Identifying Common Ants

Ants

jmalov / Getty Images

Once again you are seeing ants in your house, trailing a path from the door through the dining room into the kitchen. What is that ant, and how can you get rid of it? This article provides pictures of the nine most common ants and information on their control and elimination.

Pavement Ants

  • The pavement ant is 3/16 of an inch long.
  • It is brownish-black with pale-colored legs.
  • With a magnifying glass or microscope, it can be seen that this ant has two spines at the end of its thorax (between its body parts) and stiff hairs covering its body.
  • One of the most common ants in the U.S., the pavement ant is found mostly in the Northeast, Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest. They have spread to most eastern and southern states as well.
pavement ants

Joseph Berger / Bugwood

Carpenter Ants

  • Workers range from 1/4 to 1/2 inch in length and are the most commonly seen.
  • Carpenter ant species vary in color but are generally reddish-orange to black.
  • Males are about the same size as the workers but are generally only seen when they fly from the nest to mate with the queen: their only purpose in life.
  • The queen is the largest of the species and may be double the size of the workers.
carpenter ants
Richard Bartz, Munich Makro Freak

Odorous House Ants

  • 1/10 inch long, this ant is dark brown or black in color.
  • It is particularly attracted to sweets, such as fruit juices and pastries, but it will eat a variety of foods. 
  • The odorous house ant is commonly found trailing through kitchens of homes across the U.S. Because it makes only shallow nests, it is most likely to enter homes after heavy rains.
  • These ants usually travel in lines, and they move fast. If they are disturbed or alarmed they will quickly break ranks and run around erratically—releasing their odor if crushed.
odorous house ant

Joseph Berger / Bugwood

Red Imported Fire Ants

  • These fire ants are very small and reddish-brown to black in color.
  • The ants of a single colony can vary in size from 1/16 inch to 1/5 inch long.
  • Fire ants are very aggressive, attacking anytime their mound is disturbed.
  • With magnification, it can also be seen that these ants have 10-segmented antennae with a 2-segmented club and a stinger.
Fire Ants

Stephen Ausmus / USDA ARS

Thief Ants / Grease Ants

  • The thief ant, also called a grease ant, is 1/32 - 1/16 inch.
  • It has very small eyes in relation to the size of the head.
  • Its body is yellow, bronze, light or dark brown and is very smooth and shiny.
  • Thief ants are omnivorous. They eat just about anything, but they prefer grease and high-protein foods.
thief ant

April Nobile / AntWeb

Pharaoh Ants

  • The pharaoh ant is 1/16 inch long.
  • It is golden yellow to reddish-brown and has three clubs on its antennae.
  • This ant gets its nickname, "sugar ant" from the fact that it feeds on sweets, such as jellies, honey, cakes, and sugar, as well as bread and greasy, fatty foods.
  • It is found throughout the ​U.S. and will nest within structures, particularly in the north where they cannot survive the cold winters outdoors.
Pharaoh-Ant

Janke / Wikimedia Commons

Ghost Ants

  •  The ghost ant is very small—less than 1/16 inch in length.
  • It is named “ghost” for the pale, almost translucent coloring of its body and legs, but its head is dark in color.
  • Chiefly an outdoor ant, it is found primarily in Florida and Hawaii, with some found living indoors in areas of Texas, Iowa, and Oregon.
ghost ant

Forest and Kim Starr / Bugwood

Argentine Ants

  • Argentine ant workers are generally about 1/8 inch long; the queens may be 1/6 to 1/4 inches in length.
  • Bodies vary in color from light to dark brown.
  • Argentine ants are dormant during cold winter months, often joining multiple colonies together for overwintering.
  • Found throughout many of the southern states, as well as parts of Arizona, California, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, Oregon, Texas, and Washington, they prefer urban settings, nesting in damp areas.
Argentine ant

ZenShui / Getty Images

Field Ants

  • Field ants may as small as 1/5 inch or as large as 3/8 inch in size.
  • They may be red, brown, black, tan, or even two-colored.
  • When large, field ants are often confused with carpenter ants.
  • They feed primarily on honeydew from aphids, mealy bugs, and other plant pests. Some may invade homes to forage for food, but this is rare.
field ants

Norbert Nagel / wikipedia

Article Sources
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  1. Integrated Pest Management for Ants in Schools. Oregon State University, 2022. 

  2. Hahn, Jeffrey and Stephen Kells. Carpenter Ants. University of Minnesota Extension, 2020.

  3. Liesch, PJ. Odorous House Ants. University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension, 2021. 

  4. Greenberg, Les. Red Imported Fire Ant [Photo]. University of California Integrated Pest Management Program.

  5. Thief Ants. Michigan State University.

  6. Nickerson, J. C. et al. Pharaoh Ant, Monomorium Pharaonis (Linnaeus) (Insecta: Hymenoptera: Formicidae). University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, 2021.