F&W Ant Control

Serving Greater Boston Metro Area Including Metro West, North Shore, South Shore And Worcester

Little ants can appear suddenly and in large numbers. Learn about the different types of ants common to Massachusetts and how to exterminate them.

Acrobat Ants

Introduction Acrobat ants’ common name is descriptive of these ants’ habit of raising the abdomen over the thorax and head, especially when disturbed. Various species are found throughout the United States, a few of which are common in Massachusetts.

Recognition. Acrobat ant workers are1/8 inch long and the queens range up to 3/8 inch long. They are light brown to black and some species are multicolored. The thorax has 1 pair of dorsal spines. The waist (pedicel) has 2 segments (nodes) and is attached to the upper side of the gaster (large, main portion of the abdomen). The gaster is heart-shaped from above. A stinger is present but is rarely used. Workers of many species emit a repulsive odor when alarmed.

Habits. Inside structures, acrobat ants typically nest in wood which has been subjected to high moisture and fungal decay, the same wood conditions favored by carpenter ants and termites. Similarly, they will nest in rigid foam board insulation panels and in wall voids. Outside, most species nest under rocks, in logs, firewood, or trees where decay enables them to tunnel under the bark and/or into the wood. They occasionally will nest in abandoned termite and carpenter ant galleries as well as old wood borer and powderpost beetles tunnels in structural wood.

The workers readily enter structures by trailing along tree lines and utility lines as well as along the rails of connected fences and decks. They enter via cracks and utility penetrations, window frames, soffits, etc. Workers also will trail across the ground and enter via door thresholds, weep holes, and other openings or cracks. They have been found to trail over 100 feet.

Acrobat ants feed on honeydew from aphids and mealybugs which they usually tend or “herd”. They also feed on live and dead insects, including termite swarmers. Indoors they show a slight preference for sweets and high-protein foods such as meats.

When disturbed or alarmed, workers of all but the smallest colonies tend to be quite aggressive. They are quick to bite, and give off a repulsive odor.

Cultural Control & Preventative Measures. Inspection is the key to successful control and the inspection methods are similar to those used for carpenter ants. When worker ants are found indoors, the first place to inspect is the structure’s exterior; one should look for:

  1. trailing ants on the foundation
  2. bits of foam board insulation which would indicate a nest behind the exterior sheathing or siding
  3. trailing ants on all wires, utility lines and pipes coming into the walls
  4. trailing ants on tree and shrub branches in contact with the wall
  5. signs of excessive moisture such as peeling paint on wood thresholds, soffits, window frames, trim and molding

Acrobat ants that are foraging from the outside can be kept out by filling obvious cracks and crevices using silicone sealer, builder’s putty, mortar patch, etc. Tree and shrub branches should be trimmed away from the roof and walls to prevent bridging contact points.

In the yard, one should inspect logs, stumps, firewood, tree cavities, dead tree limbs, and loose bark for ant nests. Also, one should look under rocks and debris lying on the ground for ant nests. Indoors, it is important to investigate current and past areas of excessive moisture and consider past water leaks, plumbing problems, etc. A moisture meter is useful to detect areas of high moisture. Areas of old termite and carpenter ant damaged wood, if recognizable, should be checked for ant activity.

Professional Control For Acrobat Ants Outside, a full perimeter treatment will be applied by an F&W technician using a residual liquid insecticide. Acrobat ant nests located in structural wood will be treated by injection with residual insecticide, aerosol or dust formulations. Nests in wall voids will be treated by gaining access via electrical outlet and plumbing penetration holes and injecting a dust or aerosol insecticide. Nests located in wallboard behind siding and in structural voids will be treated using high pressure aerosol injections with non-residual and residual insecticides. If ornamental plants and shrubs are infested with aphids, scale insects or mealybugs, the customer should have these treated by an arborist or landscape care professional to discourage acrobat ants from foraging thereon.

Odorous House Ant

Introduction: The pungent, rotten coconut-like odor given off when this ant is crushed gives it its name. It is a native species and is found throughout the United States.

Recognition: Odorous house ant workers are 1/8 inch long and are brown to black in color. The thorax profile is unevenly rounded. The waist (pedicel) portion of the abdomen is 1-segmented (one node) and cannot be seen from above because it attaches beneath the front of the gaster. These ants do not sting or bite; however, the workers emit a disagreeable, rotten coconut-like odor when crushed.

Biology: Colonies may be comprised of several hundred to 10,000 ants. There are usually many queens in a colony. Development time (egg to adult) is 34-83 days, varying with temperature during summer months, and up to 6-7 months during the winter. Colonies typically produce 4 to 5 generations a year. Although they probably mate both inside and outside the nest, the first swarmers appear from May to mid-July. The workers and queens live for several years. Individuals from different colonies are not hostile to one another and workers normally move along trails.

Habits: Inside, these ants usually construct their nests behind siding, brick veneer and stucco, in wall voids, especially around hot water pipes and heaters, in crevices around sinks, cupboards, etc. These ants prefer sweets but also eat foods with high protein content and grease such as meats and cheese.

Outside, they are often found in the nest of larger ants, in exposed soil, but mostly under objects. Workers feed on insects, seek honeydew and plant secretions, and even feed on seeds. They are extremely fond of honeydew and attend such honeydew-excreting insects as aphids, scale insects, mealy bugs, etc. They are most likely to enter buildings when their honeydew supply is reduced such as during rainy weather or with leaf fall in the autumn.

Cultural Control & Preparatory Measures: Quickly clean up food (including pet food) and beverage spills from floors, counters, porches and decks to discourage foraging by these ants indoors and near residences/buildings. Food items should be stored in airtight containers, if possible.

Professional Control: Location of the nest(s) is crucial; therefore an F&W technician will strive to accomplish this by following the trail of foraging workers back from the food source. Insecticide baits and dusts will be strategically placed into the voids of outside ground-floor walls and infested interior walls.

A residual insecticide perimeter (barrier) treatment will be applied along the foundation exterior. Additional Insecticide baiting may be performed among landscaping features on the premises.

Female winged (alate) odorous house ant Male winged (alate) odorous house ant

Pavement Ant

Introduction: This ant gets its name from commonly locating its nest in or under cracks in pavement. The early colonist introduced pavement ants from Europe. They are found in most of the eastern half of the United States.

Recognition: Pavement ant workers measure 1/8 inch long. The queens are about 3/8 inch long. Their body color is brown to black with paler legs and antennae. The head and thorax is grooved with parallel lines. The thorax has a pair of small spines facing backward from the rear portion. The thorax profile is unevenly rounded. The waist (pedicel) of the abdomen is 2-segmented (two nodes). This ant has a stinger but seldom uses it.

Swarmer’s (winged females/queens and males) can be distinguished from other ant swarmer’s by the presence of fine furrows/grooves on the head and thorax, similar to those of the workers.

Similar Ants. Acrobat ants (Crematogaster species) have the pedicel attached to the upper front surface of the gaster (plump portion of the abdomen) instead of the bottom front area of the gaster (which is the usual configuration among ants). Also, the gaster is heart-shaped. Other small dark ants (e.g. small honey ants, odorous house ants and small black carpenter ants) have only one node / segment in the pedicel (waist).

Biology: Colonies are moderately large to large (comprised of several hundred to several thousand individuals). Developmental time varies from 36-63 days. Winged reproductives appear indoors from February into early June and outside primarily in June and July.

Habits: Inside, pavement ants will occasionally nest in walls, in insulation, and under floors. The most likely place is in ground-level masonry walls of the foundation and especially near some heat source in the winter. They often follow pipes, which come through slabs for access to upper floors of buildings.

Outside, these ants typically nest under stones, in cracks in pavement, and next to buildings. They enter buildings through cracks in the slab and walls, slab expansion joints, utility and heat duct penetrations and the natural openings of buildings. Although not aggressive, workers can bite and sting.

These ants feed on almost anything including insects, honeydew, seeds, plant sap, and household foods such as meats, nuts, cheese, honey, and bread, but show a preference for meats and grease. They forage in trails, and for distances of up to 30 feet.

Cultural Control & Preparatory Measures: Quickly clean up food (including pet food) and beverage spills from floors, counters, porches and decks to discourage foraging by these ants indoors and near residences/buildings. Food items should be stored in airtight containers, if possible. Food should not be kept in workspaces, if that can be avoided.

Professional Control: An F&W technician will try to trace worker ants to the nest locations. A variety of residual and non-residual insecticide formulations, including baits, dusts, liquids, aerosols and granules may be employed to contaminate worker ants and reach colony sites in the ground, below slabs and inside walls. An exterior foundation perimeter (barrier) treatment will help prevent future infestation.

Comparison of winged (swarmer) ant and termite; both insects may swarm indoors in springtime (February – May) and may alarm and confuse property owners/residents.

Citronella Ants

Introduction: The citronella ants get their name from the lemon verbena or citronella odor they emit when threatened. It is most noticeable when the ants are crushed. They are subterranean insects that feed on the honeydew (excretions) of aphids and mealybugs feeding on the roots of shrubs.

Both the larger and the smaller yellow ant are found throughout much of the continental United States. They are very common in the eastern United States and are frequently confused with termites when they swarm into the living areas of homes. In both species, the swarmers (winged ants) may vary in color from the more common light yellow to a dark reddish-yellow or light brown. The workers are typically yellow with less color variation than the swarmers.

Description:Of the two species, the larger yellow ant (L. interjectus) is the most commonly encountered in Massachusetts homes (Fig. 1). The workers are 4 to 4.5 mm long and have 12-segmented antennae, with the scape (first antennal segment) just reaching the top of the head. They have a single node to the pedicel connecting the thorax and abdomen, with sparse, erect hairs on the head, thorax, and abdomen.

The swarmers are approximately twice the size of the workers and have dark, smoke-colored wings. Like the workers, they can also vary in color from a light yellow to light reddish-brown.

Other than its size (workers are 3 to 4 mm), the smaller yellow ant looks similar to the larger yellow ant.

Larger yellow ant

Fig. 1. Citronella ant

Management: Citronella ants should be considered only as a nuisance pest species. Normally, they go unnoticed unless the swarmers enter through expansion cracks in slabs or around door openings. Although these intrusions may alarm homeowners, the ants will not reproduce within the home nor will they attack stored goods or structures.

In some cases, swarms may occur repeatedly and attempts should be made to locate the colony or colonies. Colonies typically have mounds of soil around the openings where excavated soil is deposited. These mounds can be treated by injecting an insecticide into the holes. Although numerous insecticides are labeled for ant control, many of these can only be used by licensed individuals. Therefore, a professional from F&W Pest Control should be contacted because we can use materials not available to the general public and have access to specialized application equipment and training.

Pharaoh Ant

Introduction: This ant’s common name resulted from the mistaken belief that it was one of the plagues of Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs. Pharaoh ants are thought to be native to the African region. Pharaoh ants are found throughout the United States and have been strongly implicated in the spread of various disease pathogens in hospital settings.

Recognition: The workers are 1/16 inch long and the body is yellowish to orange, with a dark tip at the rear of the gaster (enlarged part of the abdomen). Under magnification, the antenna is 12-segmented, with a 3- segmented club. The thorax profile is unevenly rounded. The waist (abdominal pedicel) is 2-segmented (two nodes) and a stinger is present but seldom used. Queens are about 1/8 inch long and slightly darker in color than workers. Queens are produced with wings but the wings are removed soon after mating, Males are about 1/16 inch long, winged, black in color, and possess straight antenna straight, not elbowed. The males are very gnat-like in appearance.

Similar Ants: Thief ants (Solenopsis molesta) are tiny and yellow-orange like pharaoh ants but have antennae that are 10-segmented with a 2-segmented club.

Biology: The colonies tend to be large with workers numbering in the thousands to several hundred thousand. There are usually several hundred reproductive females present in such a colony. Although winged reproductives are produced, there are no flights of swarmer’s. Rather, mating takes place within the nest. New nests can be formed by “budding” with as few as 5 workers, 10 pre-adults (larvae and pupae), and one queen migrating from the original colony. Developmental time (egg to adult) for workers is about 38 days at 80° F

Workers live about 9 to 10 weeks, with only up to 10% out foraging at any given time. Queens live 4 to 12 months, and males die about 3 to 5 weeks after mating.

These ants are of particular importance in hospitals where they will enter wounds, enter in-use IV bottles, seek moisture from the mouths of sleeping infants, etc. More than a dozen pathogenic bacteria have been found on pharaoh ants collected in hospitals.

Habits: Inside, Pharaoh ants nest in warm, humid areas near sources of food and or water. Nests are usually located in inaccessible areas such as wall voids, behind baseboards, in furniture, under floors, and between linens. Also pharaoh ants will nest in debris collected on flat roofs and those nesting inside will venture outside onto flat roofs in warm weather for water and food (dead insects). They typically enter and exit via poorly caulked and defective windows, under the flashing, and through weep holes in brick veneer.

The workers forage widely from the nest in search of food and water, and establish trails to food and water sources. They commonly use electrical and telephone wires as a highway system to travel through walls and between floors. Pharaoh ants are common problems in commercial food handling establishments such as hotels, grocery stores, hospitals, and in apartment complexes.

Outside, these ants seem to be of little importance as pests. In the temperate northern areas of the United States, they usually cannot survive outdoors year round. They have a wide preference in food, ranging from syrups to fruits, pies, meats and dead insects. They use carbohydrates primarily for maintenance; whereas protein is primarily required for larval development and egg production by the queens.

Cultural Control & Preparatory Measures: A thorough initial inspection is crucial to determine ant locations. Pre-baiting with non-toxic mint-apple jelly can help to locate ants. Outside, an inspection of the building perimeter, including thresholds and window ledges, for possible ant activity is helpful as well.

Quickly clean up food (including pet food) and beverage spills from floors, counters, porches and decks to discourage foraging by these ants indoors and near residences/buildings. Food items should be stored in airtight containers, if possible.

Do not attempt to control pharaoh ants using over the counter insecticide products because this may make the problem worse, as mentioned above. Nor should one disturb or contaminate the foraging ants or the bait stations that have been installed by the technician.

Professional Control: The typical use of repellent liquid or dust insecticides (versus non-repellent baits) actually makes the situation worse by causing the colony to fracture (“bud”) into several colonies. Immediately after such an application, a false sense of control is perceived during the 7 to 10 days it takes for the colonies to relocate and reorganize, because ants are not seen. Then the ants resume their foraging activity and again become visible. This cycle can be repeated many times.

Baiting is usually the only method of effective control. For this reason, F&W Pest Control technicians employ multiple strategic placements of bait stations known to be attractive and effective against pharaoh ants. Baits are located as close as possible to where the ants are entering/exiting from walls, ceiling, appliances, etc., but such that the likelihood of bait station disturbance is minimal. Technicians place baits as close to foraging lines of ants as possible without disturbing them.

If the Pharaoh ant infestation is in a multifamily building, the only way such an infestation can be eliminated is inspection and treatment of the entire building. Otherwise, ants will move from non-treated units into ant-free units.

If the ants are nesting in the ground on the outside, a perimeter barrier application utilizing a fine granular insecticide bait or residual insecticide formulation is made. Windowsills have proven to be strategic baiting zones as well. 

Field Ants

Introduction: The common name of field ant probably comes from their abundance in outdoor situations. This is the largest genus of ants in America north of Mexico, containing about one-sixth of our entire ant fauna. Some species are commonly called thatching ants because of their habit of constructing a mound or thatch of plant material, often grass. They are found throughout the United States.

Recognition: Field ant workers measure about 1/4 inch long and may be brown, black, reddish or a combination of these colors. The thorax profile is not evenly rounded on upper side. There is a distinct notch halfway or so along the top surface of the thorax. The waist (pedicel) of the abdomen is 1-segmented (single node). Although no stinger is present, these ants will bite and spray pungent-smelling formic acid onto the persons or animals provoking them.

Similar Ants: Carpenter ants (Camponotus species) have the upper surface of the thorax evenly rounded as observed from a side (profile) view.

Biology: Because of the size and diversity of this genus, few generalizations can be made. They exhibit such behavior as slave-making and temporary social parasitism of various kinds, and several different methods of nest construction. Colony founding is usually by a single mated female (queen). Colony size varies considerably, for example, colonies of some species have nests of about 20,000-94,000 ants.

Habits: The habits are diverse within this genus. However, most species causing problems around structures are either one of those species called thatching ants or are associated with masonry walls, concrete sidewalks, etc.

Thatching ant species construct their mound of plant materials, often grass but also twigs, leaves, and/or pine needles. Such nests are often located around small trees, shrubs, or rocks. Other Formica typically construct their nest in the cracks of sidewalks, along foundation walls, at the base of trees, etc. Field ants rarely nest in homes but occasionally enter in search of sweets.

Field and thatching ants feed primarily on honeydew from aphids (plant lice), mealy bugs, scale insects, etc. found on trees and shrubs. However, some are also general scavengers-predators and are attracted to meats.

Cultural Control & Preventative Measures: One should quickly clean up food and beverage spills from floors, porches and decks (including pet food) to discourage foraging by these ants indoors and near residences / buildings. Field ants that occasionally enter buildings can be removed with a vacuum cleaner fitted with a hose attachment.

Trees that are infested with honeydew-producing insects can be made less attractive to foraging ants by periodically spraying the trunks with a 1 or 2% detergent solution in a 2 to 3 foot high band pattern at the base.

Professional Control: An F&W technician will apply a perimeter treatment with a residual insecticide to discourage structural entrance by field ants. Spot treatments using residual or bait insecticides will be made to obvious mound nests located in the ground.

Field and nest in lawn; note excavated soil and multiple entry holes.

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