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Common Name: Ants
Scientific Name: Formicidae
Physical Attributes: Slim waist, node-like bodies, six legs, elbowed antennae
Adult Size: .08 in. – 1 in.
Color: Black, Brown, Red
Habitat: Soil, wood, and some plants
Lifespan: A few weeks – 30 years
Found In: All U.S. states
Ants are probably the most prolific insect on earth, with more than 12,000 species worldwide. They’re
found on every landmass, except for Antarctica and the Arctic Circle, and live in colonies that can
number into the millions. The ant likely evolved from wasp-like creatures more than 100 million years ago. Once the earth
sprouted flowering plants, the species diversified quickly and the current-day ant eventually emerged.
The ant’s colony structure is similar to that of other pest colonies, consisting of a queen, workers,
soldiers, drones, and a few other specialized groups. The social structure is very complex with every ant
having a purposeful “job”. Queens run the colony and are the only reproductive female in the colony.
Sterile females form the largest groups within the colony and usually serve as workers – gathering food
and caring for larvae – and soldiers, who defend the colony from predators.
The queen ant lives the longest – up to 30 years in some species. Each day, the queen lays between 800
and 1,500 eggs. If these eggs are fertilized, they hatch to become females. Unfertilized eggs become
The ant caste system is mobile; ants “graduate” through caste levels as they age. Soon after passing
through the larva and pupa stages, worker ants are assigned babysitting duties for eggs, young ants,
and the queen. Eventually, these ants move out of their caretaker roles into digging and nest care roles.
From there, they become food foragers and nest defenders – an evolutionarily proper role for ants
nearing the end of their natural lives.
Not all ant colonies operate this way, though. Some species live in “queenless” colonies, while others
have multiple queens who leave the nest with forages to set up satellite colonies. Other species live in
all-female colonies and reproduce asexually.
Ants are social creatures that work together to build their homes and find food. Some species live and
work only within their colony and have little contact with other ant species. Others are more aggressive,
attacking neighboring colonies for eggs or food.
Most ants have a plant-based diet, feeding on leaves and fungi. But some meat-eating species feed
on insect parts. Because of their social behavior, ants often share food with the colony using their
communal stomachs. Foraging ants find food, eat it, store it in their stomachs, then return to the colony
and regurgitate it for others to eat. This is particularly true with larva care, as young ants are helpless
and cannot feed themselves.
When it comes to nest building, most ants are subterranean, building their homes within the soil. Some
species build nests within plants and logs, or under stones or other plant material. A few species are
more nomadic, preferring to build nests using their own bodies, but this is rare.
When it comes to mingling with humans, ants prefer to stay away. In fact, humans never see most ant
species. But a growing human population means we now inhabit ants’ homes, and our kitchens have
become an easy source of food. And if you’ve ever had an ant infestation, you know just how persistent
these organized pests can be.
Ants will often enter buildings through small openings around windows, below doors, or within cracks
in foundation walls. They quickly pick up the scent of food left on counters or stored loosely in cabinets
and pantries. Some ants are drawn to just water, so spills and leaks could be the cause of your ant
Controlling ants can take work. They don’t always respond immediately to treatment and it often takes a
trained pest control expert to locate the nest and treat it effectively.
There are over 12,000 species of ants. But here are the types most commonly found in North America: