The 411 on Ants
Almost entirely of non-reproductive females who primarily gather food. From time to time, the queen will produce alates which are flying reproductive ants. These will fly off to start new colonies. Some ant species have single queens (carpenter ants for example) and some have multiple (such as the crazy ant and ghost ant). Colony sizes vary but can become quite large ranging from hundreds to hundreds of thousands.
Ants are well adapted to feed on a variety of substances. They can feed on sugars, carbohydrates, or proteins. They may shift their food preference from time to time throughout the year based on the specific needs of the colony. This is especially important when selecting control measures. Some ant baits will be better suited for one type of ant over another as well as one time of year over another. Just because an ant is feeding off of the sweet secretions of mealy bugs or aphids does not necessarily mean that it will be welcoming of a sugar-based bait.
Some ants seek cover, while others are perfectly happy to have their mound exposed out in the open. Some ants will gravitate to more arid conditions while others will seek out a moist luscious garden. Carpenter ants and acrobat ants will find wood that has been softened by water to build their nest. Pharaoh ants split up into small groups in voids – wall voids are perfect for them. Identification of the type of ant will help indicate where to start looking for the source.
Properly identifying an ant species will help indicate why they are where they are and what they are looking for. While color may come into play in identification, the primary identifying characteristics are based on:
- Thorax shape
- Presence or absence of a stinger
- Antennal segments
- Body hairs
Ants are small and the subject of nursery rhymes, but their economic impact is substantial. The imported fire ant alone is responsible for over $6 billion in annual damage. This includes damage to mowers combines, electrical equipment, landscape damage, and medical repercussions. This is just one species of ant, but others such as carpenter ants that can cause structural damage to accumulate a substantial tally of their own. Because of the wide variety of ants and their individual threats, it is important to monitor colony development and keep them under control.
While some ants are notorious for their behavior as pests such as fire ants and carpenter ants, many ants provide substantial benefits. Ants help with soil aeration, plant fertilization, and even pollination in some instances. A major benefit associated with plants in gardens is the control of other insects.
Look A Likes
Ants are pretty well known, but they are frequently confused with other arthropods. Wasps have a similar body structure to ants and can be easily confused. In fact, the inappropriately named velvet ant is actually a flightless wasp that looks like a fuzzy ant. Ants may also be confused with termites. This is especially true with the alates that are winged. One of the least obvious look a likes is the ant spider. Their body structure looks similar to an ant and they have even developed to mimic ant behavior including holding their front legs out to look like antennae.
Control measures will vary based on:
- Ant species
- Size of population
For thorough ant control, a combination of the following tools and methods will provide the best results:
- Food source reduction
- Habitat alteration
- Physical barriers
Establishing control can take time due to colony size and the protective nature of their colony structures. It is important to continue control measures beyond the point where they first stop showing up