Ants in Virginia
Numerous ant species live in Virginia; however, most of the State’s ant species live in places where they rarely cause problems for homeowners or businesses. Our focus will be on ants that are important nuisances and home invaders, cause structure problems, or create medically important symptoms from bites and stings. These five ants are Carpenter ants (property destruction) pavement ants, odorous house ants, pharaoh ants (nuisance, home invaders and possible transmitters of food-borne diseases), and two ants that are invasive and medically important, the red imported fire ant and the Asian needle ant.
Ant Colonies in Virginia
Ants establish new colonies by two primary methods – swarming and budding. The most common method involves male and female reproductives leaving the nest and mating during what is called nuptial flights or swarming. These ant swarms often occur in early spring and within a few days after rainfall.
Budding occurs when one or more queens and some workers leave the nest to begin and care for a new colony, thus avoiding some of the perils and pitfalls of swarming. In general, those ants that reproduce by budding are the most challenging ones to control.
What Do Ants in VA Eat?
Ant food preferences are quite variable, but essentially include foods that are sweet, oily, or contain a good source of protein. Examples are honeydew from plants, seeds, oily substances, and both living and dead insects. Fire ants feed on honeydew, sugars, proteins, oils, seeds, plants, and insects. Pharaoh ants feed on sugars, proteins, oils, and living or dead insect
What Do They Look Like?
Ants and termite swarmers are often confused with each other. However, the differences are made less challenging by knowing that:
- Ant swarmers have an L-shaped or “elbowed” antennae, while the termite’s antennae is straight
- Ant swarmers have a narrow, constricted portion of the body (thread waist) between the head and thorax, while the termite has a broad waist without any constriction.
- The hind pair of wings is smaller than the front pair for ant swarmers, while both pairs of wings are about the same size on termite swarmers.
The best advice is to check with your pest management professional if you are not sure whether the specimen is a termite or ant swarmer.
Types of Ants in VA
Carpenter ants are very large ants, very dark or even black in color, so they are fairly easy to identify. While they are generally outside ants, they may invade a home when searching for a source of available food. Their natural foods are honeydew from aphids and other insects, and small insects, as well. Carpenter ants do not eat wood, but they build their nests by excavating galleries and chambers in living and dead trees, rotting logs, and stumps. One of the common signs of carpenter ants is sawdust that results from their nest excavations.
The presence of moist wood in a home is like a magnet for a carpenter ant. Common places to find carpenter ants in homes are roofs, windowsills, and any wood that touches soil. These pest also infest stored lumber or other wood pieces found on floors of crawl spaces and garages.
Pavement ants are small, brown to black ants with a black abdomen. Pavement ants have many food sources, but prefer to feed on both alive and dead insects, honeydew from aphids, meats, and greasy foods. Pavement ants usually nest underneath stones, concrete patio, and sidewalk slabs at the edge of pavement. Pavement ants frequently enter homes foraging for food.
Odorous House Ants
Odorous house ants are tiny, about 3 mm in length, and are dark brown to black in color. This ant is found throughout most of Virginia. Odorous house ants are usually observed foraging for food in large numbers and they possess a behavior trait whereby when alarmed, the foraging workers run about erratically and raise their abdomens up above their head.
Odorous house ants will nest in both outdoor and indoor habitats. Outside, they usually are found just underneath the soil surface in mulch, plant debris, and rocks. Indoors, nests are usually found in wall voids, around water pipes and heaters, behind wall paneling and cabinets, under carpets, or beneath the floor.
Pharaoh ants are very small, have light yellowish colored bodies with red and black markings on the abdomen. They are omnivores and will eat practically any type of foods, preferring greasy foods, meats, and sweets. They are serious pests within homes, businesses, and most importantly hospitals, where they often infest moist wounds and dressings, potentially transmitting hospital acquired infections.
Pharaoh ants build nests inside walls, cabinet voids, behind baseboards, refrigerators insulation, the hollows of curtain rods, the folds of clothes, sheets and paper, and other undisturbed dark spaces. The size of the colony tends to be large but can vary from a few dozen to several thousand or even several hundred thousand individuals. Many pest management professionals consider pharaoh ants to be the most challenging of all ants that live in houses and businesses.
Red Imported Fire Ants
Red imported fire ants (RIFA) are actually categorized as an invasive species that has spread into many states since the 1930s. RIFA spread naturally via annual mating flights and also spread by budding. Hitchhiking on shipments and in commercial nursery stock that was moved from infested sites to non-infested sites also is a primary contributor to their expansion.
While fire ants usually live in the soil, they will go inside homes and other buildings seeking food, moisture, and shelter. Outdoors, the usual locations of fire ants are open, sunny sites such as lawns, fields, and pastures. If not controlled, red imported fire ants can become very serious for people and small animals that are bitten and stung. Fire ant colonies produce large, dome-shaped mounds with excavated soil removed when creating tunnels or nest cavities.
Fortunately, RIFA prefer to construct their mounds in areas that are open and exposed to the sun and will rarely nest inside homes or businesses. But, when a colony is located indoors, the results can be extremely dangerous, so make sure to plan regular inspections. RIFA colonies are often very large and may contain nearly ¼ million or more members. When fire ant colonies are disturbed, the results can be a huge number of painful and medically serious stings and bites.
RIFA colonies are now established throughout Hampton Roads portion of Virginia and single RIFA colonies have been documented in the greater Richmond area and as far west as Montgomery County.
ASIAN NEEDLE ANT
Asian needle ants are important due to their painful sting and possible serious medical reactions for people who are sensitive to their stings. These ants are likely to be found in leaf liter, under rocks and logs, mulch, landscaping timbers and railroad ties and paver bricks. They will also sometimes forage inside of structures to obtain food.