Ants are nuisance pests around the home. They contaminate food; nest in walls and underneath kitchen sinks, and build unsightly mounds on your property. Some species establish nests in decaying wood and other wooden structures. And certain ants can inflict painful bites or can have venomous stings. The following information is everything you’ll ever need to know about ants in Florida from our good friends at the University of Florida.
Florida Ant Species
Several different species of ants can be found in or around homes in Florida. The most commonly encountered pest ants are pharaoh, white footed, Argentine, ghost, pyramid, carpenter, rover, native fire, imported fire, crazy, thief, Caribbean, acrobat and big-headed ants.
Ants are social insects and colonies consist of two castes, workers and reproductives (females and males). Worker ants are sterile females, are rarely winged. They often are extremely variable in size and appearance within a given species. The functions of the worker are to construct, repair and defend the nest, and feed the immature and adult ants of the colony, including the queen. The worker ants will forage for both solid and liquid foods and water. However, most adult ants cannot ingest solid food. Solid particles are given to the larvae, which are able to digest solid particles.
Reproductive females normally have wings but lose them after mating. Therefore, queens do not have wings. The primary function of the queen is reproduction. However, in some of the more highly specialized ants, the queen cares for and feeds the first brood of workers on her salivary secretions. The queen may live for many years, and in some species is replaced by a daughter queen. Depending on the species, ants can have one or more queens.
The male is usually winged and retains its wings until death. The sole function of the male is to mate with an unfertilized female reproductive. After mating occurs, the male dies. Males are produced in old or very large colonies where there is an abundance of food. After reaching maturity, the male usually does not remain in the colony very long.
Ant Life Cycle
Ants have egg, larva, pupa, and adult stages. Eggs are almost microscopic and hatch into soft, legless larvae. Larvae are fed by workers, usually on predigested, regurgitated food. This process of exchanging food is called trophallaxis. Most larvae are fed liquids, although some older larvae are able to chew and digest solids. The pupa resembles the adult except that it is soft, uncolored, and immobile. In many ant species the pupa is in a cocoon spun by the larva. Six weeks to two months are required for development from egg to adult in some species.
Ants establish new colonies by two main methods: flights of winged reproductives and budding. The most common method is for male and female reproductives to leave the nest on mating flights (nuptial flights). The several hundred to thousands of winged reproductives that emerge from colonies for their nuptial flights have also been termed as “swarming.” At Patrick Exterminating, we receive a lot of calls from frantic homeowners during swarming season. The mating flights are usually triggered by weather cues such as the right temperature and/or 24 hours after a rainstorm. The mated queen constructs a cavity or cell and rears a brood unaided by workers. The first brood molts into small workers, which then forage for food and take over the brood-caring and other duties in the nest while the queen continues to lay eggs. The colony grows in size and numbers as more young are produced. The colony grows rapidly but slows its growth when the colony size nears maturity.
Most ants eat a wide variety of foods, although some have specialized tastes. Fire ants feed on honeydew, sugars, proteins, oils, seeds, plants, and insects. Pharaoh ants feed on sugars, proteins, oils, and insects. Crazy ants like sugars, protein, and insects. Carpenter ants prefer sugars and insects. Often ants’ preference for certain foods will vary throughout the year depending on how much brood is being produced in the nest. This variance in food preference has some consequence on the use of baits for ant control. Sometimes changing from sugar-based baits to protein or oil-based baits may be important in maintaining the ants’ interest in the toxic baits.
Ants use scouts to locate food. When a scouting ant finds promising food, she carries it or a piece of it back to the nest. Some ants leave scent trails composed of various chemical compounds known as pheromones that others can follow to the food source. The pheromone trail that is deposited by scout ants is typically short-lived and must be reapplied continuously. Ants require water and will travel some distance for it if necessary. Workers are able to bring water to the colony in their guts.
Prevention is the best line of defense against the establishment of any pest insect. Relatively small ants, such as the white-footed ant and rover ant, can fit through extremely small openings to gain access into the home. Sealing cracks and holes where ants may be entering a structure can effectively stop most ant invasions. If these entry points can be located, they can be blocked by application of caulk or some other exclusion device. This can also help to prevent other insects from gaining access into your home.
The best approach to ant control in the home is cleanliness. Any type of food or food particles can attract and provide food for ants. Food should be stored in tight containers. Remove plants that can attract ants, or control aphids, whiteflies and other honeydew-producing insects on plants in and around structures. Removing any materials or vegetation that is serving as a nesting site to ants is beneficial towards a long-term ant management strategy. Try to remove piles of old lumber, firewood, railroad ties, and debris that can serve as potential nesting sites. Reduce moisture sources, including condensation and leaks.
Patrick Exterminating is here to help.
After taking the preventative steps above, if you are still experiencing an ant problem, Patrick Exterminating is here to help. Tracking the source often requires a professional, and over-the-counter liquids, sprays and baits can be ineffective or provide only short-term results. Our experienced technicians will locate the source of problem and eliminate it, and then create a permanent barrier against future invasions so you can relax knowing your home is protected from these clever and persistent intruders. With proper pest management, you can finally say goodbye to ants!
Source: University of Florida IFAS Extension
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