Ants are the most successful of insects. They are social insects that live in colonies that include one or more queens, as well as workers, eggs, larvae, and pupae. The worker ants maintain their developed structures known as nests. These nests protect the ants against their enemies, offer some protection against extremes of weather, and often are placed close to water and food sources. The body structure of the ant consists of a head, thorax and an abdomen. This actually distinguishes them from the Termite, which only has two body parts, the head and the body. The ant has an exoskeleton that protects it from the weather, injury and water loss. Insects with external skeletons have great strength for their size.
These are among the most conspicuous of the ants found in and around homes, being large and typically blackish or very dark-bodied. Foraging workers have rather large mandibles, with which they can bite or give a strong pinch. Workers vary greatly in size, ranging from ¼ to ¾ inch long. Many species are black, perhaps with some faintly grayish bands on the abdomen, others may have brown or reddish coloration along with the black giving them a two toned appearance. These ants excavate galleries in wood which resembles the work of termites, but which can be distinguished by their entirely clean and almost sandpapered appearance, hence the name Carpenter Ants. These galleries are found in moist or unsound wood, although carpenter ants can burrow in sound wood. Carpenter ants do not use wood for food, but hollow it out only for nesting. Carpenter ants will establish nests in a number of different locations. Outdoor sites include stumps, hollow logs, telephone poles, fence posts, or other similar large pieces of wood. Wood that is moist or partially decayed is a preference, however, cracks, crevices and other cavities may be used to start a nest in sound wood. Indoor nests may be found in hollow doors, windowsills, the substructure of porches, roofs, behind baseboards, fireplaces, shingles, or other natural hollow areas. The nest may also be just a hollow pipe with several hundred ants in it. The carpenter ant diet includes a great variety of both animal and plant foods. These ants will feed on other insects, both living and dead, and nearly anything people will eat. Aphid honeydew is particularly attractive. Many sweets and meats found in kitchens and storage areas including syrup, honey, jelly, sugar, meat, grease and fat are fed upon.
Many of the ants of this genus are called fire ants because their venom, injected by a stinger, causes intense irritation and may cause severe reactions in especially sensitive people. Fire ants are very active and aggressive, and may kill young wildlife or produce sores and nausea in humans. Workers are a dark brown in color and may be found in two basic sizes, called major and minor workers, which are 1/15 to ¼-inch long. Typical yards contain several mounds, and larger yards may contain several dozen. Each of these mounds can belong to a separate colony, or one colony may occupy several distinct mounds, which are connected by underground foraging tunnels. Large colonies can have up to 300-500,000 workers that forage over an area with a radius of over 100 yards. Fire ants are both predators and scavengers, attacking and killing other insects and small animals, or feeding on dead animals. They also feed on honeydew, certain parts of plants or plant secretions, and other sweet materials. Single-queen and multiple-queen colonies have been identified, and control may be more difficult where multiple-queen colonies are found. Occasionally, this species will nest inside homes, especially in the winter under bathtubs (which often have access to bare soil through the slab, under the tub), next to hot water heaters or other sources of warmth. Colonies have been found nesting and foraging on upper floors of hospitals and other such buildings.
Pharaoh ants are light yellowish to brownish in color, with workers measuring 1/15-1/12 inches long. They are found in localized regions throughout the United States and parts of Southern Canada. They seem to have become an increasingly common pest in the last few years. Pharaoh ants can be easily distinguished by the presence of three segments in the antennal club. Their small size enables them to get into almost anything, and their wide food preference combine to make them very difficult to eradicate from structures. Nests are rarely found, but occur between walls, under floors, above ceilings, behind baseboards and switch plates, in old trash, in folded bathroom linen, or outside in gardens and along walks. In the warmer climates of the southern United States, these ants can be found foraging and nesting on the outside of buildings or in adjacent landscape areas. This will be especially true where humid conditions are common, or where sources of moisture such as sprinkler systems and evaporative cooling units (e.g. on rooftops) are present. Under such circumstances, inspections and control programs should be extended beyond the interior portions of the building. They will feed on such a diverse array of materials that the use of the term "food preferences" seems inappropriate. However, substances like syrups, fruit juices, honey, jelly, cakes, pies, greases, dead insects, or meats and blood are frequently fed upon. This ant is very persistent and hard to control. It has a tendency to appear suddenly in various places within the structure. Its tendency to forage over wide areas and to nest in well-protected or hidden areas contributes to control difficulties.