There are thousands of species of small ants. Most are harmless, and some are even quite beneficial. Many ants are scavengers who help dispose of dead and decaying plants and animals, while others prey on harmful pests. Some small ants, however, are pests and need to be controlled — at least when they are in or near our homes, businesses, and recreational areas. Ants can contaminate food with their byproducts or when they transmit filth that they pick up on their bodies. Some can also impart foul odors and tastes by their bodily secretions.
A Small Sampling of Small Ants
Pavement ants are one of the most common small ants found in Missouri. They're small (about 1/8" in length ), are black or dark brown in color, and have parallel grooves on the head and thorax. These grooves resemble the pavement markings on a highway; and some exterminators say this is why they are called pavement ants." (Others say it's because pavement ants are commonly seen walking on the pavement.) Pavement ants will eat pretty much anything, but they prefer sugary foods, proteins, and fats.
Argentine Ants are sugar-feeding ants who feed on things like candy, sugary syrups, honeydew, spilled soft drinks, nectar, and so forth. They live in very large colonies, which can make control very challenging. Argentine ants usually nest outside in damp, protected places such as under rocks, firewood, mulch, and concrete slabs. They often move indoors when the weather gets cold, which is often when homeowners first notice them, usually in the kitchen or in other areas close to sources of food.
Odorous House Ants are called "odorous" because they give off an unpleasant smell, especially when they are crushed. They're primarily sugar feeders and prefer sweet foods such as pancake syrup, honeydew, fruit juices, spilled soft drinks and pancake syrup, nectar, and berries. Despite their name, odorous house ants usually nest outdoors, but are often seen indoors during cooler weather, when their natural sources of food outdoors become hard to find.
Pharaoh Ants are very tiny ants, only about 1/16 of an inch in length, on average. They're omnivores and will eat pretty much anything, and they commonly forage over very great distances (at least, in ant terms) looking for food. Pharaoh ants are notoriously difficult to control. Repellent products like sprays and dusts tend only to "fracture" the colony into multiple, smaller colonies. Treatment of Pharaoh ants requires a high degree of knowledge and a meticulous, thorough approach. Pharaoh ant extermination is definitely a job for a professional exterminator.
Thief Ants are named for their habit of living among colonies of larger ants, and then stealing and feeding upon the larger ants' young. But they'll also eat other foods. Thief ants tend to prefer oily or fatty foods like meat, lard, cheese, buttery baked goods, spilled shortenings, and dog or cat food. Thief ants are very tiny, averaging about 1/20 of an inch in size. They often go unnoticed and may be accidentally eaten by humans or pets along with the foods that the ants are infesting.
Citronella Ants range from about 1/8" to 3/8" in length, on average, and are yellow or orange in color. They emit a citronella-like scent, especially when the ants are crushed. (In fact, exterminators often crush these ants between their fingers to identify them.) They tend to live in protected places such as under rocks and slabs, emerging once or twice a year in massive swarms that often lead panicked homeowners to believe that they have termites.
Control of Small Ants
The control of small ants is as varied and diverse as are the ant species themselves. Depending on the location, species, extent of infestation, and season, we may use any of a number of treatment methods to control small ant populations. These may include interior or exterior liquid treatments, baits, gels, or granular treatments.