What kind of ants are these and what should I do about them? (gsonder, Boston, MA and David, Reading, MA)

Dear AntAsk Team,

I live in a suburb of Boston, MA and have noticed an increasing number of ants travelling through my garden. They seem to be going to a food source and bringing it back to their dwelling. Since they are clearly on a mission, I try to avoid stepping on them as I cross their path. All has been fine until today, when they began climbing onto my foot and biting me as I attemped to water the garden. I live in a zone with freezing temps in the winter, and an unusually hot spell this summer (with temps in the 80's and 90's daily). The ants are reddish-brown and no larger than a centimeter. There is a constant flow of them in both directions as they commute to and from their destination. I don't know where they nest nor where they go. How can I find out what type of ant they are and whether they are known to be an aggressive species? I have a "live and let live" philosophy, but I don't wish to get bitten when I go out the front door.


Good Evening,

I live in Reading Massachusetts and recently found some red/orange ants with a black gaster (back end) that run very fast around my lawn and walkways. I've had a few crawl on my leg and they haven't bitten me as of yet. This is the first time I've seen this and when my wife called the exterminator he said to spread some of the lawn granules and that should kill them.

I was wondering if you could help me identify them so I can figure out what they are and how to best treat and prevent them from taken over my yard and hopefully not my home. If not, can you help me with some other resources or companies that might be able to help me identify what type of ants they are?

Thank you for your help and support,

Dear gsonder and David,

It sounds like you might both be seeing the ant Formica exsectoides. Alexander Wild has some beautiful pictures of these ants that might be helpful in identification. A great book for help identifying ants in Massachusetts is Fisher and Cover's Ants of North America. You might also want to check out the ant section on the Massachusetts Audobon Society's website (http://www.massaudubon.org/Conservation_Science/ants.php) for some more information on your local ants.

Ants are generally great to have around the yard as they are an integral part of the ecosystem and can help clean up other dead organisms and plant debris. However, nobody wants them in their house or on their legs. For advice on keeping ants out of the house check out this post
As for the ants that bit you, it is certainly possible that the recent heat wave has increased their energy level and made them act more aggressively. Ants are not generally aggressive towards people so it was likely an isolated incident and if you avoid their foraging trails they will probably leave you alone. Unless they become a consistent or painful problem I would suggest leaving them to help clean up your yard.

Ben Rubin & the AntAsk Team

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