Ant and Ant Mound Identification Guide
With so many varieties of ants, it can be difficult to tell how much of a threat an ant is if you see it. Some ants may chew the wood in your home, others possess painful stingers, and some disrupt gardens or kitchens with ease. Our guide on ant and ant mound identification will point you in the right direction so you know what you're dealing with.
Odorous House Ants
Appearance: These small ants are one of the most common species in the region, and the one most often spotted inside houses. They are about 1/8th of an inch long at adult size, and a medium-brown color. They sneak into houses and nearby trash cans to look for food, and are especially attracted to anything sweet. That could spell trouble if the ants find your pantry or discover a fruit tree on your property.
As the name indicates, one sign these ants are present is their smell. When one of them is crushed, it can give off a rotten fruit smell that makes identification easier.
Nest: Odorous house ants can build nests almost anywhere but prefer spots near water and, if possible, near sources of heat. They make nests in shallow soil, but will also expand nests into foundations or crawlspaces, especially if they've found a source of food nearby.
Appearance: Carpenter ants are notably large, with workers ranging in size from 3/8s to ½ inches long. They tend to be largely black with some red highlights, although some species are entirely red or black. They chew through wood (but don't eat it), and are especially attracted to weak, moist, or old wood that makes for easy burrowing. If you see a large red and black ant crawling into woodwork, it's time to take a closer look!
Nest: Carpenter ants make their nests in available wood, and will dig extensive tunnels through it that are extremely damaging to the wood. We often find them in wood sections that are difficult to see, like behind chimneys or sinks. They may also attack any unprotected exterior wood.
Red Imported Fire Ants
Appearance: While there are no native fire ants here, there are imported fire ants that can be a dangerous invasive species and may appear across the state. Their workers vary in size but are usually between 1/8th and 1/3 of an inch.
Their dark red and brown coloring can make imported fire ants difficult to distinguish from other species at first, but their aggressive behavior and ability to sting quickly sets them apart. Fire ant stings raise painful welts on the skin, and it's a bad idea to disturb a nest if you find it. If you're wondering about telling a fire ant vs a carpenter ant, fire ants don't burrow in wood, and won't have the black markings that carpenter ants typically have. They are also ants with long abdomens that may stand out from smaller-abdomen species in the region.
Nest: Red imported fire ants create very large, very noticeable mounds outdoors, either in the open or against a structure like a tree. While they can spread quickly, they generally aren't interested in buildings, but will explore pipes, ducts, and crawlspaces as they travel. A nearby fire ant mound needs to be dealt with by an exterminator because of the danger from stings.
Appearance: There are so many species of harvester ants, they can look like almost anything! You may find entirely black harvester ants, bright red harvester ants, or anything in between, and they can grow up to ½ of an inch long! Up close, harvester ants often look particularly hairy – but you may not want to get too close: While not as aggressive as fire ants, these species also have powerful stingers and will swarm and even kill if an animal threatens their nests.
Harvester ants eat vegetation and may pose a problem if they build a nest near your garden, especially if you have pets or kids that may accidentally get stung.
Nest: Harvester ants prefer dry soils. Their mounds are small but often easy to notice because they clear away all leaves and vegetation nearby and may even circle their mounds with small pebbles.
Appearance: Acrobat ants are small, around 1/8th of an inch long. They can be light brown or black and have a notable swooping abdomen that ends in a clear point. While these ants can sting, it's rare and usually not a problem unless you have a serious infestation. These ants are famous for farming and feeding off aphid excretions, but they may also eat other scraps or dead bugs they find.
Nest: Acrobat species like to nest in dry vegetation and dead wood, like tree stumps, logs, and rotten construction wood. They can also nest in damaged insulation or other parts of a house, which quickly becomes a problem.
Little Black Ants
Appearance: If you're wondering what is the smallest ant here, that would be the appropriately named little black ant, which is only about 1/16th of an inch. Little black ant bites aren't common and are mild compared to other species. They don't chew wood or cause much material damage – but they can be a nuisance in large numbers.
Nest: Little black ants like to nest in decaying wood but are small enough to get nearly anywhere. They can infest walls and floorboards, and often require professional services to get rid of them.