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Ants are insects classified in the Formicidae family. They are related to wasp, bee and sawfly families, all of which belong to the Hymenoptera order. Insects in the Hymenoptera order are known for their qualities that are beneficial to the environment. Ants specifically help control populations of harmful insects like termites and pests that are harmful to agriculture.

There are over 15,000 known species of ants and they can be found nearly all over the world. The only areas on planet Earth that do not have ant populations are Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland, the Hawaiian islands, and some smaller Pacific islands. Australia is home to over 4,000 species of ants, the most of anywhere else in the world. The United States is home to 1,000 species of ants.

Identification

Ants are the only insects classified to the Formicidae family due to their unique appearance.

  1. Elbowed antennae
  2. Thorax – where the legs attached
  3. Abdomen – where the internal organs are situated and includes:
    1. Stomach – digestion of food for the ant
    2. Crop – storage of food for the colony or the ant itself
    3. Reproductive organs
  4. Peduncle – located between the thorax and abdomen
  5. Some species also have stingers and poison glands for defense and hunting of prey

Ants are the only insects classified to the Formicidae family due to their unique appearance.

Traits

Ants are eusocial, meaning they organize themselves into highly-advanced colonies consisting of three ant castes: queens, workers and males (also known as drones).

Most ant colonies create their nests in the soil, with some opting to base in areas where there is decomposing vegetation. Ants are omnivores and eat meats, plants, seeds and fungus. They also get nutrients from aphid milk, other insects, nectar and sap, and dew.

Ants can cause harm by contaminating food they come into contact with. All ants can bite but most species in North America are generally not harmful to humans and pets.

  • Bulldog ant (native to Australia)
  • Fire ant (found in the United States)
  • Bullet ant (native to South America)
  • Florida harvester ant (found in the southern United States)
  • Green tree ant (native to Asia and Australia)

Benefits of Ants

Ants are an essential part of the earth’s ecosystem. As they create the tunnels of their nests they are aerating and turning the soil. This allows plant roots to gain access to water and oxygen. Taking seeds into their nests for food also results in new plant growth.

Types of Ants in the Tri-state region

The types of ants most commonly found in Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware are Pavement ants, Odorous House ants and Carpenter ants.

More Information About Ants

Behavior

Pavement ants are the most common type of ant found in Pennsylvania and most likely to be found in home infestations. They are brown or black and are usually 1/0 to 1/15 of an inch long. The Odorous House ant is brown and at 1/16 to 1/18 of an inch long, is slightly larger than a Pavement ant. Carpenter ants are significantly larger in size compared to Pavement ants or Odorous House ants which allows them to be more easily identified in a home infestation situation.

Lifecycle

The lifespan of a Pavement ant ranges from 7 years (workers) to ten years (queen). The lifespan of an Odorous House ant ranges from 2-6 months for workers and one year for queens, with a metamorphosis time of 34 to 83 days. Carpenter ants metamorphosize from eggs to adult in 6-12 weeks but this can take as long as 10 months in cold weather. Worker Carpenter ants can live as long as 7 years and queens can live up to 10 years.

Feeding

Ants favor sweets and will eat any sugary food like pastries, fruit juices, honey, sugar, syrups and other sweets. They are also known to eat dairy products, meats and cooked and raw vegetables, dead insects and other proteins. Carpenter ants do not eat wood. They remove wood by creating tunnels for their nests.

Habitat

Pavement ants build their nests in soil as well as under sidewalks, rocks and building foundations. They gain access to buildings through cracks in mortar and gaps around pipes and electrical wires. Odorous House ants prefer to nest near water sources. In a home infestation, they’ll seek out spaces near pipes, heaters, anywhere there might be a water leak and also in damaged wood. Carpenter ants are drawn to areas of moisture, especially wood that has been softened by water, so they often nest inside the walls of homes and other structures.

Colony Structure

A Pavement ant colony includes one or more queens, as many as 10,000 workers, and thousands of winged swarmers. The size of an Odorous House ant colony can range from hundreds to thousands of ants and their colonies can have several queens. Carpenter ant colonies can consist of a series of nests with up to 10,000 ants and one queen.

Do You Have An Ant Problem?

If you suspect you have ants in your home, here are a few ways to tell:

  • You see ants in your home
  • Sawdust or small pieces of wood are visible
  • There is evidence that something is getting into pantry items

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