Identify Your Pest

ant Ants are among the most prevalent pests in households. Ants also invade restaurants, hospitals, offices, warehouses, and other buildings where they can find food and water. On outdoor and sometimes indoor plants, ants protect and care for honeydew-producing insects such as aphids, soft scales, whiteflies, and mealybugs, increasing damage from these pests. Ants also perform many useful functions in the environment, such as feeding on other pests (e.g., fleas, caterpillars, and termites), dead insects, and decomposing tissue from dead animals.

More than 12,500 of an estimated total of 22,000 species of ant have been classified. They are easily identified by their elbowed antennae and the distinctive node-like structure that forms their slender waists.

Damage

Inside buildings, household ants feed on sugar, syrup, honey, fruit juice, fats, and meat. Long trails of thousands of ants may lead from nests to food sources, causing considerable concern among building occupants. Outdoors ants are attracted to honeydew that soft scales, mealybugs, and aphids produce. This liquid excrement contains sugars and other nutrients. Frequently outbreaks of scales and aphids occur when ants tend them for honeydew, because the ants protect scales and aphids from their natural enemies.

Ants can bite with their pincerlike jaws, although most species rarely do. However, the velvety tree ant is an aggressive biter. A few ants sting, including native fire ants and harvester ants, which are primarily outdoor species and are the most common stinging ants in California. An aggressive stinging ant, the red imported fire ant has been found in various Southern California counties. If you suspect a fire ant infestation, report it to your county agricultural commissioner. For more information about red imported fire ants, see Pest Notes: Red Imported Fire Ant.

Ant Management

Ant management requires diligent efforts and the combined use of mechanical, cultural, sanitation, and often chemical control methods. It is unrealistic and impractical to attempt to totally eliminate ants from an outdoor area. Focus your management efforts on excluding ants from buildings or valuable plants and eliminating their food and water sources. Reducing outdoor sources of ants near buildings will reduce the likelihood of ants coming indoors.

Remember that ants often play a beneficial role in the garden. Become aware of the seasonal cycle of ants in your area and be prepared for annual invasions by caulking and baiting before the influx. Different species of ants respond to management practices differently. For management information specific to a particular species, see the Key to Identifying Common Household Ants. See also the videos related to ant management in the home.

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