Ask an Ant Expert: 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.

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.


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

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?


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


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!



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:

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 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 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.


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

Recent Assets

  • ant eating raspberry 1.jpg
  • raspberry ant dammage.jpg
  • IMG-20110621-00291.jpg