There are more than 12,000 species of ants all over the world. There are 53 different species of ants found in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
These are some of the ants that we commonly deal with in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The Carpenter ant, The Field ant, The Odorous House ant, The Pharaoh ant, The Moisture ant, The Thatch ant, the Pavement ant and the Little Black ant.
Ants are social insects, which means they live in large colonies or groups. The body of an ant is clearly divided into three sections: the head, the thorax, and the gaster.
There are three kinds of ants in a colony: The queen, the female workers, and males. The queen and the males have wings, while the workers don’t have wings. The queen is the only ant that can lay eggs. The male ant’s job is to mate with future queen ants and they do not live very long afterwards. Once the queen grows to adulthood, she spends the rest of her life laying eggs. Depending on the species, a colony may have one queen or many queens. The queen generally stays deep and safe within a nest. She also produces pheromones that serve to maintain her dominance over the colony and coordinate colony development and function.
Ant colonies also have soldier ants that protect the queen, defend the colony, gather or kill food, and attack enemy colonies in search for food and nesting space. If they defeat another ant colony, they take away eggs of the defeated ant colony. When the eggs hatch, the new ants become the “slave” ants for the colony. Some jobs of the colony include taking care of the eggs and babies, gathering food for the colony and building the anthills or mounds.
Depending on the species, ant colonies can consist of millions of ants. Ant colonies include a collection of workers, one or more reproductive, eggs, larvae, and pupae. Ants have complete metamorphosis comprised of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The eggs are microscopic in size. Larvae are pear shaped, legless and off white in colour. They have a well-developed caste system for the division of labor between adult forms. The queen remains dormant while the first group of eggs develop in her body. The queen nurses and feeds the first group of larvae until they pupate.
The workers that develop from these first eggs are always undersized due to the small food supply available to them. They will dig an opening out of the nest and begin to forage for food, both for themselves and the queen. The adult worker ants that tend to the nest will move the eggs, larvae, and pupae around within the nest and feed and groom the larvae. Most ants that you see are workers and these are all females.
Successful colonies of many species often take more than one season to develop populations large enough to be noticed. It will often take a year or two for colonies to develop to the point where substantial numbers of new males and queens are formed. These are usually winged forms called alates, or swarmer’s, which are capable of reproducing. As the colony develops, these alates leave the nest at suitable times to mate. Queens then establish news colonies. Some ant species will have multiple queens in a mature colony, while others will have only one queen laying eggs. After mating, new queens break off their wings and never fly again.
Queens are the largest individuals in the colony. After development of the first group of eggs, the queen is cleaned, fed, and cared for by the workers, her primary function becomes egg laying.
Males only function is to inseminate potential queens. In species with winged queens, males will also have wings. The male dies within a few days of mating. Adult males do not remain in the nest for very long. When ant colonies reproduce, these are “flying ants” and have two pairs of wings.
When an ant colony nesting in the soil or under a stone or board is disturbed, worker ants can be seen scurrying about carrying the pupae, the smaller larvae and tiny eggs are also being carried away from the source of danger.
They build nests, which typically require much effort by the worker ants in the colony to maintain. Many species prefer to nest in the ground; others will be found in wood, such as dead logs, fence posts, hollow trees, or even wood within structures.
Ants are known to use several chemical pheromones to communicate between individuals within the same colony, and these are sensed primarily through the antennae. These may be trail pheromones, sex pheromones, alarm pheromones and are produced by glands located in the abdomen. When ants from different colonies or the same colony encounter one another, various antennal touching behaviors occur between the ants as a form of recognition. The antennae are very important to ants. Ants “hear” by feeling vibrations in the ground through their feet. When ants fight, it is usually to the death! Foraging, ants leave a pheromone trail so that they know where they’ve been. When the queen of the colony dies, the colony can only survive a few months. Queens are rarely replaced, and the workers are not able to reproduce.
Some ant species will feed on a variety of food while others feed on a narrow range of foods. Periods of high egg production require foraging ants to being back proteins to the queen(s), while at other times foragers may prefer to gather sugars or greases for their own energy needs.
Adults are unable to ingest hard, solid food. They ingest only liquids. They can carry large food items in their mandibles. The abdomen of the ant contains two stomachs. One stomach holds the food for itself and second stomach is for food to be shared with other ants. The foraging ants bring the food back to the colony. The nest tending workers pass the food to the larvae or the queens. The larvae will then regurgitate liquid food for use within the colony. This is where ant baits are highly effective in eliminating a colony. A slow acting bait is effective so that they will bring this back to the colony, allowing for complete colony kill. Most ants eat a variety of small insects that they capture, dead insects they happen to find, nectar, or honey dew. They need a balance of carbohydrates and protein. Protein is especially needed for the queen to make eggs and for the larvae to grow.
Ants obtain energy rich sugar by feeding on the honeydew excreted by aphids or other plant sucking insects. Ant control can be problematic because there are variable food preferences depending on the season and nature of other available food sources.
Ants can do damage by infesting lawns, gardens, contaminating food sources. Carpenter ants can cause serious structural damage to wooden structures.
CARPENTER ANTS– get their name because they excavate wood to build their nests. Carpenter ants are large species and typically blackish or dark bodied. Carpenter ants range in size from one-quarter inch for a worker ant to up to three-quarters inch for a queen. The foraging workers have large mandibles with which they can bite. Many species are black, others can have brown or reddish coloration with the black. Carpenter ant nests may be found in stumps, hollow logs, or other various pieces of wood. They prefer wood that is decayed but will also infest sound wood. Carpenter ants can be transported into homes by firewood being brought in. They usually come into buildings through cracks around doors, windows, or through holes for wires. They will also crawl along overhead wires, shrubs, or tree limbs that touch the building far above the ground.
Most often the primary nest where the queen is you will find outside the structure. When nests are located inside a structure they are secondary or satellite nests where no egg laying queen is present. Indoor nests may be found in porch pillars and roofs, window sills, telephone poles, live and dead trees, rotting logs and stumps and wood in contact with soil. They can be problematic indoors, when they damage wood to form their galleries and tunnels. Carpenter ants Build nests in deteriorating, moist wood; often the colony will extend its nest into adjacent, sound wood. They do not actually eat the wood removed during nest-building activities; rather, deposit it outside entrances to the colony in small piles. They chew at wood to excavate their galleries. They feed on protein and sugary sources.
Carpenter ants build their nests outdoors in various wood sources, including tree stumps, firewood or landscaping. They need a constant water source to survive. They will enter homes through wet, damaged wood. Carpenter ants damage wood through their nest building. If they gain entry to a structure, they pose a property threat. They can convey a painful bite with pronounced mandibles and injection of formic acid into the wound. Because of the damage to wood that Carpenter ants do to wood they sometimes get mistaken for termites. We do not have termites in Alberta or Saskatchewan.
Carpenter Ant Nest
Their excavation results in smooth tunnels inside the wood
Black Carpenter Ant Queen
Because carpenter ants require a water source, eliminate sources of moisture or standing water. Keep tree branches and other plants cut back from the house. Sometimes pests use these branches to get into your home. Make sure that there are no cracks or little openings around the bottom of your house. Make sure that firewood and building materials are not stored next to your home. Pests like to build nests in stacks of wood.
MOUND OR THATCHING ANTS–Mound or thatching ants are around ¼ inches long. Most commonly they are brownish-black but can also include yellow, red or combinations of both colours. They will create mounds with the soil that they excavate underground and will bite when they are disturbed. Thatching or “mound ants” get their name because they construct mounds from small sticks, grass stems, leaves and pine or fir needles. The landscape can be visually disrupted by the presence of their mounds. Physical contact with them is also displeasing, since they can bite quite hard and usually spray the area they have bitten with formic acid to produce a painful sensation which can result in a blistering of the skin if it is not washed.
PAVEMENT ANT–Pavement ants are typically 1/16” to 1/8” long. They will have a dark body with light legs. They emerge in the spring and throughout summer months. These ants will nest beneath stones, sidewalks and concrete slabs, and invade structures searching for food. Pavement ants are commonly first observed by finding piles of granular excavated soil from between cracks on sidewalks and driveways. Reproductive may emerge any time of the year. These ants will eat insects, honeydew and sweets, but prefer protein and fats. If pavement ants invade a structure, they usually prefer food spills found near easy access to pathways back to nesting sites. Inspection of entry points should include foundations and weep holes in brick veneer.
PHARAOH ANT– This ant is strikingly small (1/16” for workers) and is typically light brown or tan. Workers are monomorphic, and there are many fertile females in the nest. While sometimes winged, reproductive do not fly and reproduce inside the nest. Nesting sites preferred by these ants include walls and ceilings where a suitable humidity and temperature may be found. Other common sites include electrical boxes, phone boxes and dead spaces behind decorative wood trim. Nesting sites are rarely found. Pharaoh ant colonies may be very large, with tens or hundreds of thousands of workers and many queens., They are an ant pest in homes, apartments, hotels, grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities. Pharaoh ants prefer sweet and fatty foods. It is common to find pharaoh ants feeding on baked and fried pastries. At one time, pharaoh ants were very difficult to control. With the advance of baits, control has become much more achievable. Residual pesticides, repellents, and dusts will have a negative effect by encouraging the colony to split into several populations that require control. Baits should be placed adjacent to foraging lines of ants. Using properly placed baits will allow effective control without the use of other products.
MOISTURE ANTS– Moisture ant workers are typically 1/6th to 1/8th inches long, and they vary from yellow to black. Moisture ant colonies can range from a few hundred workers to several thousand. Colonies begin with a single mated female. They require moisture to survive. Moisture ants construct galleries in rotting wood within which they feed.
FIELD ANTS– They are 1/5 inch to 3/8 inch in size. They are red, brown, black, tan, or even two-colored. These ants will build mounds in lawns that can extend up to four feet in diameter. They will also nest in firewood. The large, tall mounds of field ants can destroy the appearance of the lawn and even make mowing hazardous. Controlling this species is necessary because a colony can survive for 10 years or longer, with a continually growing population.
THE LITTLE BLACK ANT– This ant is very small 1/15-inch-long and is jet black. Nests are normally located outdoors in open areas. They will also nest in rotten wood and masonry of buildings. Colonies have multiple queens and may become very large. Most of their feeding is on plant secretions but they will occasionally invade houses in search of food. Once inside they will feed on fruits, juices, sweets, meats, breads, grease and vegetables.
THE ODOROUS HOUSE ANT– This ant is 1/12 to 1/8 inch long and brownish black in colour. This ant gives off a very pungent, and unpleasant odor when crushed. Nests are found outdoors underneath boards or stone. Indoors they may nest in walls and underneath flooring. Colonies are large and contain many active queens. These ants are known to move indoors when honeydew becomes less abundant. They may be found indoors in search of alternate food sources.
ANT TRAILS– Chemical Pheromone Communication between Ants. Ants can produce scented chemicals also known as pheromones. They deposit this scent along their route. Like the story of little red riding hood dropping the bread crumbs to mark her path. Ants will rely on this scent left by their scout ants to guide the workers. Their pheromones are how ants communicate with their family.
CONTROL– Not all control measures are the same and this is dependent on the ant species and nature of the infestation. Killing the workers, you see will not solve the problem because the queen(s) in the nest will continue to produce more workers. Therefore, elimination of the nest is key.
It is important to eliminate an active ant problem at your home or business. This will eliminate the potential of multiple colonies being established over time and having the population get out of control. If they are outside only there is always a chance of them overwintering in your home when the weather cools.
Control is dependent on locating the ant colonies. That can be difficult for the homeowner who tries to eliminate this problem on their own. Treating only the ants that are visible will only reduce the numbers and not eliminate the problem.
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