females that forage for food, construct, maintain and defend the nest, tend the young and do other necessary colony duties. Many kinds of ants produce workers that are all the same size (monomorphic); some, such as field ants, have workers that vary in size (polymorphic).

Each colony contains one or, sometimes, a few queens (Figure 1). These are fertile females that are larger than workers and dedicated to egg production. The minute eggs are taken from the queen and tended by the workers. Upon egg hatch, the pale-colored, legless larvae are fed and protected by the workers. When full-grown, ant larvae produce a smooth silken cocoon within which they pupate, ultimately emerging as an adult ant. Ant pupae are often seen when turning over a rock that exposes a colony and are sometimes mistakenly called “ant eggs”.

Figure 1: Ant pupae attending cocoons. Tending workers.

As colonies mature, winged forms of ants are also produced. These include females that are potential queens and slightly smaller males. These reproductives periodically leave the colony during swarming events, when they fly away en masse and attempt to mate. Such swarms usually occur during a sunny, calm period a few days following a heavy rainfall.

The swarms of winged ants being pushed out of the colony often attract attention and alarm, particularly when they emerge in a garage or other building. However, these ants never return to the colony after they have left on a mating flight. After they disperse, time the ants mate and the now fertilized females attempt to establish a new colony. The males die within a couple of days of leaving the colony following the swarming event.

Winged ants are sometimes mistaken for winged termites. However, ants can be easily distinguished by having a narrow constriction between the thorax and abdomen (“wasp waist”), antennae that are elbowed, and hindwings that are smaller than the forewings (Figures 5).

Most new ant colonies are developed by a queen following a mating flight. After being fertilized, she moves under a rock or some other crevice and sheds her wings. She then attempts to establish a new colony, largely living off the energy of her now unneeded flight muscles. Only a tiny fraction of the females are successful in their efforts and most perish without a new colony developing. If they are successful, the colonies will slowly grow, becoming full sized after several years.

Some kinds of ants can establish new colonies by producing multiple queens within a colony and then dividing (“budding”). This habit is particularly common with pharoah ants that may split colonies and scatter in response to disturbances, including use of some insecticides. Other types of ants, such as carpenter ants, may form “satellite colonies” that contain large numbers of foraging workers but lack a queen or developing young.

Worker ants forage constantly during the warmer months of the year. The workers lay down chemical trails as they forage that helps direct other workers to sources of food or water. Feeding habits of the various kinds of ants vary with sugary materials preferred by most species, at least for part of their diet. Others may favor greasy materials, seeds, or protein-rich foods such as living or dead insects. Feeding habits may shift during the season with changes in colony needs.pharoahants