All About Ants

Learn all about ants, because if you disturb a colony, these social insects might make your skin crawl.

| July/August 2011

  • Fire Ant Warning
    Disturb a Fire Ant nest, and you might just have a mess on your hands.
    iStockphoto.com/jabejon
  • Leafcutter Ant
    Leafcutter ant takes dinner back to the nest.
    iStockphoto.com/Eric Isselée

  • Fire Ant Warning
  • Leafcutter Ant

My wife spotted the first one in early summer. Black, maybe a quarter of an inch long, cautiously exploring the surface of our kitchen counter. She smacked it with a newspaper and deposited the carcass in the trash can. There. Done.

Or not. In the following days, a progression of ants began invading our house. We whacked ’em, smashed ’em and trashed ’em, but they just kept coming. One by one, we found them crawling in the laundry room, along the kitchen floor, and across the countertops. When I found one in the sugar bowl, nearly comatose from a sugar high, I decided it was time for armed military action. It was time ... for ant bait.

No matter whether you live in the country or in the city, you’ll find ants nearby. More than 12,000 species have been identified worldwide, with hundreds of known species existing in North America. They’re found in every region of Earth except Antarctica, and some species can create supercolonies containing hundreds of thousands of individuals. All ants come equipped with sharp mandibles, and some are armed with stingers loaded with venom. Yikes!

Celebrated in fables, songs and movies, ants are among the hardest working of all insects. They follow a rigid social structure, live in colonies that include one or more queens and thousands of worker ants whose job it is to care for the queen(s) and the young, provide food for the colony, and fend off invaders. While the life expectancy of a worker ant is just 45 to 60 days, the queen can live for up to six years, producing as many as 2 million offspring during her life span. It’s good to be queen, if you don’t mind being perpetually pregnant.



Ants possess a sophisticated pheromone system that functions every bit as well as the GPS unit in your car. When the worker ants march off in search of a food source, they leave a pheromone trail behind them, making it easy for the next ant to follow. Lacking ears, ants can’t hear you calling them names. But they do have an advanced sense of vibration, picked up through their six legs. Ants also use pheromones to communicate danger, to help identify their own kind, and to summon additional ants to the attack.

Ants can be found in deserts, tundras, rain forests, swamps and fields. They construct their nests in the soil, in trees or rotting wood, under rocks and concrete, in leaf litter, or in hollow twigs and stems. While they are outdoor creatures, ants have a sweet tooth, and some species will invade your home in search of food. The ants you find in the kitchen may be small Ghost ants or black ants, or their larger cousins, the Pharaoh ants, all hunting for spilled sugar, syrup, cookie crumbs, or the sugar sludge at the bottom of your child’s morning cereal bowl.






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