Interior

10 Types of Ants Every Homeowner Should Know

There is nothing worse than seeing a line of ants in your kitchen or bathroom. Learn how to identify different types of ants, and how to get rid of them as safely and quickly as possible.
Sandi Schwartz Avatar
ants swarming a drinking glass on a counter inside a home
Photo: istockphoto.com

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Discovering ants inside the pantry or on a countertop can be frustrating and even leave homeowners feeling a bit squeamish, especially if the ants attack containers of food. Fortunately, there are many safe and effective ways to tackle ant infestations, including eco-friendly solutions like using essential oils, apple cider vinegar, or lemon juice.

The first step is to understand what is attracting the ants inside the home and how they are getting in. To determine how to get rid of ants in the house, it is also critical to understand the type of ant infesting a home. With more than 12,000 different species, this guide will help you identify 10 of the most common ants based on their physical and behavioral characteristics.

1. Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta)

Fire ants on wooden board
Photo: istockphoto.com

As one of the most dangerous types of ant, the fire ant threatens millions of people and animals annually with its four-toothed burning bite that releases venom and can produce an allergic reaction. This fiery feeling of the bite comes from a toxin with a sharp, peppery flavor. Found mostly in warm Southern and Southwestern states, these aggressive ants cause havoc for humans, animals, and agriculture. Fire ants prefer to eat plant sugars released by insects like aphids, which results in damaged crops They also consume rodents, birds, insects, and reptiles.

Red fire ants are reddish-brown except on their abdomen, which is translucent, and black fire ants are entirely black. These small ants, which grow to 2.4 to 6 millimeters (mm) long, build mounds on lawns, pastures, golf courses, driveways, and in parks and farms. Heed the warning: fire ants are known to be aggressive and attack in large numbers, and many people report being bitten hundreds of times by a single group of fire ants.

Key Characteristics: As one of the most dangerous species of ants in the world, fire ants threaten people and animals with their painful bites.
How to Get Rid of Fire Ants: While there are a few DIY methods for getting rid of fire ants, such as dousing the mound with boiling water and using bait to kill the queen, you may want to enlist the help of a professional.

2. Carpenter Ant (Camponotus pennsylvanicus)

Black carpenter ant in wooden tunnel
Photo: istockphoto.com

Carpenter ants got their name from how they form their nests: they burrow in wood and construct tunnels to live in. These critters make their nests where they find wood, such as a log, dead tree, fence, wall, ceiling, or floor. Many people mistaken them for a common “picnic” black ant, but carpenter ants can be up to five times bigger than black ants. Workers are 9.5mm to 12.7mm long, while queens can reach 25.4mm. They also have a heart-shaped head and a single node below the thorax, while black ants have a round head and double nodes.

This species includes both red and black ants. Carpenter ants are notorious for the serious damage they can cause to wood in homes and other buildings. As they make their nests in wood, they can weaken structures to the point of collapse. A few clues that a carpenter infestation exists are piles of sawdust or wood shavings near baseboards or along window sills and a soft rustling sound that might be heard at night in walls. Tap on the wall to see if the wood sounds hollow.

Key Characteristics: Making their home anywhere they can find wood, these ant types can destroy wooden structures.
How to Get Rid of Carpenter Ants: Either hire a professional exterminator or choose a carpenter ant killer from among a variety of products. These include sprays that kill on contact, liquid baits for worker ants to carry back to the colony, and granules applied outdoors to prevent ants from getting inside.

RELATED: 8 Plants That Repel Ants

3. Flying Ant (Alates)

Single flying ant
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Flying ants, also known as swarmers or alates, are any type of ant species that grows wings during mating season. While most ants are wingless, some grow wings and then leave the colony in large groups to mate by creating aggregations called ‟hilltopping” around trees, bushes, chimneys, towers, and other high structures. After several weeks of this mating ritual, males die and queen ants shed their wings and spend the rest of their lives inside the colony.

While flying ants do not pose any more threat than crawling ants, some people confuse them with termites. Look for the difference in wing size; termite wings are all the same size, yet flying ants’ front wings are larger than their back wings. If flying ants are found inside a home during the summer, they just flew in from outside. However, if found during the winter, that means there is probably a nest inside the structure that needs to be removed.

Key Characteristics: Any ant that grows wings during mating season is considered a flying ant, but is not more harmful than a crawling ant.
How to Get Rid of Flying Ants: To get rid of flying ants that are in a large swarm inside a home, locate the colony—which is likely in a wall or under the foundation—and use appropriate ant repellent.

4. Odorous House Ant (Tapinoma sessile)

Black ant on leaf
Photo: JJ Harrison, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Odorous house ants were given their name because of the stench they release when squashed. Ranging in color from brown to black, they are 2.4mm to 3.3mm long, and colonies can grow from a few thousand to nearly 200,000 ants. These house ants move quickly in a single-file line and do not sting or bite. As their name suggests, they build nests primarily inside houses in moist, warm areas and sometimes in termite-damaged wood.

Odorous house ants feast mostly on sweet foods, but they also eat dead insects and grease. They can often be spotted foraging for food in the pantry. Outdoors, they enjoy honeydew from aphids living in bushes and trees and set up their home either under pieces of wood or landscaping debris.

Key Characteristics: What sets these ants apart is the unique odor they give off when they are killed.
How to Get Rid of Odorous House Ants: The best way to get rid of ants in this case—with multiple queens and temporary nesting sites—is to use bait so the foraging worker ants carry it back to the nests and pass off the poison as food.

5. Pavement Ant (Tetramorium caespitum)

Black ant
Photo: Ryan Hodnett, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

As one of the most common ants in the United States, along with carpenter ants and odorous house ants, pavement ants are known for piling dirt mounds on top of the pavement. Growing 2.5mm to 4mm long, these ants are dark brown to black with lines down the head and thorax and have elbowed antennae. They typically nest under rocks, bricks, logs, and, of course, in the cracks between pavement.

Pavement ants will eat anything sweet or greasy and will invade buildings to find food. More social than other ant species, pavement ants have colonies of up to 10,000 workers and can become territorial if they feel threatened, in which case they use their stingers. Since they nest underground and have multiple queens, it is challenging to manage pavement ants, although placing bait in their path can help control them.

Key Characteristics: As one of the most common types of ants, this species is well recognized by the piles of dirt they leave on sidewalks.
How to Get Rid of Pavement Ants: Place bait along their trail, and the workers will carry it back to the nest to destroy the population.

RELATED: Termites vs. Ants: 8 Ways to Tell Them Apart

6. Tawny Crazy Ant (Nylanderia fulva)

Red crazy ant
Photo: Bentleypkt, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Also known as the Rasberry crazy ant, tawny crazy ants are unique since they do not march in a straight line. They have exceptionally long legs that propel them forward rapidly and show an erratic pattern of movement. Primarily found in the Southern United States, these pests are reddish-brown in color and have hairs covering their body. Their favorite foods include honeydew excreted by aphids, scale insects, whiteflies, mealybugs, and over-ripe fruit.

Crazy ants do not bite or sting, but produce and cover themselves with a formic acid to protect them against fire ant venom. Colonies are very large; sometimes people can find millions of crazy ants in one spot. When populations reach this size, they can damage air conditioners, computers, pumps, and other household equipment.

Key Characteristics: Not only do they walk in a crazy way, but these ant colonies can grow so large that they can damage household equipment.
How to Get Rid of Tawny Crazy Ants: Because crazy ant populations can get so immense, it is best to call a pest management professional (one of the best pest control companies, such as Orkin, can be a great option) to start an integrated pest management program. In addition, remove any food, debris, trash, and outdoor clutter from the yard.

7. Sugar Ant (Camponotus consobrinus)

Sugar ant close up
Photo: istockphoto.com

Commonly known as pests particularly attracted to sweets inside suburban homes, the sugar ant also prefers warm and humid climates. When outdoors, they are found in forests and woodlands under rocks, in wood holes, in soil, and on twigs. Their nests can be spotted by the large dirt hills surrounding the colony’s entrance. Ranging in size from 2mm to 15mm long, the males are black and the female workers are orange. Their favorite foods include honeydew excreted by aphids, nectar, plant-eating invertebrates such as caterpillars, small animals, secretions of various plants, and of course sugary foods.

Although they are not harmful, sugar ants become a real nuisance when they make their way into the kitchen or pantry to attack sweet items by gnawing through paper, cardboard, and even thin plastic containers. They do not sting, but are one of the types of ants that bite if disturbed. This bite is not painful and does not lead to symptoms unless someone is allergic to them.

Key Characteristics: Given their love for sweets, sugar ants are known to wreak havoc in kitchens and pantries, especially of homes in warm and humid climates.
How to Get Rid of Sugar Ants: Start with a natural remedy by spraying 100-percent white vinegar around your home and where you see sugar ants.

8. Thief Ant (Solenopsis molesta)

Red thief ant close up
Photo: Mangodreads, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Given their name because they steal food and larvae from other ant nests, these yellow to light brown pests with smooth, shiny bodies feast on protein and fats like nuts, meat, cheese, peanut butter, greasy foods, and dead rodents or insects. Because of their fondness for carcasses, they pose a risk of spreading bacteria and pathogens. As one of the tiniest ants in the world, thief ants are 1.5mm to 2.2mm long, which is small enough to get into food packaging and become a real problem to homeowners.

Thief ants build nests near or inside other ant nests, along with tunnels they use to steal from others. Outside, these nests are often near rocks, decaying wood, walkways, foundations, or soil, while inside they make a home in cabinets, masonry, floorboards, baseboards, and small crevices. Watch out for these ants, since they can bite and sting.

Key Characteristics: Not only do these ants steal from other ants, but they enjoy stealing greasy food and proteins from homeowners.
How to Get Rid of Thief Ants: The best way to eliminate these ants is to use a greasy bait where they have been seen. Since they get into houses through cracks in woodwork, holes in walls, and open doors, be sure to seal these areas to prevent future infestations.

RELATED: 12 Tried-and-True Tricks to Stamp Out Ants

9. Ghost Ant (Tapinoma melanocephalum)

Group of ghost ants
Photo: istockphoto.com

Ghost ants are unique because of the translucent appearance of their abdomen, antenna, and legs. In fact, their abdomens are so transparent that bits of food can be seen. They are tiny, at about 1.3mm to 1.5mm long. Related to odorous house ants, they give off a coconut odor when crushed. These tropical ants are typically found in South and Central Florida, but can be transported in shipping crates, boxes, and potted plants to end up in Northern states, where they only survive in heated buildings and greenhouses. Outside, they often make ant nests in the ground next to stones, logs, decaying leaves, and firewood piles.

Ghost ants’ favorite foods include honeydew excreted by aphids and sweets like syrup and cereal, and they are known to eat enough food daily to equal about 30 percent of their body weight. They sneak into houses through openings around doors and windows or cracks in the foundation. Often found on kitchen and bathroom counters and sinks, they prefer to build their nests in flower pots, inside walls, and behind baseboards. Fortunately, they do not sting and usually do not bite.

Key Characteristics: These spooky-looking translucent critters love warm, humid locations where they can invade a property and dine on sweets.
How to Get Rid of Ghost Ants: Seal all cracks or holes in the home’s foundation, securely store food in sealed containers, clean up spills or crumbs right away, and avoid leaving dirty dishes on the counter. An effective natural remedy is to dab cotton balls with a fragrant essential oil like peppermint, tea tree, or cinnamon, since they hate the smell.

10. Little Black Ant (Monomorium minimum)

Little black ants
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With an obvious name based on their appearance, little black ants are small ants and jet black, black, or dark brown in color with a sheen. The worker ants are about 1.5mm long and queens can reach up to 4mm. Their antennae have 12 segments that end with a three-segmented club. This ant species has no spine, two nodes on the petiole, and an unevenly rounded thorax. Although they have a stinger, it is too small and weak to be a threat. Found throughout most of North America, especially in the eastern U.S., southern half of California, and San Francisco area, they enjoy eating fruits, vegetables, corn meal, greasy and oily foods, and sweets.

Little black ants are known for their foraging trails from their nests to food sources often seen along sidewalks and walls. While they prefer to live outdoors in wooded areas around piles of lumber and rotting wood and under rocks, they also build nests indoors in woodwork, cracks in walls or cement, and masonry, and will invade a home when food is improperly stored.

Key Characteristics: These tiny, dark ants are not harmful, but a nuisance, especially when they find open food containers they can easily enter.
How to Get Rid of Little Black Ants: Seal cracks and crevices in exterior walls with a silicone-based caulk, ensure firewood is stored at least 20 feet away from the home, and keep shrubbery well trimmed to prevent an infestation.