Pavement Ants Pave Their Own Way to Your Food

Tiny pavement ants eating honey
Tiny pavement ants eating honey. fractality23/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

What are those little ants streaming out from the cracks in your sidewalk? You've probably seen them crawling across the kitchen floor in search of a crumb, trailing across your picnic blanket, or following the smell of BBQ on your patio. That little ant is one of the most common ants in the U.S. It is a pavement ant and is found in all 50 states. 

Pavement Ant Identification

The pavement ant is 1/10 to 1/6 inch long. It is brownish black with pale-colored legs. With a magnifying glass or microscope, you can see that it has two spines between its body parts and tiny stiff hairs covering its body. During spring and early summer, you may see pavement ants with wings.

Ant Colonies

When the pavement ants' colony is outdoors, it can be easily found by the mound of soil over top the nest. This ant builds its colony beneath concrete cracks ("pavement"), rocks, driveways, sidewalks, and logs. It tunnels into the soil to dig out its colony, pushing the dirt up through the top of its nest, creating the mini sandhill-like mounds.

A typical colony will have 3,000 to 5,000 ants, but there can be as many as 30,000 ants in a single colony. Pavement ants can have more than one queen in each colony, and since it is the queen that reproduces all the offspring, there can be a lot of "baby" ants!

Ant Battles

Although you may see pavement ants during the day, they are most active at night. If you happen to have more than one colony on your property or even close to one another in your neighborhood—and you happen to be out at the right time, you just might witness the unique event of an ant battle or its aftermath. Pavement ant colonies will fight for territory, and these battles can leave hundreds of dead ants on the battlefield.

Not to Be Confused With Termites

In the spring and early summer, swarms of winged pavement ants will fly to mate and reproduce. These winged ants can be confused with termites because termites also swarm at this time. But ants can be differentiated from termites by several characteristics:

  • Wings: The pavement ant's front wings are longer its back wings; termite wings are of equal length.
  • Body: Ants have a narrow waist; the termite's thick waist makes it look like it has only one body part.
  • Antennae: Ants' antennae are elbowed; termites' are straight.
  • Size: The pavement ant is much smaller than the termite.

Pavement Ant Activity and Behavior

Because of their small size, pavement ants can easily get into homes and buildings through tiny cracks, around doors and windows, and beneath spaces under the siding. One of their most common entry points is beneath sliding doors.

The ants will also nest inside houses, setting up their colonies within walls or under flooring and in woodwork, masonry, or insulation. These colonies can be much more difficult to locate and eliminate than those that are built outdoors.

The ants can also enter homes in large numbers in search of food. They will eat almost anything that humans eat, and some things we don't, such as live and dead insects. But their real preference is for meats and grease.

This ant is rarely aggressive, but it can bite and sting when disturbed. Though it is generally too weak to penetrate human skin, it can cause allergic reaction or rash in sensitive people.

Controlling Pavement Ants

It's best to target pavements ants outdoors. There's not much point in spraying for them indoors, as this will just kill the workers, and more will be sent out to forage. To kill the ants outdoors, watch the ants' movements to identify the path they follow, even if you can’t find out where the ants are coming in. Place ant bait stations along the ants' trail. The workers will find the bait, carry it back to the nest, and feed the queen, eliminating her and future populations.

If the ant trail leads you to an outdoor, belowground nest, drenching the nest with an approved insecticide spray can also be effective at eliminating the population.