Is that a crazy ant, a fire ant or a house ant? Knowing what common types of ants look like can help you to determine if you have an ant infestation or whether you are making a mountain out of an anthill.
Proper ant identification can reduce painful bites and stings, help you to get rid of ants in your home and yard, and protect your wooden decks, stairs, and firewood.
We’ve spotlighted 10 common types of ants so you can establish boundaries with these overly social guests, march them out of your pantry, and keep those ants from moving your rubber tree plants.
10 Common Types of Ants (and How to Get Rid of Them)
1. Cornfield ants
2. Pavement ants
3. Yellow ants
4. Allegheny mound ants
5. Crazy ants
6. Fire ants
7. Carpenter ants
8. Acrobat ants
9. Thief ants
10. Odorous house ants
1. Cornfield ants
Cornfield ants are light to dark brown and are common outdoors. These insects rarely nest within the home, preferring to nest out in fields. They feed on dead insects and sweets like honeydew. According to the University of Maine, cornfield ants live in many places across North America and are likely the most abundant ant on the entire continent.
Nests: Cornfield ants build crater-like nests that appear near or underneath bricks, stones, sidewalks, pavement cracks, and rotting logs.
Risks: These little bugs may occasionally scavenge in homes for sweets. Keep in mind that these critters can bite, though they are not as aggressive as fire ants.
Control tips: Consider pouring boiling water on top of the mound, which may kill up to 60% of the colony. Applying diatomaceous earth (a substance of crushed marine animal shells) may cause the ants to dehydrate within 24 hours.
2. Pavement ants
Pavement ants are dark brown to black, wingless, and have elbowed antennae. These ants have tiny, parallel ridges on the head and thorax. They have two distinct bead-like segments between the thorax and abdomen.
Ants are social insects, but pavement ants are typically more social than other ant types, creating colonies of up to 10,000 workers. These critters are also territorial and aren’t afraid to put up a fight against neighboring ants.
Nests: Pavement ants nest outdoors under stones, bricks, logs, along curbs, or in cracks of pavement. They tend to pile their dirt mound on top of the pavement.
Risks: These ants are unlikely to sting, but will sting if provoked. They are typically an aesthetic nuisance as they push up dirt from between pavement blocks. Pavement ants may invade buildings to forage for food, and even establish nests in walls or under floors.
Control: Spraying pavement ants is rarely effective because you’ll likely only manage to kill the workers you see and not the whole colony. Better ways to get rid of pavement ants:
- Place baits along their routes of travel. This can be an effective strategy, both to control indoor and outdoor colonies.
- Reduce moisture levels in the building and soil, as pavement ants tend to gravitate toward moist areas.
- Move soil away from your house to help prevent moisture from collecting against the foundation.
- Direct water from a downspout away from your home so pavement ants won’t be attracted to any wet wood on your house.
- Seal any cracks and crevices with caulk to help prevent these ants from entering.
3. Yellow ants
Also called the foundation ant, larger yellow ants are pale tan or orange with small, beady eyes. Another common name is the citronella ant because the workers have a lemon-like smell when crushed. The worker ants feed on honeydew and are most active at night.
Nests: Larger yellow ants create nests in the soil underneath logs, rocks, patio blocks, porches, concrete patios, and in open areas. These ants may excavate large amounts of dirt as they build their nests.
Risks: These bugs may move indoors for temporary winter housing in the basement. Keep in mind that larger yellow ants will rarely enter your house, as they prefer to nest outdoors. Yellow ants typically do not forage for food in the house but may create piles of dirt near their indoor nest entrance. These ants usually return outdoors in early spring.
Larger yellow ants do not bite, nor do they have a stinger. These bugs can be a nuisance when they swarm together in large numbers, which can happen at any time of year.
Control tips: Larger yellow ants cause little damage, but their presence indoors can be an annoyance. Vacuum or sweep up any ants found indoors. If you locate their temporary indoor nest, the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach recommends that you spray the nest with an indoor ant insecticide.
4. Allegheny mound ants
Allegheny mound ants have a reddish head and thorax. The abdomen and legs are between dark brown and black.
Nests: These ants have a reputation for building a rather notable anthill mound. As their tunnels extend deep into the ground, a 5-month-old Allegheny ant mound may grow to 2 feet wide and 8 inches tall, according to the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment at the University of Kentucky. At 2 years old, the mound can reach 3 feet high.
Risks: Allehgeny mound ants may inject formic acid into plants near their mounds. They can even kill small trees and shrubs within 50 feet of a large mound. If Allegheny mound ants establish an anthill in your yard, they may kill any surrounding grass. These ants can bite if disturbed.
Control: The College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment at the University of Kentucky suggests applying a residual insecticide to the mound. Before applying the insecticide, the college recommends scraping away the top of the hill with a shovel to expose the tunnels below.
Remember to protect yourself by wearing long pants tucked into socks. Allegheny mound ants will likely come out swarming when their nest is disturbed. After opening the mound, pour the correct amount of solution according to the instructions on the insecticide label.
5. Crazy ants
Tawny crazy ants have a record of not marching in a straight line like other ants. Their erratic trailing movement is caused by their long legs which propel them rather quickly. These critters tunnel through loose soil and are an economical, ecological, and nuisance pest in the Southern United States.
Crazy ants are of similar size to one another, reddish-brown, and about 1/8-inch long. The worker ants have a 12-segmented antenna and hairs covering the body.
Tawny crazy ants enjoy the honeydew excreted by aphids, scale insects, whiteflies, and mealybugs. These ants also eat small vertebrates and over-ripe fruit. They also produce and cover themselves with a formic acid antidote against fire ant venom.
Nests: Colonies typically nest near anything that can provide moisture and protection from rainfall. Crazy ants will seek shelter in mulch, leaf litter, pots, debris, landscape objects, loose tree bark, and other structures. They typically establish nests outdoors, but worker ants may forage inside your house. Crazy ants do not build nest beds or mounds.
Risks: While crazy ants do not bite or sting, these ants may prevent you from enjoying time in your yard. According to the Extension at Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities, tawny crazy ants have large colonies with worker ants sometimes numbering in the millions. Tawny crazy ants can be challenging to control due to their population size, and they can expand their location by 800 to 1,300 feet per year.
Tawny crazy ants may also spread when people move objects like mulch, trash, or potted plants to other parts of the yard. Tawny crazy ant populations can grow so large that they may damage computers, air-conditioners, and pumps and may even set off fire alarms.
Control: Because these ants are difficult to control, you need to put in place an Integrated Pest Management program. Your best solution may be to call a professional pest control provider to do this for you. Otherwise, get rid of any debris, trash, and outdoor clutter from your yard and remove any possible food sources.
Sometimes treating your yard for honeydew-producing insects may help to reduce available food sources and deter these ants. Bait treatments may also help manage new populations before they have a chance to grow.
6. Fire ants
The red imported fire ant (RIFA) is an invasive species from Brazil which entered the U.S. in the 1930s. Fire ants range from reddish-brown to reddish-black.
Fire ant colonies consist of various sized ants, including the queen, sterile female workers, winged males, and winged females. These ants are so aggressive and such a nuisance that the USDA has designated quarantined areas to help control the spread of the invasive species.
Nests: Fire ants usually create their nests in open areas, but may establish them near timber, fences, and bodies of water. An undisturbed mound may grow to a foot in height.
Fire ant mounds typically look like loose, dome-shaped piles of sand or dirt with no clear entry point. Instead, the ants enter and exit the nest through underground tunnels. These mounds may also have a fluffy appearance.
Risks: Fire ants have a painful sting and powerful bite, and typically attack as a group. Their bites can kill small animals and send people to the hospital. Some people may experience an allergic reaction or death if the fire ant attack is severe.
Fire ants may forage indoors for food during dry summers. Fire ants also can invade your home after a flood or drought and establish a nest in walls or behind large appliances. Having fire ants nest indoors can be a significant concern for your pets or sleeping individuals.
Fire ants may nest near electrical units, which can cause shortages and mechanical problems.
Control trips: The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension recommends a two-step fire ant control method involving bait and individual mound treatments. Other ways to get rid of fire ants include pouring boiling water over the mounds or introducing another ant species as a biological competitor.
Never treat for fire ants near an electrical unit, as you risk electric shock or damaging the unit. Only a licensed and trained electrician or pest control professional should handle an ant invasion near an electrical unit.
7. Carpenter ants
Carpenter ants serve a beneficial role in nature by increasing the decomposition of dead wood and stumps, but carpenter ants also are prone to attacking any wood with excess moisture and pose a threat to living trees. These wood destroyers vary in length from 1/4-inch to 7/8-inch long and are commonly black or brown, though some varieties are red. Carpenter ants are omnivores and will snack on sweets, proteins, fats, and meats.
Nests: Carpenter ants excavate tunnels inside of wood to live and form their nesting galleries. As they build their tunnel galleries, they may form cone-like piles of shredded wood debris, known as frass, which looks similar to pencil shavings.
Risks: Carpenter ants can cause structural damage in your wooden features. Carpenter ants will establish their nests wherever they can find water-damaged wood, including inside your home. Water-damaged wood, for example, may include porches, roofs, walls with leaky pipes, fence posts, power poles, or even your favorite tree.
Carpenter ants have powerful jaws and can occasionally give a painful bite if they feel threatened. Their bite may even break the skin. Even worse? Carpenter ants can spray a defensive chemical of formic acid into the wound to increase the pain.
Control tips: Correct moisture problems right away. Fix any leaky faucets, chimneys, roofs, and pipes to avoid water damage. Replace any wood that has been damaged by water, decay, or termites, as it may be an attractive nesting site for carpenter ants.
Seal all cracks and crevices to ensure the ants cannot find an accessible entry-point. Consider applying a thin layer of insecticide dust into the voids where carpenter ants are nesting.
Remember to follow all labeled product instructions for safety and the best results.
8. Acrobat ants
Acrobat ants get their name from carrying the hind portion of the abdomen above the rest of the body, almost like a balancing act. When disturbed, they may raise the hind portion further over the thorax, resembling tiny spiders. Acrobat ants range from yellow to dark brown and have a heart-shaped abdomen, which is usually darker than the rest of the body.
Nests: Acrobat ants like to nest in hollow stems and twigs, and may tunnel through softwood. Sawdust typically collects at the entrance of the nest. Acrobat ants may also establish nests under stones, in stumps, in rotting logs, and under woodpiles. Wood that carpenter ants or termites have already damaged can be attractive to acrobat ants looking for nesting space.
Risks: If you spot acrobat ants in your house, this may be a sign of a leak or nest within your home. Acrobat ant nests need moisture, so it’s best to keep any leaks in check. When acrobat ants infest buildings, they often nest in insulated areas.
Acrobat ants also have annual mating swarms of large numbers, which can concern homeowners. Acrobat ants may bite, sting, or emit an unpleasant odor when threatened.
Control: Trim shrubs or tree limbs to stop acrobat ants from marching into your home. Inspect any attic vents and repair damaged screens to help ensure these ants don’t have entry. Move firewood away from your house and remove a stump that contains a nesting site.
The NC State Extension suggests you apply a residual insecticide barrier along your home’s foundation or treat identified ant nests directly.
9. Thief ants
Thief ants vary from yellow to light brown and have a smooth, shiny appearance. Their petiole has two nodes, their thorax is uneven, their eyes are small, and their antenna has 10 segments. Thief ants feed on greasy foods, proteins, dead insects, and dead rodents. Thief ants get their name from stealing food and larvae from other ant nests.
Nests: Thief ants often create their nest either near or inside other ant nests. Their nests typically have tiny tunnels connecting to nearby nests from which they steal. Their colony is usually small, containing between a few hundred to several thousand workers, though they have many queens.
Thief ant outdoor nests may be near rocks, walkways, foundations, decaying wood, or exposed soil. Indoor nests can be in cabinets, wall voids, small crevices, masonry, floorboards, and behind baseboards.
Risks: Thief ants can establish their nests both indoors and outdoors. Thief ants are common in households, often forage for foods with lots of oil, and can easily enter packaged foods. They don’t typically feed on sweets. Thief ants can bite and sting.
Control: How to get rid of thief ants? Michigan State University suggests mixing chemical ant baits, such as Terro or Drax Ant Bait, with a small amount of grease or oil to get rid of thief ants indoors.
10. Odorous house ants
Odorous house ants range from brown to black in color and have a 12-segmented antenna. These ants often give off a rotten odor when crushed. Odorous house ants move quickly in single-file lines and prefer to feed on sweet foods, though they will also eat dead insects and grease.
Nests: The odorous house ant may build its nests under rocks, though it can also nest within structures. Odorous house ant colonies may consist of hundreds to many thousands of ants, all uniform in size.
Risks: Odorous house ants will nest indoors (obvious from their name), typically near areas with moisture and warmth, and in termite-damaged wood. You may frequently find these ants foraging for food in your pantry. Odorous house ants don’t sting or bite but can be a real nuisance in your home.
Control: Use baits to get rid of foraging dorous house ants. The worker ants may carry the bait material back to the nests and pass off the poison as food.
Know Your Ants
Ants are social creatures, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a friendly neighbor. Knowing different types of ants can help you determine how to send them packing, whether they can live indoors or outdoors, and how to recognize their nests.
Think you have fire ants near the front porch? Now you know to get that boiling water ready to get rid of fire ants so you can avoid any bite-related trips to the emergency room.
Fun FAQ About Ants
You still have a while to go before you’ve learned all the ant species. We only covered 10 here, but there are more than 12,000 species of ants.
Ants can carry 10 to 50 times (or more!) of their body weight. And their strong joints can handle forces of more than 3,000 times their body weight without breaking.
Just like humans raise and nourish livestock for food, some ant species will protect aphids from natural predators and heavy rains to secure a constant supply of honeydew.
Fire ants are a prime example of teamwork. They can float on water by linking their legs to build a raft, which allows them to float to dry areas to start a new colony.
When to Call a Pest Control Pro
If you have a rowdy ant infestation refusing to leave, call a pest control professional near you. A pest control pro can apply commercial-grade pesticides and implement an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program to get rid of ants.
Don’t wait to call a professional if ants — such as fire ants — are infesting an electrical unit or pose a threat to your health.
Main Photo Credit: Katja Schulz / Flickr / (CC BY 2.0)