An Insect Guide to Pavement Ants

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

What is that little ant? You've probably seen this tiny ant crawling across the kitchen floor in search of a crumb, trailing across your picnic blanket or table following the fresh BBQ scent, or squeezing up between the cracks of a sidewalk.

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. This ant is so common, we don't always see them as much of a problem … until they decide to join our outdoor picnics or enter our homes in search of food.

Pavement Ant Identification

  • The pavement ant is 1/10 - 1/6 of an inch long
  • It is brownish black with pale-colored legs
  • With a magnifying glass or microscope, it can be seen that it has two spines between its body parts and tiny stiff hairs covering its body.

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 -- which is what makes the sandy-looking mounds we see.

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. This is because this ant 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 these ants spilling up out of a sidewalk crack, or walking around the kitchen looking for crumbs, this ant is most active at night. But if you happen to have more than one colony one your property or even close to one another in your neighborhood -- and you happen to be out at the right time, you just might see the unique sight 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."

It Can Have Wings and Fly -- But It's Not a Termite

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 they also swarm at this time. But ants can be differentiated from termites by their:

  • Wings: ants' front wings are longer than the back wings; termite wings are 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.

Ant Activity and Behavior

Because they are so tiny, pavement ants can get into homes and buildings through cracks, around doors and windows, and beneath spaces under 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, 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.

Pavement Ant Control

For the best ways to control - and get rid of - the pavement ant, and other ants, see:

  • How to control Pavement Ants
  • How to Control Ants
  • Effective, Simple Control for Little Ants
  • How to Get Rid of Ants
  • Controlling Pests that Pester You. Part 3: Ants