The Little Known Medical Issues Associated With Common Household Ant Pests

Ants are the most commonly encountered insects within homes and buildings, and along with bed bugs, flies and cockroaches, ants are the most commonly controlled insect pests. The most commonly managed ant pests that inhabit all areas of New York State include pavement ants, odorous house ants, black carpenter ants, red carpenter ants, and Pharaoh ants. More than 700 ant species have been documented as inhabiting the United States, but the vast majority of these species are not categorized as household pests.

While most ants are nothing more than a nuisance to humans when they invade homes, some are dangerous, particularly red-imported fire ants and other invasive ant pests. Luckily, red-imported fire ants cannot be found in New York state, but one dangerous non-native ant species, Pachycondyla (Brachyponera) chinensis has been expanding its habitat range in the eastern US in recent years. This species is more commonly known as the “Asian needle ant,” and it has become a common pest of homes in southern New York state. These ants are known for their medically hazardous and even deadly stings, but luckily, no fatalities related to this species have been reported in the US. The European fire ant is the only other ant pest of homes in New York that experts consider to be medically significant on account of their venomous stings. While acrobat ants and the pavement ants are stinging pests that commonly infest homes in New York, they are medically harmless.

Unfortunately, it is now becoming clear that some common ant pests of homes may also contaminate stored food items. This occurs when the body of workers ants become covered in disease-causing microorganisms that they then spread to stored foods within pantries and kitchen cupboards. Ants in New York state that are known to contaminate human foods with pathogens include odorous house ants, Pharaoh ants, thief ants. In fact, Pharaoh ants and thief ants have been added to the Food and Drug Administration’s official list of insects that are known to spread food-borne pathogens. This list is now known as the “dirty 22,” and it also includes German, American, and Oriental cockroaches and house flies.

Have you ever found insect pests in your food?