Ants are one of the most fascinating groups of insects. These social insects live in colonies which are usually found in the ground, but will enter buildings for shelter and/or food. Ants can become a real problem in your home because they feed on practically every kind of food, especially sweets and protein-containing substances. There are over 700 species of ants occurring in the United States and Canada with just over 25 species commonly infesting homes. There are an estimated 200 species of ants living in South Carolina. These are four of the most common species we see infesting people’s homes and lawns.
Fire ants get their name from their ability to inflict very painful bites and stings. Their head and thorax are yellowish red in color and their abdomen is black. They are typically ground-nesting ants but can sometimes nest in the wood or masonry of buildings, especially in areas near the soil or warmth such as fireplace hearths. When these ants nest outside of a house, it will usually be in the vicinity of the kitchen. When these ants nest outside of a house, they are often situated under stone and other covering objects, or in the soil at the base of a tree or shrub, or in clumps of grass.
Fire ants enter homes seeking food. They are attracted to electrical junction boxes of traffic signals, air conditioners, etc. When they mass around the electrical contact points, they cause the equipment to malfunction. The attraction comes from one or more ants getting an electrical shock by completing the circuit. The shock stimulates the release of the defensive or under-attack pheromone, which attracts more ants, etc. They will also nest in gas and water meter boxes and then follow the pipes into the building.
Fire ants prefer food with a high protein content but will feed on almost anything, plant or animal. They have been known to remove insulation from a phone and electrical wires, and to gnaw on clothing, especially if soiled. They usually feed on seeds, insects, young tree bark, honeydew and other sweets, preferring oily meats and nuts. Fire ant control is difficult and elimination from a single property is possible for up to one season, but scheduled inspections and pretreatment will be required because of periodic reinvasion.
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Argentine Ants are native to Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay and were probably introduced to New Orleans via coffee ships from Brazil in the late 1800’s. You can find these ants in colonies located in moist situations near a food source. These colonies can have a few hundred to several hundred thousand workers and many queens.
Argentine Ants, when found indoors, usually nest near a moisture source such as water pipes, sinks, potted plants, etc. The workers follow regular trails when foraging, and winged queens can sometimes be found among trailing workers. They prefer sucrose-containing sweets but will increase their intake of protein-containing foods such as prey during the spring and summer. When found outdoors, these ants typically live in shallow nests about 8” deep located in moist situations such as under boards and stones, beneath plants, along sidewalk, etc. When it is too wet or too dry for them to live outdoors they will invade buildings in large numbers.
Odorous House Ants
Odorous House Ants get their name from the strong odor they give off when crushed. This native species is found throughout the United States, including South Carolina. It is brown to black in color and the workers emit a pungent, coconut-like smell.
Odorous house ant colonies can be composed of several hundred to 100,000 ants, but usually number around 2,000 to 10,000 ants. Typically, there are many queens in a colony. The first swarmers begin appearing in May to mid-July. When found indoors these ants usually construct their nests near a moisture source such as wall voids especially around hot water pipes and heaters, in bathtubs, beneath commodes with leaking seals, in crevices around sinks, cupboards, etc., but also in wood damaged by termites. These ants prefer sweets but also eat foods with high protein content and grease such as meats and cheese. When found outdoors they are often found in the nest of larger ants, in exposed soil, but mostly under objects including stacks of lumber, firewood, bricks, etc.
They feed on live and dead insects, seek honeydew and plant secretions, and even feed on seeds. They are extremely fond of honeydew and are most likely to enter buildings when their supply is reduced, especially during rainy weather or with leaf fall in the autumn.
Carpenter ants get their name from their habit of hollowing out galleries in pieces of wood for nesting purposes. This nesting habit can easily result in structural damage. These ants are black with combinations of red and black or completely red or brown. They can be found throughout the United States, including South Carolina. Although they do not sting, their bites can be quite painful, especially when they inject formic acid into the wound.
External infestations can be identified by the appearance of small openings or windows on the surface of wood. Through these openings, the workers expel debris which consists of sawdust-like shavings and/or fragments of insulation and insect body parts. Inside, the galleries follow the softer spring wood with numerous connections through the harder/dark summer wood. Carpenter ants prefer to attack wood softened by fungus and are often associated with moisture problems.
Carpenter ant colonies are moderate in size, containing over 3,000 workers at full maturity. Most carpenter ant species establish their first nest in decayed wood and later expand or enlarge this into sound wood. Inside, nests are located in wood, in insulation, and/or in wall voids. Workers become a nuisance when out searching for food but are destructive to timbers utilized for nesting activities. Outside, nests are typically located in rotting fence posts, stumps, old firewood, dead portions of standing trees, and under stones or fallen logs.
Carpenter ants feed primarily on insect honeydew, plant and fruit juices, insects, and other arthropods. Inside, they will feed on sweets, eggs, meats, cakes, and grease. The workers will forage up to 300 feet from their nest and will enter buildings around door and window frames, eaves, plumbing and utilities lines, and shrub and tree branches in contact with the building.
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