These six-legged critters are simple enough to identify when you see them, given that their physical appearance isn’t as complicated as other pests. They’re split into three parts; head, thorax, and abdomen, and they typically have antennae. They come in black, brown, red, or a combination of both, and they’re known for being real picnic-wreckers.

Danger Level One ant alone may not seem all that impressive – they’re fairly simple to squash, depending on what you have on hand – but enough of them swarming around is a real problem. They’re fast, tiny, and their bites hurt and itch for hours after. Some species of ants – like the acrobat ants or odorous house ants – may not have much bite to them, but there are certain others – like red ants and fire ants – that you definitely don’t want to encounter.

Are They Near You? ant infestation

There are more than 12,000 species of ants all over the world, with a fair percentage of that number commonly known to infest homes. One or two ants around the house aren’t uncommon and can be easily dealt with, but if they start popping up in frequency and numbers, you may have a colony in your house or near you. Here are just some typical odd spots where you could find an ant nest in your home.

  • UNDER CONCRETE SLABS. Check the loose concrete slabs going up your driveway or in your backyard. The soft soil underneath houses them perfectly while the concrete slab gives them ample cover. If you notice pet food, nuts, and dead insects being attacked by tiny ants on a regular basis, it might be time to inspect your yard.
  • INSIDE WALLS or UNDER THE FLOOR. The possibility of this is extremely high if there are cracks or cavities in your walls or under wooden floorboards. A lot of different ant species love building their colonies in hollow walls or old flooring. Several ants, especially the large yellow ones, also love building nests in the foundation walls, causing serious damage to the structure.
  • BEHIND THE KITCHEN COUNTER. When you catch tiny little ants sneaking into food containers and milling around beverage spills, it might be time to check out the gaps kitchen furniture, particularly behind the cabinets and counters. These nests are more difficult to find than others, but some well placed bait and some observation will let you see exactly where the ant is returning to. Wipe up grease stains and try to seal up odorous food sources like meats and cheeses.
  • INSULATION and ROTTEN WOOD. Rotten wood may seem like the perfect nesting ground for termites, but some species of ants – like the acrobat ant – consider rotted wooden window frames the ideal home for their queen. Meanwhile, carpenter ants live up to their name by chewing up lumber and building a nest out of the sawdust. They can degrade both wood and insulation over time, so it’s best to keep an eye out for your insulation.

Fun Facts

  • An ant can lift 20 times its own body weight. Imagine lifting 20 of you.
  • Ants don’t actually have lungs. Instead, they have these tiny holes all over their body for oxygen to enter and carbon dioxide to leave through.
  • There are 3 kinds of ants in a colony: the queen, the female workers, and the males. Only the workers have no wings.
  • Ants can be quite territorial. Some colonies will attack enemy colonies for the sake of food and nesting space. The victorious colony steals the eggs of the defeated colony and takes them home. When these eggs hatch, the new ants become the slaves of the colony.

Acrobat Ants

Acrobat ants are so-called due to the fact that they can raise their abdomen (the end part of their body) over their thorax and head. These flexible fellows can be found even at high altitudes of more than 8,000 feet. Acrobat ants are surprisingly vicious. They attack in groups, something releasing a small amount of venom through a sting to slow down the prey. They’re also known to eat different types of wasps. Since wasps can be difficult to track and hunt down, acrobat ants have evolved to sensing the chemical signals released by wasps during pollination.

Size: 2.6mm-3.2mm

Color: light red, brown, black

Wings: only the drones (males) and the queen (female)

Other names:

  • Valentine Ant – due to their distinctively heart-shaped abdomen
  • Cocktail Ant – due to raising their abdomen when they’re alarmed or distressed

Habitat: Acrobat ants typically nest near moist areas. Stumps, rotting logs, stones, and woodpiles are ideal locations for them outdoors. In homes, they seek out damp places such as insulating foam or the hollow spaces in the roof, especially one that’s leaking. They also often nest in wooden areas that termites or carpenter ants have damaged. They simply clean out the holes and crevices that other insects have made by pushing out dirt or scraps before settling in. Many homeowners have been known to confuse this debris for an active termite infestation.

Getting Rid of Them: An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, in this case. When it comes to acrobat ants, it’s better to stop the infestation before it gets too deep in. Investigate your house for any leaks or signs of debris, like small piles of dust or wood shavings. Check foam linings and insulation. If there are tree stumps in your yard, have them removed or thoroughly inspected for colonies. Check your basement or areas near your pipes for any moisture settling. Acrobat ants are attracted to damp places, so keep everything as dry as possible.

Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ants are a considerably large species of ants and are the most common household pests. Their name comes from the way they build their nests. Carpenter ants construct their colony by clearing out galleries in wood using their mandibles. They don’t eat the wood, however; they simply carve it out. These ants are foragers by nature, typically eating parts of dead insects or substances derived from other insects. Any building, regardless of age, is vulnerable to carpenter ant colonies, and many people mistake the debris they leave behind to be a termite infestation. They are, by far, one of the more difficult species to keep under control. A normal colony consists of more than 50,000 workers alone. That’s not counting the queens and the soldiers.

Size: 3.4mm-13mm

Color: more commonly black, although some red and yellow variants exist

Wings: only the “swarmers” of the colony (reproductive individuals) have wings. Their purpose is to mate. In the case of the females, they must also fly to a new location to establish another colony. Swarmers are often mistaken for winged termites.

Other names:

  • Exploding Ants – in Southeast Asia, there are nine species of carpenter ants that possess greatly enlarged mandibular glands that run the entire length of the body. This enlarged gland contains glue which, when it bursts out, can entangle and immobilize nearby victims. They’re given the name exploding ants because the gland must rupture – along with the ants body – in order for the glue to come out.

Habitat: Since carpenter ants construct their colonies in wood, they commonly infest wooden structures and are indigenous to many forests in the world. In a natural environment, they can be found in trees – both live and dead – or tree stumps and rotting logs. They can also establish colonies in houses or buildings, particularly in wood that has been exposed to extreme moisture. The carpenter ant has two types of nests. You have have the parent colony, where the queen stays with her brood and workers, and you have the satellite colony which houses workers, older larvae, and pupae. Satellite colonies are constructed by workers when the parent colony – the original one, as the case may be – lacks sufficient space or supplies. 

Getting Rid of Them: Perhaps the best way to get rid of a carpenter ant infestation is to destroy the parent colony. Treating the main nest with dust or liquid residual insecticides eliminates the queen, thus preventing further reproduction. Without new workers coming in steady supply, no ant colony can endure for too long. Getting rid of the satellite nests will get the infestation under control for a while, but it’s more of a temporary fix. If you want the carpenter ants gone for good, find the source. Finding the parent nest may prove to be difficult, however, as carpenter ants are largely nocturnal. Use a flashlight to get an idea of their entry point, or take note of their direction. Ants usually bring any food they find, they bring back to the colony.

Thief Ants One of the smallest species of ants, thief ants get their name from their habit of constructing colonies close to other ants and then steal food and water from them. They sometimes even eat the larva of the  Their small size also makes it easy for them to slip into the tiniest gaps in plastic containers and food packaging, making them quite the nuisance in the kitchen and market. Thief ants can easily be mistaken for pharaoh ants, as the two species are quite similar. The difference lies in the smallest details. Pharaoh ants have 12 segmented antennae, thief ants only have 10. Thief ants also forage in the trails set by other ants. Pharaoh ants build their own. Thief ants also have quite the appetite. They can eat almost anything, including the larva of host ants (when they steal into the colonies), dead animals, cheese, and greasy food like nuts and meats. Size: 1.5mm-2.2mm

Color: light brown to yellow

Wings: only the drones (males) and the queen (female) have wings

Other names:

  • Grease Ants – this species of ants are unreasonably attracted to grease more than any other ant

Habitat: These ants may be tiny, but they’re tough. They are one of the few ant species that can survive in practically any environment. They can live in people’s homes – like in wall cracks or gaps behind kitchen counters – or in their backyards. In a natural setting, they can build colonies under rocks, exposed soil, rotting logs, tree stumps, and many more locations. If they can’t find a suitable place for them, they simply move into another colony. Thief ants have one of the smallest colonies among the ant species, but they are one of the few that can contain two queens – or more – and several thousand workers. 

Getting Rid of Them: Thief ants are one of the hardest pests to get rid of. Once they infest a structure, finding their colonies are almost impossible. Their tiny size and remote – and oftentimes inaccessible – nesting area makes it hard to track them down. Some people recommend laying out grease traps for them, but these aren’t guaranteed to control the infestation. The best suggestion most home owners can give when it comes to thief ants is calling in professional pest control services to deal with tiny nuisances.

Yellow Meadow Ants

Yellow meadow ants get their name from their two distinct characteristics. They’re distinctly yellow in color (of varying shades), and they’re often found in places where the grass is high, thick, and plentiful, such as meadows and lawns. They don’t usually build their nests in houses as they’re subterranean and prefer the safety and darkness of the underground. However, their colonies are one of the easiest and most commonly seen compared to other species, as they often build soil domes above the nest to regulate temperature and humidity. This dome is what people call an ant hill.   While the yellow meadow ants are arguably one of the more gentle and non-destructive ant species, homeowners and gardeners still find them a bit of an annoyance as they up-turn soil to expand their colonies and build new ones every year. Still, these little yellow critters are shy and sluggish, and biting a human being is a considerable struggle for them.

Size: 2mm-5mm(workers), 8mm (queen)

Color: yellow

Wings: only the “swarmers” of the colony (reproductive individuals) have wings, as well as the queen (female) Other names:

  • Yellow Ant – named for its distinct yellow color

Often mistaken for:

  • Red Stinging Ant/Fire Ant – some of the darker-colored yellow ants look red. The two species are also roughly the same size.
  • Citronella Ant – another species of ant also distinctly yellow in color. It takes its name from the citrusy, lemon-like smell it gives off when threatened or crushed.

Habitat: These yellowy crawlers live up to their name by building their colonies in grassy, open areas such as meadows and lawns. It’s easy to overlook their nests, as they’re often camouflaged as harmless mounds of soil covered in grass. However, these “small mounds” can often grow to roughly the size of a basketball with every new expansion added to their underground colony. Bear in mind that the ant hill itself – the small soil mound – isn’t their nest. Being subterranean, yellow meadow ants build galleries underground. The soil dome serves as a cover and temperature regulator for the galleries inside. 

Getting Rid of Them: Yellow meadow ants are probably the least harmful of all ant species, and rarely do they bother with the interior of the house. But if they’re causing problems in your yardwork or landscaping and you want them gone, finding their colony is extremely simple: look for the anthill. If you notice a few dozen ants swarming around it, chances are, you got the right mound. Just remember that simply destroying the hill isn’t going to get rid of the colony. You’ll have to dig deeper to really hit the queen.

Red Imported Fire Ants Tiny but extremely aggressive, the red imported fire ant (or RIFA for short) is an invasive pest known around the world. While most fire ant species don’t actually bother people and aren’t invasive, the RIFA is a completely different story. They attack any being – human or animal – that so much as threatens their colony. Once they think their nest is under attack, RIFAs immediately swarm to the source of the disturbance and immediately start attacking it. The first few ants to attack give off a strong pheromone that triggers the other ants to surge forward and attack in unison. The red imported fire ants inject a certain venom when they bite or sting. The results are distinctly painful and bothersome itches that can leave pustules if left untreated. Some people are known to have an allergic reaction to it. The RIFAs get their name from the burning sensation their venom leaves behind.

Size: 1.5mm-6mm

Color: reddish-brown

Wings: only the queen has wings

Often mistaken for:

  • Southern Fire Ant – still within the same species, Fire Ant. However, the Southern fire ants are less aggressive than their red imported counterparts, attacking humans only when directly threatened.
  • Raspberry Crazy Ant – this species is so-called because of its erratic movements. The only thing it shares with red imported fire ants is its reddish-brown color and its slightly intimidating reputation.

Habitat: Like the yellow meadow ant, red imported fire ants are subterranean creatures that build their colonies in galleries underground. While some RIFAs have been known to build nests in rotten logs, walls of buildings, and in outdoor electrical and water sockets, the majority of this species keep to the ground. And like the yellow meadow ants, they also build a dome-shaped mound, typically a foot in height, above their colony, which functions as a temperature regulator. Their mounds are often mistaken for gopher or mole hills, but be careful when stepping on one. RIFAs are extremely territorial. Once the mound is disturbed, hundreds of angry red ants swarm over the offending source and are known to bite and sting repeatedly until the threat leaves. 

Getting Rid of Them: A small percentage of the human population is allergic to them, and their bites are painful and irritating, making them one of the worst pests to have around your house. The red imported fire ants are certified invasive pests in some countries, and many recommend calling your local pest control service to stop the infestation. For residents who want to carry out their own management programs, however, fire ant baits are available commercially. This is an inexpensive and highly effective solution that is also safe for the environment.

RIFA bait is made to smell and seem like food attractive to the RIFA’s senses. In reality, it’s actually poison that the foraging ants will unsuspectingly carry back into their colony. Once the food is distributed among the colony and reaches the queen, it only takes a few days before the queen dies and the colony runs down. Most experts advise against spraying insecticide on the foraging ants. This will not control the colony in any way, and spraying the nest may cause the colony to separate and disperse, making it harder to control.

Pavement Ants

Pavement ants, while native to Europe, are also introduced pests in North America. They’re so-called because of the fact that colonies in North America usually build their homes on pavement, and that’s where they can usually be found. Most of the information regarding pavement ants are gleaned from their behavior above ground, but this reclusive species stays beneath pavement and in-between cement cracks most of the time, making them difficult to study naturally. Pavement ants don’t actually bite, but they do sting when provoked. Generally speaking, pavement ants are a docile species and are aggressive against humans. They are, however, bloody brutal against other ants. Some pavement ant colonies will attempt to conquer new areas and often attack nearby enemy colonies. This results in a huge sidewalk battle that can often leave a thousand ants dead on the pavement.

Size: 2.5mm-4mm

Color: dark brown to black

Wings: the drones (males), alates (new queens), and queen (female) have wings

Habitat: True to their name, pavement ants build their colonies in between hard places, such as underneath squares of sidewalk, building slabs, large rocks, and pavement cracks. Some colonies build their homes in the cracks of a building’s foundation or the interior slabs. Little sand piles and small soil mounds near cracks or gaps in pavement slabs usually mean a pavement ant colony. Like the carpenter ant, pavement ants don’t eat the debris; they simply sweep it out. In the summer, the ants usually dig out the sand in between pavement slabs to help ventilate and air out the nest. Some pavement ants also dwell beneath logs, bricks, stones, or boards. They can even nest under mulching or in loose open soil near building foundations. They don’t often build colonies indoors. When they do, they prefer to build it under the floors, inside insulation and well within the walls. 

Getting Rid of Them: Pavement ants infestation are fairly easy to manage and keep under control. Since most of them live under pavement slabs or between concrete squares, there’s a chance that they won’t enter your house too often, especially if it’s too far away from them. However, if they’re too close to your house or have built their nest within your foundations, leaving them alone might result in a lot of damage to your interiors. It’s always best to use ant bait in this case – poison made to resemble and smell like food – but the chances of the poison spreading and reaching the queen are significantly lower, as the foraging ants might eat most of the bait. Unless you can kill the queen, the colony can still survive. Avoid spraying insecticide around the colony, as this will simply disperse the workers and put them on alert. If pavement ants are getting to be a real problem for you, it’s probably best to call pest control in this case.

Odorous House Ants The odorous house ant gets its name from two things. First, the distinct, ‘rotten coconut’ smell it gives off when crushed, and second, it’s one ant species more commonly seen inside houses than outside. These stinky little creatures are actually one of the lesser aggressive species of ants, attacking only when provoked. They are also highly tolerant of other ant species, often allowing other ants to live in their colonies are build extensions from it for themselves. They share a common diet with other ants – dead insects, sugar, seeds – but they seem particularly fond of honeydew, foraging and storing the sweet nectar in high amounts. They’re also one of the tougher species.

Odorous house ant workers have been observed to continue working and living even when injured, and some of their queens continue to lay eggs even with crushed abdomens. There are also documented instances of their queens living with food or water for over two months, which is saying something compared to other ant species. They are also highly tolerant to heat and cold, making it easy for them to survive just about any condition.

Size: 1.5mm-3.3mm

Color: dark brown to black

Wings: drones (male) and queen (female) have wings

Other names:

  • Stink Ant – for the same reason this little guy is called ‘odorous’; the powerful distinct smell they give off when killed or crushed
  • Coconut Ant – some people have described the odor they give off as ‘rotten coconut’, thus earning the odorous house ant this name

Habitat: The odorous house ant colonies are both polydomous – which means multiple nests – and polygynous – which means multiple queens. This is partly why they’re so accepting of other species encroaching in their homes; there’s enough space for everyone. These ants are so tough, actually, that they can form colonies virtually anywhere, in a variety of conditions. Typically, odorous house ants build their nests near sources of heat or standing water. The most common areas to find them outside would be under rocks or exposed soil. When inside, they’ve been known to build colonies in house plants and even under old toilet seats (so you might want to be careful where you sit). Another handy thing to know about them is that they’re more likely to invade homes after the rain.

Getting Rid of Them: While they’re not the most aggressive of pests, odorous house ants are one of the most common, and they represent their own well of problems. They tend to forage around inside homes, easily contaminating food supplies. They don’t sting or bite, but they do reproduce by the hundred thousands, making it almost impossible to keep them under control of left long enough. Prevention is better than cure – or control, in this case. Get rid of standing water sources and store firewood, rocks, and other material far from your house. Hunting down their colony and killing the queen is easier said than done, as the fact that they have multiple domes and multiple reproducing queens makes them quite difficult to wipe out entirely.