June 2011 Archives

Dear AntWeb,

We think there are ant nests in our home but would like to confirm with you first. Please bear with us as we describe the whole situation below.

Background:
About 3 weeks ago, one morning we saw a pile of sawdust at a very small ridgeline crack where the base of the bathtub meets the floor at (on the outside of the tub, there are separate bathtub and shower stall in our bathroom). There are also about 5 winged ants sluggishly crawling around on the floor. We thought they could be termites so we check the pictures and verified that they were not termites (pinched waist), probably carpenter ants. We killed the ants and removed them along with the sawdust pile. Three days later, we saw the same things, sawdust pile and sluggish winged ants at the same location. This time, after we killed and removed the winged ants and sawdust, we used the 'Raid Ant & Roach spray' at the crack and all along that area.

A few days passed and there were no more ants so we thought all the ants were gone (mistakenly). But we still used the same Raid Ant spray evryday to make sure. Then 2 weeks ago, one morning, we saw about 50 winged ants, some dead, some sluggish, on the bathroom floor and along the window sill. We started to spray more but every morning, we still saw them, but less (about 30). We sprayed at the crack, around this area and at the window sill. After reading about the winged males/females mating, we're really worried.

Questions:

1. Does this mean we have a (or more) carpenter ant colony nesting inside somewhere our bathroom?
2. If there are ant nests in our house, then why do we only see the winged ants (supposedly out for mating), but we do not see the wingless worker ants inside the home?
3. Did the winged male ants die right after mating? Or they died because of the 'Raid Ant spray' that we used at the crack and window sill?
4. What are your conclusion and suggestions on how to resolve the ant problem.

Please let us know. Your responses are much appreciated. :)

Thanks so much for your help,
Homeowners with Ant Problem


*****
Dear Homeowners with Ant Problem,

Although most ants are happy living outside, there are a few pest ant species that find living in our homes preferable. Unfortunately this includes carpenter ants!

If what you are seeing are carpenter ants (or termites - check out this post to tell the difference) it is important that you contact a pest control group that is familiar with these insects to have them eradicated. As these insects can cause structural damage to your home it is important that you have an experienced pest control expert exterminate them.

For general tips about controlling ants in your home, please check out this previous post here.

One thing to note that since ants live in colonies, unlike most other home pest insects, using insect killing sprays will not really fix the problem. When you spray the ants you are seeing, you are only making a dent in the colony as a whole. You need to kill the queen, which is deep in the colony, to insure the death of the whole ant colony.

Regarding your specific questions, I will address each below:

Q1. Does this mean we have a (or more) carpenter ant colony nesting inside somewhere our bathroom?

A: This is likely, although they could be living outside of your home and only venturing in. But since you are seeing them in large numbers, I suspect they are living in your home.

Q2. If there are ant nests in our house, then why do we only see the winged ants (supposedly out for mating), but we do not see the wingless worker ants inside the home?

A: Although carpenter ants like living in our homes, they do not necessarily like to eat the same food we do, which is why you rarely seem them foraging in your home. The sexuals (virgin queens and males) are trying to find a way out to go on their mating flight.

Q3. Did the winged male ants die right after mating? Or they died because of the 'Raid Ant spray' that we used at the crack and window sill?

A: I doubt the ants have had a chance to mate yet (they usually require a mating flight or swarm). They are likely dying due to the insecticide.

Q4. What are your conclusion and suggestions on how to resolve the ant problem.

A: As mentioned above, it is good idea to contact a pest control specialist who is familiar with exterminating carpenter ants and termites.

Best of luck,
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team


Hello,
I've been feeding some ants on my desk which I believe to be Tapinoma sessile. I tracked them quite a long way to the front door of my house. Recently I discovered that some of the ants are coming from the opposite direction from my window which is halfway around the house. Is there a way to tell if they are from the same colony?
I've read that T. sessile is very tolerant of other ants so I don't expect any fighting. I tried to see if the ants coming from one way would go the other way. This leads me to my next question, would ants from the same species but different colonies be able to recognize each other's pheronomes as if it were their own?

Thanks,
Rex


Hi Rex!

Thanks for contacting us at AntAsk! To tell whether ants are from the same colony, I would suggest that you carefully collect one ant from one of the groups and place it in the other group. Of course, if fighting takes place, the ants were from different colonies. But also if the ants start inspecting each other carefully with their antennae and might even pull each other at the mandibles, this suggests they are from a different colony. If the ants act as nothing has happend and the experimentally introduced individual just runs with the others, they might indeed be from the same colony.

Researchers often use behavioral observations to determine colony boundaries. Other tools are the analysing cuticular hydrocarbons and/or genetic markers such as microsatellites. Social insects such as ants use low-volatile chemicals (usually hydrocarbons) that are present on the cuticle to distinguish nestmates from foreign individuals. If the hydrocarbons of two ant colonies are very similar, which might be due to the fact that the colonies are related to some extend, ants might have a hard time to determine who is a nestmate and who is not.

I hope this answers your questions!
All the best,
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

Hello!

I live in Northwest Arkansas, United States. We have been observing an odd behavior - large black ants traveling in groups of maybe 12-24 individuals. They are in roaming "packs" rather than walking in narrow trails.

My best guess is that they are black carpenter ant workers - they are probably about 9 to 11 mm long, have very large heads and mandibles, and cream colored hairs on their abdomens. There is some difference in size and proportion within the packs - some have huge square heads, and some look more "normal."

So, are they patrolling for food? Trying to set up new colonies? (It has been an extremely rainy season and there is a lot of dead wood from an ice storm two or three years ago.) Something else? Why the loose, round packs rather than single-file lines?

The attached image is of one that a pack killed (or rather, tortured by two ants holding its middle legs and pulling them taut while others bit its head for several minutes, then dragged a foot to the side and left for dead). I assume that it was territorial behavior within the same species--do you think so? That is the only time I've observed an "execution" by a pack.

Would love to hear your expertise on the matter!

IMG-20110621-00291.jpg


Hi!

Thanks for contacting us at AntAsk! We asked another ant expert, James Trager, for some help with this and here is what he had to say:

"The picture, sadly, does not help me. It looks vaguely like a mutillid or perhaps a Polyergus queen, rather than a conspecific of the pack-roaming ants as the writer suggests. The message strongly suggests Camponotus pennsylvanicus to me. They do sometimes recruit in (but usually linear) groups, but this roaming pack behavior sounds unusual, as the writer evidently recognized. I'd like to see it, and could probably interpret it better if so. If it were recruitment to a new nest site, I would expect them to be carrying brood, but there is no mention of that, so I can only guess that they are recruiting to a rich food source, such as a tree full of honeydew-secreting insects."

As James pointed out, it is impossible to tell what species of ant is in the picture as it is of poor quality. As he has mentioned, it could be a mutillid. Click here to find out more about these wasps that are sometimes mistaken for ants.

All the best,
James Trager (guest expert), Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

Hello there, my name is Svetoslav, I am from Bulgaria and I study sociology, but not for this I am a fan of the ants. However, I have this question: What about ants individuality? We know so many interesting facts about their working together. But how would a single one act in different situations. What about ants and freedom?? If this is does not seem stupid enough, what about ants and spare time, do they do anything just for fun?


Dear Svetoslav,

Great questions! I will start by saying that for the most part, little is known.

For an interesting talk that addresses some of these questions, be sure to watch Dr. Deborah Gordon's (Stanford University) TED talk:

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/deborah_gordon_digs_ants.html

There have been a few experiments done that show that how an individual ant behaves alone can be quite different than when with colony members. In addition, several researchers have done work with wasps and bees that address these same kind of questions. If you are really interested in these questions, I would suggest to start looking through the social insect literature.

Also, you could try setting up your own "backyard" experiments!

Best of luck,
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

I was just wondering how red imported fire ants behave in colder climates, how far do they go underground and would they come out if I disturbed the nest?

Hi Charlie,

Some information on what ants do in the winter is here. A fair amount of research has been done on fire ant temperature tolerance as a way of predicting the limits of its invasive range. Typically, fire ants will not leave their nests to forage when the soil temperature is below ~15º C (~59º F). At lower temperatures they often go deep underground to protect themselves from the cold. However, this does not mean that they will not become aggressive if the nest is disturbed. When the sun is shining and the temperature is cooler, fire ants move to the part of their mound that is being hit by sunlight to warm up. So even if the temperature is relatively low, they may be present and active in the top of the mound. At much lower temperatures, they are most likely to be inactive in the deeper parts of the colony and probably will not come out even if the nest is disturbed. In the lab, fire ant mortality is high if kept at freezing or near freezing temperatures for several days. However, colonies of fire ants in the wild have adaptations for dealing with the cold and can live in places where the minimum temperatures drop well below freezing. To answer your question, fire ant response to disturbance will depend on how cold it is. At very low temperatures (below freezing), they are unlikely to come out if you disturb the mound. But just because they are not active on the outside of the mound does not mean that they will not come out if it is disturbed.

Here are some interesting papers on fire ant temperature tolerance if you want to read more:

James S. S., Pereira R. M., Vail K. M., and Ownley B. H. 2002. Survival of imported fire ant (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) species subjected to freezing and near-freezing temperatures. Environ. Entom. 31: 127-133.

Korzukhin M. D., Porter S. D., Thompson L. C., and Wiley S. 2001. Modeling temperature-dependent range limits for the fire ant Solenopsis invicta (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in the United States. Environ. Entom. 30: 645-655.

Porter S. D., and Tschinkel W. R. 1987. Foraging in Solenopsis invicta (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): Effects of weather and season. Environ. Entomol. 16: 802-808.

Thanks for your question,
Ben Rubin & the AntAsk Team

Hello,

I work in the retail store of a children's science museum in Alabama. Recently, we ordered a gel-enviroment ant farms for our store and set-up one to serve as a demo. The enviroment is really cool, and our ants have been tunneling a great deal. However, I have a dilemma. Today, I tried to open the habitat to let some fresh air in (as per the ant farm instrcutions) and when I did, the ants swarmed to the top and tried to escape. When I placed the top back (I was only able to open the habitat the with of a finger nail) an ant got stuck between the top and the walls...basically got squished. I feel HORRIBLE to say the least, as and my co-workers an museum visitors absolutely love the ants and their cool habitat, and to make it worse I realized that the ant was not dead as I first thought, but still alive with a broken mandible and stuck. (To add to my distress, all the other workers hav been trying for more than two hours to get the other any un-stuck...even though it's futile :() As this ant will probably die, and the instructions recommended removing ALL dead ants.....I am asking how I can safely remove this ant. These are Havester Ants, and now that they swarm evey time remove the top, and knowing that their sting is bad, I am REALLY afraid to even attempt to open the container again. I guess what I am basically asking is how can I safely remove the dead ants without A.) Getting myself sung and letting other ants escape (this would be REALLY BAD...as we have lots of small children and people who come through store all the time) and B.) Remove the dead ants safely and without harming the others.

If you could help me answer this, I would greatly appreciate it.

Sincerly,
Ashley


Hi Ashley,

Sorry to hear about your dilemma!

You could paint the edges of the container with oil, vaseline or fluon. Fluon is a chemical that makes surfaces slippery for ants and prevents them from crawling up on plastic or glass. We use it in our tubberware boxes that we keep our ants in. However, it is white and does not look very pretty. See this post for a picture. You can order it from this website, for example.

To calm the ants down, you could put the ant farm in a freezer for several minutes (up to 5 minutes should be fine). When you get the ant farm out, the ants might look dead, but after warming up, they will start moving again and they might move quite fast. So be careful when doing this! Also, I am not sure how the freezing and condensation water will affect the gel in your farm. While you open the ant farm, you could place the it in a big tubberware container coated with fluon. If ants escape from the farm, they will still stay in the tubberware container and you can collect them with tweezers.

Hope this helps and nobody gets stung!
All the best,
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

Hi,
I live in the Puget Sound region of WA. Yesterday while tying up my raspberry plants - which are just beginning to flower - I noticed that red headed ants were all over the plants and eating the flower parts of the buds that were just opening. They were not bothering any of the buds but you could see the little discarded stamen on the leaves and they were eating right into what would become the berry. I did some searching and it seem these ants are not normally considered a crop pest and often heard aphids as we have seen in other areas of our yard. Can you offer any suggestions for control? I value all creatures but I also want a berry crop this year.

Thanks
Marcia

ant eating raspberry 1.jpg

Ant visiting damaged raspberry flowers

Thumbnail image for raspberry ant dammage.jpg

Damaged raspberry flowers, close-up


Hi Marcia!

Thanks for contacting us at AntAsk and including the photos! We asked two ant experts, Lloyd Davis and James Trager, for some help with this and here is what he had to say:

"Ants don't eat the flowers off plants in that area. If the ants are attracted to the plants, it is likely they are there because of some kind of problem the plant has, which might be some kind of pest or pathogen that is attracting them. So killing the ants will have no effect on the plant's fruit production. So, in short don't kill them, but watch them closely and see what is really going on. Perhaps a local extension agent would be helpful if the plants prove to have some sort of ailment. Lloyd"

"Looking at the pictures, it seems to me the ants may be licking residual nectar from the calyces of the berry flowers. The actual stamens would naturally become deciduous after pollination, while the stigmas that are the female pollen-receiving organs are more persistent and are clearly visible, attached to the apparently completely undamaged, individual, developing druplets of this compound fruit that we call a berry. That's how a botanist might describe it. In plain English, as far as I can tell, the ants are doing no harm, and further, their presence around the ripening fruits could well deter real pests from damaging them. The ant is Formica obscuripes, very common in that area. James"

So both experts agree that the ants are not damaging your plants, but might rather provide a benefit. Basically, just to wait and keep observing your plants. No need to kill the ants! If things get worse, a pest might be involved. If berries develop, everything was going its normal way. Hope this will help you understand what is going on with your plants.

All the best,
Lloyd Davis (guest expert), Steffi Kautz and the AntAsk Team