AT A GLANCE
Rarely, if ever, damage plants
"Farm" aphids and other sap-sucking insects for the honeydew they produce
Colonies spend the winter underground in garden litter, or some times inside your
About once a year, generally in summer or early fall, male and female ants (both winged at this stage) fly into the sky and mate. The males fall to earth, dead as doornails, while the females soar off to find nesting sites. Once each queen has chosen her realm, she builds her nest and lays an enormous number of eggs. These hatch into workers with only one mission in life: pampering the queen. And Her
Majesty's only mission is to lay more eggs-thousands of them, each of which is pre-ordained to become either a sexless worker, a fertile male, or a fertile female, a.k.a. future queen.
Living plants are just about the only food that most ants don't normally eat. But they
go hog-wild over anything sweet, whether it's the honey on your picnic table or the
honeydew that sap-sucking insects leave on your trees and other plants.
Ants rarely damage trees, or any other plants. In fact, these tiny guys actually improve growing conditions for all plants. Besides breaking down organic matter into soil-building humus, they dig literally thousands of miles of little tunnels in the ground. And those openings allow free passage for water, nutrients, and earthworms. Ants also wage war on termites so they can take over their nests, and they prey on some
of the peskiest pests around, including mealybugs, scale insects, cockroaches, and (for all you cotton farmers out there) boll weevils.
These ants are the largest found in the US and rank number one in inquiries over all other ants. They are a nuisance by their presence when found in parts of the home such as the kitchen, bathroom, living room and other quarters. They do not eat wood, but remove quantities of it to expand their nest size, sometimes causing structural damage. Winged males are smaller than winged queens. Wingless queens measure 5/8 inch, winged queens 3/4 inch, large major workers 1/2 inch and small minor workers 1/4 inch. Workers have some brown on them, while queens are black. Workers have large heads and a small thorax while adult swarmers have a smaller head and large thorax. The petiole has one node and the profile of the thorax has an evenly rounded upper surface (workers only)
Nests are very commonly found in fields, lawns, between bricks in the walk, beneath rocks, in pavement cracks, etc. Numerous mounds of its nests are commonly seen in the lawn. They invade the home for sweets. They live on nectar of flowers, live and dead insects and are very fond of honeydew. They collect the eggs of corn root aphids, storing them in burrows during the winter, then in the spring, carry young to the roots of corn. Yellowish, retarded corn and the presence of anthills around the injured corn plants are evidence of this dependent relation between the ant and aphids. They also transport strawberry root aphids to the crowns and roots of strawberries. Workers are about 1/10 to 1/4 inch long, light to dark brown, soft-bodied, robust, one node petiole (long pointed segment), 12-segmented antennae, without an antennal club, with the anal opening at the end of the abdomen, circular, and surrounded by a fringe of hairs. They have large eyes on the head and, when crushed, emit a strong odor of "formic acid."
Larger Yellow Ant
These ants are often mistaken for winged termites since the winged adults swarm through cracks in basement walls or floors, crawl around and are attracted to lights. They live in the soil next to the building foundation, under basement floors, in concrete voids or in rotting wood, and feed on honeydew of subterranean aphids and mealybugs, which live on the roots of shrubs planted near residences. Winged forms are dark brown or blackish-brown with brownish, somewhat clouded wings and bodies measuring 3/8 to 1/4 inch long to the wing tips. Workers are pale yellowish-brown, about 5/32 to 3/16 inch long. They cluster around cracks and crevices and, when crushed, give off a strong odor, smelling like "citronella" or a certain kind of toilet soap. They are smooth, shiny, quite hairy, have 12-segmented antennae, one node petiole (long, pointed segment), small eyes on the head, uneven thorax profile and the anal opening at the end of the abdomen is circular surrounded by a fringe of hairs. Workers stay underground during the day and forage at night.
This ant is a serious nuisance in hospitals, rest homes, apartment dwellings, hotels, grocery stores, food establishments, etc. They feed on jellies, honey, shortening, peanut butter, corn syrup, fruit juices, soft drinks, greases, dead insects, and even shoe polish. They have been found in surgical wounds, I.V. glucose solutions, and sealed packs of sterile dressing in hospitals. These ants are capable of mechanically transmitting diseases, Staphylecoccus and Psuedomonas infections in hospitals. Workers are very small about 1/16 inch long, light yellow to reddish-brown colored with the hind portion of the abdomen somewhat darker. The petiole has two nodes and the thorax is spineless. The antennae has 12 segments with the antennal club composed of three segments.
Thief Ant or Grease Ant
These ants are prevalent around kitchen sinks and in the cupboards, feeding on grease, oils, cheese, meat, dead insects, etc. They don't seem to feed on sweets. Workers are very small ants, about 1/32 to 1/20 inch long, smooth, shiny, yellowish to bronze colored with two nodes in the petiole, a 10- segmented antennae with a two segmented club, thorax without spines and small eyes on the head. It nests in the soil or wood, robs the food and brood of other ants, hollows out seeds for the oil content and may feed on dead rodents.
This is one of the most common tiny house-invading ants in Ohio with nests usually found outdoors under stones, in pavement cracks, along the curb edges and in crevices of masonry and woodwork. Pavement ants may forage in the home throughout the year, feeding on grease, meat, live and dead insects, honeydew, roots of plants and planted seeds. Workers are sluggish, between 1/12 to 1/4 inch long, light to dark brown or blackish, hairy, 12-segmented antennae with a three segmented club, a pair of short spines at the rear of the thorax, two nodes in the petiole, pale legs and antennae, and the head and thorax furrowed with parallel lines or grooves running top to bottom. In winter, nests may be found in the home near a heat source.
Little Black Ant
These are the common house ants which nest in woodwork, masonry, soil and rotted wood. They feed on sweets, meats, vegetables, honeydew and other insects. Workers are about 1/8 inch long, slender, shiny black, sometimes dark brown with two nodes in the petiole and a 12-segmented antennae with a three segmented club. Nests in the ground are detected by the very small craters of fine soil.
False Honey Ant or Small Honey Ant
These ants, sometimes called "cold weather ants," normally nest outdoors in the soil, but occasionally can be found in kitchens feeding on food and beverages. They forage along scent (pheromone) trails on counter tops with 12 or more ants in a line. Workers vary from light to dark brown (almost black) in color, are very shiny, have a triangular abdomen and are about 1/8 inch long. The petiole has one node, the profile of the thorax is uneven and the first antennal segment (scape) is longer than the head.
Allegheny Mound Ant
This ant normally lives outdoors with nests consisting of huge conical mounds, sometimes measuring nearly three feet high by six feet in diameter. Undoubtedly, some enter homes occasionally since they are fond of sweets, but normally attend honeydew-secreting insects on plants and are predaceous on other insects. Workers are about 1/4 inch long with a blackish-brown abdomen and legs, while the head and thorax are rust red. New colonies are founded by extension of or breaking off from existing colonies when workers migrate away with one or more queens. Related field ants may be brown, black, red or of various combinations of these colors.
This ant nests in well-drained, clay or gravelly soil and makes the well-known small anthills with a central entrance. Workers are about 1/4 inch long, yellowish in color occurring in lawns, golf courses, pastures, under walks or stones and on trees. The abdomen is light tan with a darker brown band on each segment on the under and hind region. The head, thorax and legs are slightly darker orange-brown than the abdomen.
These ants may invade the home for food (sweets and meat). They feed on sweet juices such as honeydew of aphids, nectar, plant sap, etc. They build "cowsheds or tents" of plant or earthen material over aphids, which they tend. Workers are about 1/8 to 1/4 inch long, light brownish-yellow, and are recognized by a heart-shaped abdomen, flattened on the upper surface and curved below. They have a two node petiole attached to the upper part of the abdomen and a pair of spines on the thorax. When disturbed, they elevate their abdomens, directing them forward in an acrobatic manner and bite fiercely. They nest under wood, such as stumps, under boards, in hollow trees, under trash, rocks, in windows and door frames. They have an objectionable odor.
Odorous House Ant
These ants occasionally forage indoors for sweets and other foods. They give off an unpleasant odor when crushed, smelling like "rotten coconuts." Workers are brown to dark-brown in color, about 1/10 inch long. The petiole has one node (hidden by the abdomen) and the profile of the thorax is uneven.
These ants will feed on sweets and kitchen scraps, but prefer to feed on animal matter and insects such as fly larvae and adults. Ants present the appearance of running aimlessly about a room and, thus, named "crazy." Workers are about 1/10 inch long, with slender long legs, dark brown to black in color, one node petiole, the profile of the thorax not evenly rounded, and the abdomen tip has a circular fringe of hairs.
The most important step in ant control is to locate the nest and destroy the colony. Sometimes a chunk of jelly, spoonful of honey, pile of sugar or piece of bacon, placed near the site where ants are found, will attract them and help in locating their nest. Once the route is discovered, treatment can be made in the crack or crevice, greatly reducing or eliminating the problem.
Never treat entire walls, floors, countertops, cupboards, etc. Apply all insecticides only as crack, crevice or hole treatments, avoiding food, children and pet contamination. Dusts, such as bendiocarb (Ficam), chlorpyrifos (Dursban) or boric acid (Borid), puffed into holes can give good coverage of voids where ants can be killed or carry the chemical back into the nest, killing others. Apply in light amounts. Aerosol sprays can be applied, but dispersal or area coverage may not be quite as good. The use of a paintbrush to apply a thin layer of an oil-based insecticide into cracks along baseboards, window and door frames, around plumbing or heating pipes, etc., can be effective.
Depending on the kinds of ants, certain commercial baits can be ingested by workers, taken back to the nest for consumption or regurgitated to feed and kill others in the colony. Commercial bait syrups such as borax (Terro) will kill ants that feed on sweets. Toxic fast-acting baits kill foraging workers quickly, but are less effective as those that are slow-acting, which are taken back to the nest for consumption. Place baits directly on the ant trails away from children and pets. Other baits include boric acid plus mint apple jelly (Drax), hydramethylnon (Maxforce), methroprene (Pharorid), bendiocarb (Ficam), propoxur (Baygon) and sulfluramid (Pro-Control).
To prevent ants from entering the house, use a perimeter spray, treating the foundation as high as two feet and out three feet into the soil, especially around windows, doors, etc. with the insecticide mixed in water, preferably as a wettable powder formulation, to avoid plant injury. Dursban, Diazinon or Baygon give good control.
Ants can injure plants by tunneling around the roots, causing them to dry out. Sprays or dusts, applied directly in the ant mounds and around the area a few feet, will eliminate the problem. If needed, repeat the application according to the label directions and safety precautions. Again, Dursban, Diazinon, Baygon, carbaryl (Sevin), and bendiocarb (Ficam) will kill ants.
Eliminate aphids, mealybugs and scale that secrete honeydew to reduce ants. Apply similar insecticides as for the yard and garden to tree trunks, shrubs, bushes and the soil to kill foraging workers. Use insecticide formulations that will not cause tree and shrub injury.
There are literally hundreds of insecticide formulations labeled for ant control. Some are labeled for general use (homeowners) while others are restricted use (licensed pesticide applicators only).
In many cases, once an ant infestation has been found, control measures are best accomplished by a licensed, professional pest control firm. Homeowners often do not have the experience, availability of certain insecticides and equipment needed to perform the job effectively on certain ant species.
2. Wrap a band of carpet tape or double-sided masking tape around the trunk. The tape won't harm the tree, but it will trap the ants as they try to scamper up it. Be sure to inspect the tape every few days, and remove any twigs, leaves, or other "bridges" that appear.
3. For added protection, sprinkle bonemeal or diatomaceous earth around the trunk. Ants won't cross the scratchy stuff.
On the March
What do you do about ants that are already up in the branches, or on the trunk? Simple: Spray the tree with Lethal Tonic (below). It'll wipe out the aphids and their midget minders at the same time.
To trap ants before they even get to the tree, use one of these no-fail tricks:
1 Set jars of sweet, sticky stuff like honey or sugar syrup in the troubled area. The ants will make a beeline to the dessert bar, fall in, and die happy.
2 Put a piece of tape over the hole in the bottom of a flowerpot, and set the pot upside down on top of the anthill. When the ants come out of the hole, they'll scamper up the sides of the pot. Within a day, your trap should be so full of ants that you can hardly see the sides. Then just pick it up and dunk it into a bucket of boiling water.
The Two-Day Wonder
Trapping the workers will ease your ant troubles for a while. To get rid of a colony for good, though, you need to eliminate the driving force: the queen, who's hunkered down in her bunker doing nothing but churning out eggs by the thousands. And here's an easy way to do it: Just sprinkle instant grits on top of the anthill. The worker ants will carry the grains into the nest, where they and Her Majesty will have a feast. Then the grains will swell up inside their little bodies. Within about 48 hours, the whole colony will be history.
Into the Drink
If you're fresh out of grits, reach for the old-time ant-control weapon: boiling water. Just scrape the top off of the mound, and quickly pour the water into the nest. And act fast before the workers swarm all over the place! If the water reaches its target, the queen will be an instant goner, and any workers who survive will soon die of old age. Check back in a week or so; if the colony still shows signs of activity, treat 'em to another boiling hot shower.
Once you've got the ants out of your trees, keep them from coming back by planting tansy, spearmint, pennyroyal, or southernwood in the vicinity. (Ask for that last one by its scientific moniker, Artemisia abrotanum.) The little rascals will keep their distance from all of 'em!
Not in My House!
While most ants are happy as clams in the great outdoors, some prefer cozier quarters-like your home. Well, just because they do good work in the garden doesn't mean you have to offer them hospitality in your kitchen! Just use any of these tricks to send them back where they belong.
1 Lay sprigs of fresh mint where the little fellows are coming and going. The ants'll go back where they came from.
2 For good measure, brew up a batch of strong mint tea and spray it on their pathways.
3 For those persistent types who don't get the message, mix 1 teaspoon of boric acid with 1/3 cup of honey, put dabs of the mixture into bottle caps or on pieces of tape (sticky side up), and set the bait in ant-infested areas. Activity will cease in a hurry. (Be sure to keep these traps well out of reach of children and pets.)
If ants have turned your favorite tree into an aphid ranch, don't pull any punches.
Reach for your trusty hose-end sprayer, and load it with this magic bullet.
3 tbsp. of garlic and onion juice*
3 tbsp. of skim milk
2 tbsp. of baby shampoo
1 tsp. of Tabasco® sauce
1 gal. of water
Mix all of these ingredients in a bucket, and pour the solution into a 20 gallon hose-end sprayer. Then spray your tree every 10 days until the aphids are lyin' 6 feet under on Boot Hill.
*To make garlic and onion juice, put 2 cloves of garlic, 2 medium onions, and 3 cups of water in a blender, and puree. Strain out the solids, and pour the remaining liquid into a jar. Use this mixture whenever it's called for. When you're done, bury the solids in your garden to repel aphids and other pesky pests.