More than 10,000 species may exist worldwide. Approximately 570 species occur in the United States and of these, fewer than 30 species may regularly infest homes and other buildings with only ten species considered major pests. Ants have succeeded in replacing other types of structural pests as the number one pest in homes in many parts of the United States. In Texas, the imported fire ant has been deemed by pest control companies as the number one structural pest. In the Pacific Northwest, carpenter ants are responsible for most homeowner calls to pest control operators.
All ant species member live in colonies with one to many queens, immature, numerous sterile female workers and occasionally males. The workers are wingless and characterized by elbowed antennae and the constricted first one or two segments of the abdomen.
Ants can be detrimental to human health; their presence under certain situations can pose a serious human health risk. In hospitals, health care facilities, food processing plants, food packaging plants and food preparation areas of various structures, the presence of ants should not be tolerated because of potential for disease transmission.
Ants frequently are annoying and sometimes dangerous because of their bites and or stings. Not all ants sting. In many ants, the sting has practically disappeared, but venom may be injected into a wound made from a bite. Many ants produce a toxin secreted by glands in the head which is deposited in the bite. The substance is called formic acid and is the source of the scientific name of the ants, Formicidae.
Ants commonly attack livestock. Workers of harvester and fire ants have been reported attacking and killing young pigs. There are also reports of fire ants attacking and killing chicks and newborn calves. Some species of the big-head ant are intermediate hosts of various poultry tapeworms.
Ants can damage crops and ornamental plants. The red imported fire ant is known to remove seeds from seed beds and feed on the seeds of corn, peanuts and beans. Workers of the red imported fire ant will chew on the roots, stems and leaves of plants. In some cases, seedlings are girdled and die.
Ants can spoil range land for grazing by building mounds and clearing sites for their nests. Harvester ants clear large areas of all vegetation about their nest structure. These ants have a potent sting which may further discourage grazing about their nests, Fire ants pose a special problem to harvest operations in hayfields as their large, hardened mounds are known to break harvesting equipment.
Enjoyment of parks and recreational areas where the fire ant is prevalent is often spoiled. Fire ants also show a fascination for electricity and have many reports of damage to electrical equipment. Carpenter ant workers will strip the insulation from cables, causing them to short.
Shade trees are damaged by Carpenter ants. Telephone poles are also not immune to ant attack.
Carpenter ants are the major group of ants that cause damage to wooden structures. These ants tunnel through wood but do not consume it for food as is the case with termites.
Most ant infestations originate from outside the building. Failure to inspect outside to find outdoor colonies or foraging trails is the primary reason most ant control services are unsuccessful. A pest management professional experienced in ant control can quickly locate the source of ant infestations most of the time.