Identification and Life Cycle
The three more common types of ants are Pharaoh Ants (Monomorium pharaonis), Odorous House Ants (Tapinoma sessile), and Pavement Ants. (Tetramoium caespitum).
The Pharaoh ant is very small in size, approximately 1/16 – inch long, light yellow to reddish-brown in color, almost transparent, with the hind portion above its abdomen a darker color.
The Odorous House ant is small, about 1/16 to 1/8 –inches long, brown to black in color with 12 segments to its antennae. When crushed, in defense these ants will emit an unpleasent odor similar to a rotten coconut.
The Pavement ant is similar in size to the odourous house ant. It’s 1/16 to 1/8 –inches long and brown to black in color. It can be identified by its narrow, parallel furrows in the head and thorax.
An ant’s life cycle consist of 4 stages; egg, larva, pupa and adult. Fertilized eggs produce female ants (queens, workers, or soldiers) and unfertilized eggs produce male ants. The entire life cycle usually lasts from 6 to 10 weeks. It is the wingless ants that are more commonly seen foraging for food, maintaing the nest or defending it.
These three species can continually produce new nests through a process called “budding”. When a colony gets too large, or is under stress, a small group usually consisting of workers, pre-adults and a single queen will move out to build a new colony.
Habits and Damage
Ants are social insects that live in colonies that when indoors will commonly construct nests in wall and cabinet voids, floor cracks, crevices around sinks and around hot water pipes. A common sign of ant activity are trailing ant patterns along walls or floors, which are scented trails left by the ants from their nest to a food source.
Pharaoh ants typically nest indoors near a source of moisture such as a kitchen or bathroom. They can be a particular problem in hospitals, apartment dwellings, healthcare facilities, hotels, and food establishments because they pose a health risk due to pathogenic organisms transmitted as they feed in unhygienic places. They can infest items in your home or sterile supplies in hospitals by transmitting bacteria such as Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Salmonella. They eat all types of food, including sweet foods and drinks, dead insects, meat, cheese, fats, toothpaste, and soap. An individual colony may contain 1,000 to 2,700 ants.
Odorous ants usually construct their nests in exposed soil such as under walk stones, logs, bricks and mulch. They can be seen indoors during rainy weather after the rain washes away their food supply of honeydew. Honeydew is produced by plant sap from aphids and mealybugs. They also eat dead insects and sugary sweets, especially melon. A typical colony size can include over 10,000 ants.
Pavement ants nest outdoors in soil beneath pavement stones, sidewalks, logs, patios and driveways. Colonies are easy to find due to the piles soil over the top of the nest. They are not aggressive, but can sting and bite if disturbed. They can be a nuisance eating almost anything such as grease, seeds, meats, sweets, nuts, cheese and dead insects. A typical colony size can consist of 3,000 to 5,000 ants.
Prevention and Management
The best strategy for ant control is to follow good sanitation practices. An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program can help maintain an ant-free environment.
It is important to recognize and alter conditions in and around a home or building to reduce an ant’s environmental need for food and water.
It is not recommended to self-treat or use insecticide sprays to treat pharaoh ants, call a professional. A colony will disperse if a toxic substance disturbs it, making it harder to find them to achieve control.
The following steps can be taken to help prevent or reduce a potential problem with ants.
- Correct any moisture problems around the structure such as water leaks in roof, walls and plumbing fixtures.
- Cut back tree limbs and shrubbery in contact with the roof or siding of the structure as well as removing tree stumps and dead trees.
- Remove any wood in contact with the ground. Wood should not be in contact with the soil.
- Provide a dry vegetation border such as gravel (up to 3’) around the foundation. This will discourage nesting areas for ants and other pests.
- Clean up sugary spills, dead insects, soda & greasy items on counters and floors.
- Seal all cracks in foundations and around utility pipes and wires that can provide entry indoors.
- Seal all cracks and crevices in kitchens and bathrooms.
- Do not leave pet food bowls out overnight.