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Typically, an ant has a large head and a slender, oval abdomen joined to the thorax, or midsection, by a small waist. In all ant there are either one or two finlike extensions running across the thin waist region. The antennae are always elbowed. There are two sets of jaws: the outer pair is used for carrying objects such as food and for digging, and the inner pair is used for chewing. Some species have a powerful sting at the tip of the abdomen.
There are more species of ants than all other social insects combined. They are also the most ecologically diverse group in terms of distribution, life history, feeding strategies, and specialized adaptations. As a group, ant consume a wide variety of food, but individual species usually tend to specialize: some are primarily carnivores, some gather seeds and grains, while others concentrate on sweets can be nectar and honeydew.
COMMON ANT SPECIES
Some ant species live in colonies that are supported by a single queen while others are supported by multiple queens. Although there are hundreds of known species of ants, there are relatively few types of ants that we commonly see as pests.
There are more than 12,000 species of ants all over the world.
An ant can lift 20 times its own body weight. If a second grader was as strong as an ant, she would be able to pick up a car!
Some queen ants can live for many years and have millions of babies!
Ants don’t have ears. Ants “hear” by feeling vibrations in the ground through their feet.
When ants fight, it is usually to the death!
When foraging, ants leave a pheromone trail so that they know where they’ve been.
Queen ant have wings, which they shed when they start a new nest.
Ants don’t have lungs. Oxygen enters through tiny holes all over the body and carbon dioxide leaves through the same holes.
When the queen of the colony dies, the colony can only survive a few months. Queens are rarely replaced and the workers are not able to reproduce.
Although ant are frustrating when they get into your home or when you’re having a picnic, ants do help the environment. They are social insects, which means they live in large colonies or groups. Depending on the species, ant colonies can consist of millions of ants.
KINDS OF ANTS IN COLONY
There are three kinds of ant in a colony: The queen, the female workers, and males. The queen and the males have wings, while the workers don’t have wings. The queen is the only ant that can lay eggs. The male ant’s job is to mate with future queen ant and they do not live very long afterwards. Once the queen grows to adulthood, she spends the rest of her life laying eggs! Depending on the species, a colony may have one queen or many queens.
Ant colonies also have soldier ant that protect the queen, defend the colony, gather or kill food, and attack enemy colonies in search for food and nesting space. If they defeat another ant colony, they take away eggs of the defeated ant colony. When the eggs hatch, the new ants become the “slave” ant for the colony. Some jobs of the colony include taking care of the eggs and babies, gathering food for the colony and building the anthills or mounds.
TYPES OF ANTS
With more than 8,800 described species, ants are the most ecologically diverse of all social insects. The following list includes some of the more common groups:
Harvester ant usually live in arid environments and feed primarily on seeds. Many species build elaborate underground nests that may reach depths of six feet or more.
Army ant are nomadic predators that do not have permanent nests. They include legionary ants which live in South America, and driver ants which live in Africa.
Slave-maker ant raid the colonies of other species and steal worker larvae and pupae. Once the slaves mature, they work for their “owners” until they die.
Leafcutter ants also known as parasol ants are gardeners. They chew up plant leaves into a pulp and use it to fertilize a fungus they grow for food in underground gardens.
Weaver ants build nests in trees. Workers interlink their bodies, pull branches into position, and tie the leaves together with silk spun by their larvae.
Honey-pot ants feed on honeydew excreted by aphids. Some workers engorge themselves with food reserves until their abdomens swell to the size of marbles.
Fire ant are an invasive species with a very painful sting. They respond aggressively to any disturbance of their nest.
Thief ant are very small. They raid the food supplies of larger ants and then escape through tunnels that are too small for the bigger ants to enter.
Carpenter ant build their nests in wood. Unlike termites, they do not eat the wood but they may still cause serious damage to homes and other wooden structures.
Argentine ants. This species of ant is native to Argentina and Brazil and was probably introduced in freight ships around the 1890’s. These ants can be found worldwide.
Argentine ants prefer sweet substances but will eat almost anything including meats, eggs, oils and fats. Also, when foraging for food, Argentine ants leave pheromone trails everywhere they go, instead of just from nest to food source. This habit ensures they do not waste time visiting the same area twice. While in other ant species worker ant are primarily responsible for gather food, Argentine queens also assist with foraging for food.
Habitat: Argentine ant colonies are located in wet environments near a food source. These colonies can grow to monumental size, sometimes covering entire habitats, such as an entire garden or your whole back yard.
Impact: Argentine ant do not pose a health threat, but they can contaminate food by leaving their bodily waste behind.
Eliminate standing water. Argentine ant, similar to mosquitoes and termites, are attracted to moisture.
Keep tree branches and other plants cut back from the house. Sometimes ant use these branches to get into your home.
Make sure that there are no cracks or little openings around the bottom of your house. Sometimes ant use these to get into your home.
Make sure that firewood and building materials are not stored next to your home. Argentine ant like to build nests in stacks of wood.
Carpenter ants get their name because they build their nests in wood. These insects can cause significant damage to your house. There are many types of carpenter ant throughout the world measuring in size from one-quarter inch (about the width of a pencil) for a worker carpenter ant to three-quarters of an inch (about the size of a quarter) for a queen carpenter ant.
Each colony is established by a single, fertilized queen. She starts her nest in a cavity in wood, where she raises her first brood of workers. She feeds them saliva and does not leave the nest or feed herself during this time.
When they are ready, those workers then get the job of gathering food to feed the next generation. Once mature, this first generation of worker ant work to increase the food supply for the colony. The colony population grows very rapidly. A colony can eventually produce 2,000 or more workers.
Diet: Carpenter ants do not eat the wood they remove during their nest-building activities, but deposit it outside entrances to the colony in small piles. The diet of carpenter ant includes living and dead insects, meat, fats and sugary foods of all kinds, including honeydew and nectar from plants.
Habitat: Carpenter ant build nests anywhere they can find water and moldy or damp wood, such as tree stumps, firewood or in the plants around your house. Carpenter ants also build nests inside, usually entering buildings through wet, damaged wood, although it isn’t uncommon for them to adapt to drier environments.
Impact: Carpenter ant don’t carry disease, but when building a nest inside a home, Carpenter ants dig smooth tunnels inside the wood. These tunnels weaken the wood and potentially damage the wood that keeps the house standing. This kind of damage can be very expensive to fix.
Eliminate all standing water, as this could attract carpenter ants.
Ensure that tree branches and plants are not touching your property, as ant can use them to reach your home.
Seal any cracks or openings near the bottom of your home.
Keep building materials and firewood away from the home, as ant may use this for building a nest.
ODOROUS HOUSE ANTS
This ant gets its name from the strong, rotten coconut-like smells it gives off when crushed and the fact that they commonly nest in or around houses. These ants are very social, living in colonies of up to 100,000 members.
Diet: Odorous house ants like to eat dead insects and sugary sweets, especially melon.
Habitat: Typically living for several years, these ants commonly make their homes in exposed soil, under stones, logs, mulch, debris and other items. They will also nest in wall and floor cracks.
Impact: Odorous house ants do not pose a health threat, but they can contaminate food by leaving waste behind.
Since ants are attracted to moisture, eliminate all standing water near your property.
Ants can use tree branches to enter your home. Cut back any plants that may be touching your property.
Seal cracks and other openings around the bottom of your property to prevent ants from using it to enter your home.
Ants will often use building materials or firewood to create nests.
Although these ants can live inside, they get their name because they make their nests in or under cracks in pavement. They are typically found in some parts of the world. Pavement ant colonies average 3,000 to 4,000 members and have several queens.
Diet: These ants will eat almost anything, including insects, grease, seeds, honeydew, honey, bread, meats, nuts and cheese.
Habitat: This ant gets its name because it most commonly nests in soil next to and beneath slabs, sidewalks, patios, and driveways. Indoors, pavement ants nest under a building’s foundation and within hollow foundation walls.
Impact: Pavement ants do not pose a health threat, but they can contaminate food by leaving waste behind.
Eliminate all standing water near the home, as ants (as well as other insects like mosquitoes and termites), are attracted to moisture.
Cut back plants and tree branches that may be touching the home.
Seal any cracks or openings that ants may be using to enter the home.
Ants may use firewood and building materials to build nests. Be sure to keep these sorts of materials away from the home.
RED IMPORTED FIRE ANTS
Red imported fire ants are more aggressive than other ant species and have a painful sting. These ants and their telltale mound nests should be actively avoided. Red imported fire ants can adapt to many climates and conditions in and around their environment. For example, if the colony senses increased water levels in their nests, they will come together and form a huge ball or raft that is able to float on the water!
Diet: They primarily feed on vegetation.
Habitat: Red imported fire ants will build their nests in mounds of soil outdoors, in landscape areas or near a building’s foundation. They occasionally enter buildings through holes or cracks in walls and foundations.
Impact: The sting of a red imported fire ant is painful and often results in a raised welt that becomes a white blister. Persons allergic to insect stings will react more severely. They are frustrating, not only because of the physical pain they can inflict, but because their mound-building activity can damage plant roots and lead to loss of crops.
Since ants are attracted to moisture, eliminate standing water near the home.
Cut back plants, including tree branches, that ants may use to reach your property.
Ants can use cracks and openings to enter the home. Seal any sort of opening around the bottom of your property.
Ants will sometimes use building materials and firewood to build nests. Periodically inspect these materials, and if possible, keep them away from the home.
Swarming can take place at any time of the year.
Winged adults seldom fly so rarely seen. Wings are soon lost after mating.
Well defined trails are laid which are often associated with heating systems. Feeds indoors on high protein foods, meat, fats, blood, dead insects, etc.
Swarming characteristics. New colonies are often formed through nests that have been disturbed e.g., as a result of insecticide spray treatments.
Each queen produces up to 3,500 eggs in its lifetime.
Nest locations, deep seated in cavities in heated buildings. Often found in hospitals. Associated with humid conditions. Colonies can range from a few dozen to 300,000 individuals.