As a family, ants are one of the most successful insects on the planet, estimated to comprise as much as 25 percent of the animal biomass on land. Antarctica is the only continent without a species of native ant, and only a few islands, including Iceland and Greenland, do not have native ants. There are approximately 2,000 species of ants in the United States and between 20 and 30 species in North Carolina. Nationwide, five distinct types of fire ants can be found, but only two — the red imported fire ant and the native southern fire ant — are currently present in North Carolina. However, the tropical fire ant is becoming well-established in South Carolina, and the little fire ant has been reported in Florida. Since the southern fire ant has been largely displaced by the red imported fire ant, it is the imported species that most North Carolinians are referring to when discussing fire ants. Although it can be difficult to tell the difference between regular ants and fire ants, there are some clues that can help with the identification.
Comparing Fire Ants to Other Types of Ants
The types of ants commonly found in North Carolina are red imported fire ants, carpenter ants, pavement ants and odorous house ants. The three primary clues that can help with identification are the aggressiveness of the ants, their size and the appearance of their mounds.
- Red imported fire ants are extremely aggressive if the colony is disturbed. If you push a shovel into the mound, the ants will swarm out by the hundreds and begin crawling up grass, plants or other vertical surfaces near the mound. The other types of ants usually scatter along a horizontal route, do not respond as quickly and may not even bother to leave the mound.
- Red imported fire ants are typically between an eighth of an inch to a quarter-inch long. Carpenter ants are usually a little more than half an inch long, pavement ants are normally around an eighth of an inch long and odorous house ants range from a sixteenth of an inch to an eighth of an inch in length.
- Red imported fire ants build mounds above the ground that can be as much as 18 inches high if they are left undisturbed. The mounds usually lack an opening in the top; the ants use underground tunnels to enter and exit the mound. Carpenter ants build their nests inside wood, so they do not build mounds in the soil. Pavement ants typically build their nests under sidewalks, driveways, patios and other pavements or in cracks in the pavement. During construction or to ventilate an underground nest, soil is often displaced and can be found on top of the pavement. Odorous house ants may build nests indoors in a warm location near a source of water. Outdoors, they can nest virtually anywhere, including in flower pots, under pavement and mulch, behind siding and near the base of trees and shrubs.
Proper identification is a crucial part of a successful treatment plan. If you need help to solve your problem with ants or other pests, contact State Pest Control by submitting the online form or calling 919-439-5885 or 910-212-5982.