Ants always seem to appear out of nowhere in our houses. When we accidentally spill our drinks on the floor or when a piece of food falls to the floor, that’s when ants typically appear.
Although very small, they always come in huge numbers, making the ant infestation all the more terrifying. Furthermore, some ant types can also bite you, which we’ll talk about later in the article.
How many types of ants are there? There are 10 most common types of ants, each of them has some unique characteristics that make them recognizable. In total, there are more than 12000 species of ants in the world and 700+ types of ants are in the United States! These are the most common ones that can infest your house:
- Red Imported Fire Ants
- Carpenter Ants
- Crazy Ants
- Acrobat Ants
- Pharaoh Ants
- Odorous House Ant
- Leaf-Cutting Ant
- Rover Ant
- Pavement Ants
Beware that these types of ants can be seen without a microscope, so if you read this article carefully, you’ll be able to recognize them within seconds. But, before we categorize ants, we need to specify some characteristics that can help you recognize them.
This is because many people fail to distinguish ants from termites, for example. Without further ado, let’s see how to confirm that you have ants and identify what type of ant has infested your house.
General Characteristics of Ants
Some general characteristics can help you recognize ants. First of all, ants rarely travel alone, they live in colonies. That’s why you will always see dozens of them in the corner of your room. When hunting for food, they also move in colonies, which can easily be distinguished, thanks to established trails.
If you find such a trail in your house, stop for a second and observe if the workers are all of the same sizes. The colony consists, in many cases, mainly of workers. Furthermore, you can also trace them to their nest and examine it, if the nest isn’t well-hidden. Many times, ants are either very active during the day or the night, so take note of that.
In the next section, we are going to talk about their body characteristics. This is why if you are not sure at what ant species you’re looking at, you should capture some of them and examine them under the magnifier. We would say microscope but most of you don’t have that. Capturing an ant is very easy. You just need a small vial or jar for capturing it. Then, you need a soft cloth and alcohol.
You need to wet the cloth with alcohol and then use it to pick up the ant and put it in the jar. The alcohol will quickly kill the ant, allowing you to examine it under the magnifier or microscope.
Body Characteristics of Ants
When observed through the microscope, ants look like some creatures from a horror movie. It’s not hard to see why many people are afraid of them. But, although they look terrifying, they aren’t that big, which makes them less scary. A cockroach, for example, is much bigger and can do bigger damage.
Like most insects, ants also have 3 body regions. The difference is that ants have very distinct regions, making them easy to recognize.
Ant’s body consists of these three regions:
- Gaster (abdomen)
Gaster is a rear part, the thorax is in the middle, and the head is at the end of its body. At the top of their heads, there’s an antenna, which makes them recognizable at a first glance.
Workers, as the most abundant members of the colony, don’t have wings, while ants responsible for reproduction may have them. These ants are also much bigger than workers and they usually command the colony.
They can also leave the nest for mating purposes a few times a year. This is very similar to termites. The difference is, however, that ants have a distinct waist and antennas.
Gaster and thorax, are connected by two very small segments, as you can see from the picture. These are called nodes or pedicels and are also unique to ants. Because of them, ants can easily be distinguished from termites or small wasps that can resemble ants during some of their growth phases.
Ant Nests & Behavior
Ant nests can take different shapes or forms. Many times, their nests will be hidden but that doesn’t have to necessarily be the case. Usually, they make their nest in the soil or under the rock, and they make several entrances, in case the nest gets compromised.
Some of them are also hiding in the trees, without needing to make their cavities. On the flip side, acrobat or carpenter ants don’t make their nest. Instead, they use your home as a nest.
In terms of behavior, ants are easily distinguished among other insects. When someone says you’re hard-working like an ant, that’s a very valuable compliment. Ants are known for their working habits, as well as their incredible strength.
When carrying the food to the nest, they often run very fast, especially when disturbed. They feed on different types of food, and some can even feed on liquids, so they won’t carry anything.
This behavior is characteristic of workers. They can be very small (1/16 inch), medium (1/16 to 3/8 inches), and large (more than 3/8 inches). If the workers are equal in size in a colony, that’s a monomorphic colony, as opposed to the polymorphic colony, when the workers are of different sizes.
Types of Ants: How to Identify Them?
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, these 10 different types of ants may invade your house, although there are more than 700 types of ants overall. Below are the descriptions and pictures of each common type of ant (ant identification chart), this will make it easy for you to determine what type of ant you’re dealing with.
Carpenter ants are probably one of the most common type of ants in the United States. They can usually be found in colder climates e.g. in the northern part of the USA. You can easily recognize them by their black color with some red accents, as well as their single pedicel, and the curved thorax.
Unlike many ant types, carpenter ants are most active during the night, mainly following linear trails such as water hoses or fences.
This means that these ants usually make nests outside, in different wood sources. Due to their high mobility, they can enter inside using numerous trails, even by entering through damaged windows and cracks in the wall. Because of that, they can cause a good amount of damage to your property.
But, this isn’t always the case and depends on the severity of the infestation. These ants can bite but can’t sting, making them slightly less dangerous than red ants.
Red Imported Fire Ants
Red imported fire ants are also common ants in the USA. They’re usually found in Texas, Maryland, New Mexico, and California. These ants can be recognized easily, due to their unique red-brown color. Furthermore, the also have 2 pedicels, and their workers are slightly smaller than usual, ranging from 1/16 to 3/16 inches in length.
Their nests are very prominent, as they make visible mounds, although with no visible entrances and holes. Red ants are known for their aggressive behavior and response to nest disturbance. This includes painful stings that leave red welts on the skin. People allergic to insect stings and/or bites will need special treatment.
In most cases, red ants build their nests outside but when they need food and water, they’ll enter households and buildings. This happens usually in the late summer but can also happen during colder days.
Crazy ants are called like that for a reason. They’re known for their very fast running speeds when searching for food, accompanied by erratic behavior patterns. Ranging from 1/16 to 1/8 inches in size, they’re also on the bigger side of the spectrum. In the United States, they can be found anywhere – in both hot and cold, moist and dry habitats.
This type of ant comes in two types of species:
The first one is commonly found in south and east Texas and it has dark brown, sometimes black color, accompanied by the grayish glow. This ant is very fast and usually infests buildings during the autumn, when the humidity is higher, as it nests under the floor or carpets. It can sometimes be found outside, mainly in potted plant soil.
The second type is a bit different. It’s a new type of crazy ant also found in Texas and Gulf Coast with the same behavior as the previous one. However, it’s different in color, having a light brown or yellowish accent. Both of these aren’t dangerous to your health unless you find them in your home because they can sting.
Acrobat ants are very similar to carpenter ants, hence people often fail to differentiate them. But, acrobat ants are slightly smaller, being considered medium-sized. At first glance, they look almost the same but when inspected closer, the differences can be seen. For example, carpenter ants have only 1 pedicel whereas acrobat ants have 2.
Furthermore, their workers are equally-sized, and their thorax has 2 spines. Activity-wise, these ants are active during the day, as opposed to carpenter ants, active during the night. The reason they’re called acrobat ants is that they lift their gasters when disturbed, forming a defensive posture, which is similar to an acrobat balancing on his hands.
They usually nest outside, in most cases, in trees. However, it’s not strange seeing them in insulation structures and walls.
Pharaoh ants have a unique look, which makes them easily distinguishable. For the start, they’re very tiny, approximately 1/32 inches long. They have a yellowish color, as well as dark brown gaster, accompanied by two pedicels. Identically to acrobat ants, the workers are all the same size.
Since they live inside, you can find them in different places inside your home. Preferably, they nest in dark, narrow places such as electrical boxes, cardboard boxes, holes in the walls, etc. They’re also picky when it comes to eating, usually consuming foods high in proteins and sugar.
Odorous House Ant
Odorous house ant is found in every part of the country, regardless of climate, moisture, and other factors. This ant has dark brown, sometimes black color and is medium-sized, boasting 1/16 to 1/8 inches in length.
It loves sweet food, so if you spill your juice or box of sugar, he’ll be there to feast upon it… alongside his colony.
When it comes to nesting, they can do it both indoors and outdoors. Outdoors, it’s under stones, exposed soil, and mulch. Indoors, they can be under floors or inside wall cracks. Now, why is this ant called like that? Because it gives a specific odor that appears crushed.
Some say it smells like rotten coconut, while others say it smells like licorice. Either way, they’re known to contaminate food and should be killed on sight, although they don’t represent a dangerous threat.
Leaf-cutting ant is one of the largest ants, easily identified purely by this characteristic. He has a specific behavior that also makes him unique – carrying leaves, hence why he’s called like that. This means that this ant lives outside, in the soil.
Their nest is also unique, as they make mounds that resemble craters. The nest looks like a “town” because leaf-cutting ant makes some parts that resemble the real-life city. For example, its garden.
These plant materials are put down, growing a special type of fungus, which is the food source for this ant. Unlike many other types of ants, these ones have different-sized workers, having mostly brown color with some red accents.
Leaf-cutting ants come with very long legs, and their thorax has 3 spines, accompanied by the smooth gaster. Households are rarely invaded by this ant, as they live almost exclusively outside. Still, it can be found in people’s backyards, especially if they have a lot of grass and soil. They are commonly found in Texas.
Rover ants are very similar to pharaoh ants in terms of size. They’re very tiny and have a brown color, instead of light brown of yellow. In terms of food, they also like sweets, identically to odorous house ants. Since they nest outside, you can see them in outside locations such as trees, sidewalks, and stairs.
If they enter your home, know that they don’t sting, so you aren’t in danger. But because ants tend to quickly multiply, it’s recommended that you eradicate them as soon as possible. Despite living mainly outside, you can find them nesting in your house, often inside the walls, if they find a hole. Their workers are all the same size.
Argentine ants can be found mainly in the southeastern part of the USA. With 1/16 to 1/14 inches in size, these ants can range from small to medium-sized. Since they mainly infest wet environments, those living in hotter countries shouldn’t worry too much about them. Still, if there’s a food source close to them, they’ll gladly live there, regardless of conditions.
Like odorous house ants, they also have a specific odor when crushed, so you shouldn’t let them near your food. They usually don’t pose a threat to your health, although they can contaminate your food.
Pavement ants are up to 1/8 inches long, making them medium-sized insects. Like argentine ants, these are also found through the entirety of the USA. As their name implies, they can often be found under the pavements but also in houses and buildings, entering through holes in the walls.
Although not health-threatening, they shouldn’t be left to linger around because they can contaminate food. As soon as you detect the infestation, inform the professionals about it and let them exterminate it or use our site to get rid of them.
With over 700 types of ants, it’s very hard to distinguish each type. Ants we mentioned above are known to infest houses around the USA and the world. Because of that, you’ll most likely know what type of ant you have in your house, allowing you to effectively get rid of them when needed.
A single ant isn’t dangerous but beware that they always travel in packs. If this pack or colony starts eating your food, you’ll see how fast they can dissolve it. Now that you’ve read the whole article, recognizing different ant types shouldn’t be a problem. Best of luck!
List of Sources
Ants, University of Minnesota
Potter M., Ant Control for Householders, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture
Ants Management Guidelines, Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California
Shetlar D., Bloetscher B., Andon J., Ants In and Around the Home, Ohio State University