Types of Ants Based On Their Body Characteristics And Behavior

From over 12,000 species, only a few types of ants invade your home. The ‘humps’ or nodes on the thorax help us to identify them correctly.

There are other factors to consider as well before categorizing them.

We can differentiate them based on color, size, habitat, appearance, and regions where they live. Some of them bite, some of them sting. Some of them both bite and sting!

In this article, I will talk about the main kinds of them featuring their prime traits and natures. I will try to attach their pictures as well. Stay with me!

Common Ant Types

types of ants

Before I describe them in details, here is a list of their various kinds:

  • Acrobat Ants
  • Carpenter Ants
  • Argentine Ants
  • Asian Needle Ants
  • Crazy Ants
  • Rover Ants
  • European Fire Ants
  • Field Ants
  • Pharaoh Ants
  • Odorous House Ant
  • Leaf-Cutting Ant
  • Pavement Ants
  • Red Imported Fire Ants
  • …and many more!

Different Species of Ants Elaborately Described

Not all species invade your house. Some of them live outside for their whole lives. Let’s try to draw a more complete picture of each of their kinds.

  • Carpenter Ant

You can find multiple types of carpenter ants across the U.S. Depending on their types, they can grow as long as 6 and 13 millimeters. However, the queen can be as long as ½” long.

Carpenter Ants

Due to their wide varieties, they have a wide physical description as well. Not many, but some of their species are aggressive and will bite if their nests are threatened.

They don’t eat the woods but excavate them to build their nests. They live both outsides and indoors. For outdoor nests, they prefer lumber or trees.

For the indoor living, they prefer the roofs and woodworks to make their nests where there is a great source of moisture.

And when indoors, they like to eat any sweet substances, fats, meats, grease, etc. And they won’t sting but can do structural damage to your woodworks. Only a professional exterminator can get rid of carpenter ants successfully.

  • Acrobat Ants

Widely available across the entire Eastern United States, but let’s see why they are called acrobat ants in the first place.

Acrobat Ants

They are aggressive and will sting if threatened. But if the worker ants of their kinds feel threatened, they make the scorpion shape by lifting their abdomens above their heads.

It looks like they are trembling when run lifting their abdomens in the air. Due to this appearance, they are called acrobat ants.

With 2 nodes, they grow as long as 2.5 to 3 millimeters. They have multiple color variations as well like red-black to pure black, brown to yellowish-brown, etc.

They prefer outsides to live like rotten & moist wood structures, foam panel insulations, etc. Learn how to get rid of ants in the yard for good.  Although they invade indoors sometimes too.

  • Argentine Ants

Mainly seen across Hawaii, California, and Southeastern United States. The good news is their worker ants don’t sting but emits a musty smell when stepped on.

Argentine Ants

Unlike the acrobat ants, they have only 1 node and smaller in size. Argentine ants can grow as long as 2.2 to 2.8 millimeters and have a color variation of either dark or light brown.

They use shadier spots as their nests during the summer but use a variety of areas to nest during the winter. Not just outdoors, they live indoors too. You can find them in wall insulation or voids.

Sweet foods are their favorites but they also eat damaged fruits, dead insects, cereals, and meats.

The interesting fact about the Argentine ants is that they drive out other ant species from an area.

Early spring is their reproduction season and they can mate within just 3 months after born.

  • Asian Needle Ants

Widely available across South & North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. Like the Argentine ants, they have only one node but can grow as long as 5 millimeters.

With dark orange mandibles, they almost look brownish-black. They prefer high moisture and dark areas to build their nests outside.

Asian needle ants are not aggressive but will sting if pressed against your skin or they get trapped in your clothes. The sting is very painful and may cause welt!

Between July to August, they sting humans a lot. There are some cases where their bites resulted in anaphylactic shock!

  • Odorous House Ant [Tapinoma sessile]

It’s very common throughout the U.S.,  and they are given this name because they produce a strong rotten coconut-like smell of rancid butter smell when crushed.

But they don’t sting!

Odorous House Ant

Unlike other kinds of ants, each colony of the odorous house ant has multiple queens, and queens from different colonies are very friendly.

Each of their colony may have as many as 100,000 members! They keep increasing their numbers during the spring and summer and return to the central nests in winter.

Odorous house ants can grow as long as 2.4 – 3.3 mm long with 12-segmented antennae (worker ants) but no club though. Their color can range from brown to black.

They feed on cheeses, meats, and other greasy foods but very fond of sweets! They prefer voids around the sinks and near hot water pipes, and other moisture-enriched sources to build their nests.

Once your house is infested with odorous house ants, you must remove their nests to completely get rid of them. Otherwise, they will re-infest your kitchen, cupboards, or bathroom again and again.

  • Field Ants

They are called field ants because they mainly build their nests in open areas like greenery, soil, and dead woods. It’s really hard to find them indoors.

field ants

Field ants can grow as large as 4 to 8 millimeters long with a wide range of colors like mixed red, brown, black, and yellow-brown.

They bite when disturbed and when they bite they spray a little amount of formic acid that causes a little pain.

You can see them across the Northeast and Midwest United States.

  • European Fire Ants [Myrmica Rubra]

Don’t let the name confuse you! Apart from Europe, you can find them in New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, and Canada!

European Fire Ants

Such fire ants can vary in color but mostly they are light reddish-brown. About their sizes—they can become 4 to 5 millimeters long with two nodes.

They prefer outdoor locations like your lawn and garden to build their nests during the summer.

But they prefer indoor locations like under the bathtub and water heater where the places are warm with adequate moisture.

If disturbed, they are aggressive, and the sting from the European fire ants is very painful!

  • Crazy Ants

They are called crazy ants because they run sporadically when disturbed and won’t sting. Apart from the Gulf coast, they are widely available across the entire U.S.

With extremely long legs and antennae, crazy ants are unique of their kind. They have only one node and grow as long as 2.2 millimeters to 3 millimeters.

Crazy Ants

Not much color variation though—only black brown. Out of various crazy ant types, both Caribbean crazy ant and robust crazy ant are home invaders.

Unlike other ant types, they build their nests everywhere including dry and moist environments both outdoors and indoors.

You can find indoor crazy ants in houseplants, under your carpets, and in-wall voids. Learn how to stop ants in the house.

For outdoors, they build their nests in soil, plants, garbage, heavy vegetation, etc.

  • Rover Ants

These ants are relatively tiny in size with only one node on their bodies but can make very large colonies. In the U.S., they are widely available across the Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, and many other parts.

rover ants

On average, they grow as long as 1.6 millimeters. They can be in from medium to dark brown color.

Rover ants build their nests’ nearby people even if it’s outdoors. If outdoors, they build their nests under any objects, grass edges, and in the parking lots.

As they prefer any sweet liquids as their food source, you can find them in your kitchen and bathroom as well. They don’t sting normally but their colonies make them a nuisance.

  • Sugar Ants

Based on their gender, they look different. Whereas the males are totally black and winged, the females are orange-colored. And they can grow as long as 1/16 -⅛ of an inch long.

As the name suggests, they feed on sweet items. So, you may see them around your kitchens and sometimes in the bathroom too.

Also, they are very attracted to moisture. So, if you leave sugar items in the kitchen wide open and there is moisture, your kitchen will be infested with sugar ants.

They don’t sting but can bite with their powerful jaws. Widely found in Oregon, Washington, and other Pacific Northwest areas during the springtime.

  • White-footed Ants

They are given this name because of their pale yellowish-brown-colored feet. But their body and legs are much of a brown or darker black color.

A very tiny species of ants that live together in thousands in their colonies. If you are in Florida and its rainy season, you will find them very active.

They love sugary liquids, so yes, they are home invaders!

  • Ghost Ants

They love tropical areas to live in. So, you will see them in large numbers like Florida. The ghost ants are bad news for the greenhouse owners!

Very tiny in sizes with translucent legs and gasters with dark heads.

They prefer both indoor and outdoor to build their nests and you can find them in baseboards, cabinetry, wall voids, and potted plants.

  • Leafcutter Ant

Whenever you see an ant is carrying a smaller particle of the leaf, that’s a leafcutter ant! It’s everywhere and everyone knows them because of their very specific behavior (carrying leaves!).

They carefully placed their leaves underground of their ‘gardens’ where a special kind of fungus grow and they eat them!

They live outside only (in the soil) and they make their mounds like craters. As they build their nests together, it almost resembles a city! They invade households rarely.

With little red accents, their color is basically brown. With 3 spines in their thorax, they have very long legs.

  • Thief Ant [Solenopsis molesta]

They rob and steal foods from other ant types; hence the name is given. They have multi-queen colonies and they mate to breed during the late July to early Fall.

These pale yellowish to dark brown ants can be found widely across the entire U.S. Their worker ants can grow as long as 1.3 mm long and they have 10-segmented antennae with a 2-segmented club.

The thief ants prefer sweets, oils, nuts, dairy products, bread, animal fats, and other high-protein foods when they live indoors. They feed on dead animals as well. So, yes they can carry diseases too!

But when they live outside, they feed on seeds, honeydew, insects, and germinating seeds.

During the summer, they build their nests inside the masonry & woodwork, in small crevices, etc.

  • Harvester Ant

They can be orange to a reddish color as well as reddish to brown to brownish-black color too. Seeds of various grasses are their favorite food and they don’t invade your homes.

The shiny and black color Harvester ants build their nests under 10 to 15 feet deep into the ground and they clear the entry points ranging from 1 to 35 feet.

They most commonly swarm from August and September. During swarming, they fly to higher spots like buildings and the male dies after mating!

  • Pavement Ant [Tetramorium caespitum]

As you can guess from the name, they like to build their nests in pavement cracks. Widely available across the West Coast and eastern half of the U.S.

The worker ants of this ant type can grow as long as 2.5 – 3 mm long. They also have brown to black color usually with paler legs and 12-segmented antennae with a 3-segmented club.

Their thorax is somewhat grooved with parallel lines. Their worker ants only bite and sting when provoked.

Apart from the pavement cracks, they also nest inside insulation, walls, under slabs, and floors with heat sources nearby during the winter. But they will come inside any time.

  • Pharaoh Ant [Monomorium pharaonis]

A pretty mysterious name for an ant!

Well, the mysterious name was given due to the mistaken belief of Linneaus who thought these ants were one of the plagues during the pharaoh’s regime.

However, these spooky ants can carry over a dozen pathogenic bacteria and they can enter IV bottles & tubes, patient wounds, etc., and infect them!

On average, the worker ants of this ant type can grow up to 1.5 mm to 2 mm long with an unevenly rounded profile. They can have a yellowish to reddish body with a darker abdomen.

But the queens may grow from 3.5 to 6 mm long with dark red color in their wings and they lost their wings after mating.

Each of their colony has multiple queens and each queen produces up to 3,500 eggs during its entire lifetime.

Yes, they love to live in commercial buildings like the hospitals where it’s usually warm with plenty of food and water sources.

It’s hard to get rid of them because they build their nests behind the baseboards and inside the wall voids where it’s difficult to find their nests.

How Various Kinds of Ants Are Identified?

a single ant close look

For general eyes, most types of house ants or garden ants look similar. It’s confusing to identify them correctly because they never travel alone and all ants live in their colonies.

If you are an ant enthusiast, you should familiarize yourself with a key few things to successfully identify them.

You may need to take the help of a microscope or magnifying glass if you are not so sure about a particular ant species. Use rubbing alcohol if you need to kill them in your examination jar.

Here are a couple of things you need to observe closely:

  • Body Characteristics of Ants

Like every other insect, they have 3 main body regions but their body regions are distinct from many other insects.

They have some obvious constrictions between the thorax and gaster (abdomen), head and thorax, etc. Most of the ants also have antennae with bends in the middle as well.

Not all the ants in a colony have wings. Only the queen or reproductive ants have wings and the worker ants don’t have any wings for most of their species.

During the mating seasons, these reproductive ants fly from their colonies. Not every one of them returns to the original colonies though after the mating reason.

Termites have the same mating process but you can distinguish the ants from the termites observing the elbowed antennae and distinct waist.

  • Anatomy of Ants

Some wasps look like ants but they don’t have nodes or pedicels like the ants. The presence of the nodes between the gaster and the abdomen of ants distinguishes them from other similar insects like a wasp.

You can distinguish ants from wasps easily. Only the ants have nodes between the gaster and abdomen, unlike the wasps.

Also, when squished, some ants produce a specific smell like rotten coconut oil which is rare.

You can also distinguish ants from other similar insects by the presence or absence of sting and presence or absence of spines on the head & thorax.

  • Worker Size

You can group them based on their sizes as well.

Many people call them large when they are larger than 3/8 inches long, medium only their sizes are between 1/16 inches to 3/8 inches, and tiny when they are smaller than 1/16 inches.

Also, if the worker ants in a colony are the same size, they are called monomorphic. But different sizes among the worker ants categorize them as polymorphic.

  • Behavior of Ants

Some behaviors are pretty specific for some ant species.

Observe their postures when disturbed, how they carry food, how fast they run, or how they form their trails to the nests to identify them correctly.

  • Ant Nests

Their nests can be either hidden or conspicuous. When they build their nests under the soil, such nests usually have some shapes or patterns.

Observe closely those patterns or shapes of nests including the entry points of those nests. Various types of ants build a different types of nests.

A good number of ant species make their nests in trees by making cavities or using existing cavities. Ants like the acrobat or carpenter ants may use your home as their nests. Yes, they live in shrubs or trees too.

Fun Facts About Various Ant Types

ant fun facts

How about some interesting facts about different species of ants? Below are some exciting facts about ants that will blow your mind away!

  • An ant can lift items 20 times of its body weight whereas the Asian weaver ant can lift 100 times of its body weight. Can you, human!
  • The weight or biomass of all ants of the world matches the weight of the total human.
  • Ants may be tiny in size but an ant has 250,000 brain cells.
  • Yes, they are above the surface insects but an ant can survive underwater for up to 24 hours. A few species of ants can even float and swim!
  • The slave maker ants (Polyergus rufescens) raids other colonies to steal the pupae. The robbed pupae hatch and work as slaves for the slave maker.
  • The worst enemies of ants are other ants NOT humans!
  • Ants from other colonies or species are treated as enemies.
  • Just like the barbarian ear of humans, ants also fight with one another and the winner takes the loosing colony’s food, eggs, and young ants.
  • Army ants don’t have set homes and their South African species can have as many as 700,000 members in each colony!
  • The queen of the ant may live as long as 30 years.
  • Bites and stings from the ants may seem not so painful but the Maricopa harvester has a venom equivalent to 12 honey bees.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the most common types of ants?

Answer: Carpenter ants, odorous house ants, and pavement ants are the most common according to most pest management professionals (PMPs).

How do I identify an ant?

Answer: By observing the abdomen, head, and thorax you can identify any ant you come by.

What are the biggest ants in the world?

Answer: The queen driver ant is the largest of its kind. It can grow as long as 2-inches long.

What kind of ant is in my house?

Answer: Most likely the odorous house ants. Their color is either black or dark brown and you will find them on the counter or running along the floorboards.

What is the most deadly ant?

Answer: The bulldog ant (Myrmecia pyriformis) which is available in the coastal region of Australia is the deadliest of its kind. Yes, it can kill humans!

What are the tiny black ants called?

Answer: Scientifically known as Monomorium minimum or little black ants. Apart from the U.S., they are also found in Canada and Mexico.

Why do ants go crazy before rain?

Answer: Because they can sense the rain including any sudden change in temperature using their antennae.

Bottom Line

There are thousands of ant species and you won’t encounter most of them in your lifetime. So, I talked about different types of ants that you may have already seen.

Apart from the black garden ant and house ants, I am not scared of the rest. Let me know your thoughts in the comment box!

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