Common Ant Species

Some ant species live in colonies that are supported by a single queen while others are supported by multiple queens. Although there are 550 known species of ants in South Africa, there are relatively few types of ants that we commonly see as pests. 

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Argentine Ant

(Linepithema humile)

Argentine ant

Appearance

  • Workers about 1.6mm long.
  • Light to dark brown in colour.
  • Do not swarm.
  • Bite – do not sting.

Lifecycle

  • Worker ants produced in spring and increase in numbers up until autumn.
  • Winged ants (reproductive Kings and Queens), produced in early spring, before the workers, mature within three months and mate soon afterwards.
  • Argentine ants mate in their nest so no swarming is seen.

Habits

  • Worker ants will follow food trails for long distances so nests are not easy to track.
  • They prefer sweet foods but will also eat live and dead insects, meats, cereals and damaged fruit.
  • Argentine ants drive out other ant species from an area.

Black House Ant

(Ochetellus)

Black House Ant

Appearance

  • Shiny and black.
  • 2.5 - 3mm long.

Lifecycle

  • Larva hatches out of the egg as a white grub which is narrower towards the head. They are fed by the adults.
  • The larva pupates and appears creamy-white, looking similar to an adult. Sometimes they have a protective silk cocoon around them.
  • The adult emerges with the three defined body sections: head, thorax and abdomen.
  • The length of time between the egg stage and ants emerging as adults can take 6 weeks or more; it depends on a variety of factors such as the species of ant, the temperature and the availability of food.
  • Fertilised eggs become female, unfertilised become males.

Habits

  • These ants are regarded as a nuisance and scavenge in kitchens, garbage and also dog excrement, therefore potentially spreading diseases such as salmonella.
  • 'Common Ants' include the intensely black 'Black House Ants', and they are attracted to sweets.
  • The light yellowish brown 'Coastal Brown Ant' prefers to feed on meat products and grease.
  • The most effective control measure is to find the colony and treat it.

Coastal Brown Ant

(Pheidole megacephala)
Coastal Brown Ant

Appearance

  • About 1.5-2.5mm long.
  • Tend to be yellow brown to brown.

Lifecycle

  • Eggs laid are small in size.
  • Larvae are fed by the adults and after several moults the larvae pupate.
  • Once adults, 3 different castes exist:
  • - Workers are wingless and sterile that lives for approximately a year. Workers are the nest-builders, food suppliers, feed larvae, look after eggs and defend the nest.
  • - Males are winged and exist to mate with females.
  • - Females are also winged until after mating and are also the largest in size. Females become the reproductive queen of the colony and live for many years.

Habits

  • Nest in soil and build along pathways around the house including gardens and walls.
  • Dry areas for nesting.
  • Will excavate leaving mounds along foot paths and other areas that are unsightly.
  • Will attack foods around the property including meat, sweets, fruit and greasy foods.

Fire Ant

(Solenopsis spp)

Fire Ant

Appearance

  • Queens 15mm long. 
  • Workers 3-6mm long. 
  • Coppery–brown on the head and body, with a darker abdomen. 
  • Solenopsis has a very distinctive two–segment antennal club, which is most visible in the front view of the female reproductive ant.

Lifecycle

  • After swarming from the nest and mating, the queen searches for a suitable spot to lay her eggs. Once found, she can lay up to 125 eggs in late Spring. 
  • Larvae hatch within 8 to 10 days, and the pupal stage lasts for 9 to 16 days. 
  • Larvae feed on secretions from the queen’s salivary glands and broken down wing muscles until the first worker ants emerge. After this first batch of larvae moult into workers the queen’s role returns to egg laying – she can lay up to 1500 per day. Worker ants continue with larval care, nest building and food foraging. 
  • Fertile males are produced later in the season.

Habits

  • Foraging workers diet consists of dead animals, including insects, earthworms, and vertebrates. Workers also collect honeydew and forage for sweet food, proteins, and fats. 
  • Swarming characteristics – mating between queens and fertile males takes place on the wing mid to late Summer. Males perish after mating. 
  • Nest locations can be a mound of up to 40 cm or next to objects found on the ground, e.g. logs. 
  • If aggravated, these react aggressively and can inflict a painful sting, resulting in a pustule some 48 hours later. 
  • These ants are a major agricultural and urban pest, destroying crops and invading residential areas both outdoors and indoors.

Garden Ant

(Lasius niger)

Garden Ant

Appearance

  • Workers 4-5mm long.
  • Queens 15mm long.
  • Dark brown-black in colour.
  • 1 small segment at waist point (pedicel).
  • No sting present.

Life Cycle

  • Queens overwinter in soil. Eggs are laid in late spring.
  • Larvae hatch 3-4 weeks later. 
  • Larvae feed on secretions from the queen’s salivary glands until the first worker ants emerge.
  • Worker ants continue with larval care, nest building and food foraging.
  • Fertile males are produced later in the season.

Habits

  • Foraging worker ants follow well–defined trails around food sources. Sweet foods are preferred but high protein foods will also be taken.
  • Swarming characteristics – mating between queens and fertile males takes place on the wing mid to late summer. Males perish after mating.
  • Nest locations – often outdoors in soil and below paving slabs on the sunny side of buildings.
  • Nest locations can be identified by the presence of finely powdered soil around nest exit holes.

Pavement Ant

(Tetramorium caespitum)

Pavement ant

Appearance

  • Dark brown or blackish.
  • 3mm long.
  • 6 legs.
  • 2 spines on the back.
  • 2 nodes on petiole.
  • Grooves on head and thorax.
  • Thorax uneven with 1 pair of spines.
  • 12-segmented antennae with 3-segmented club.
  • Winged ants are often mistaken for termites.

Life Cycle

  • Visible spring and summer.
  • Have been known to emerge any time of the year in heated structures.

Habits

  • Feeding - eat almost anything that humans eat, and also pet food.
  • Visibility - seen entering houses looking for food, most often at night. May move through pipes and electrical wires.
  • Nesting - in lawns or under stones, wood, or boards. Mounds built along sidewalks, baseboards, and near foundations in clusters.
  • Colonies found near water.

Pharaoh’s Ant

(Monomorium pharaonis)

 Pharoah's Ant

Appearance

  • Workers 1.5-2mm long, yellow-brown with brown abdomen.
  • Males 3mm long, black, winged.
  • Queens 3.5-6mm long, dark red in colour with wings.
  • Black eyes, 2 small segments at the pedicel.

Life Cycle

  • Multi-queen colonies.
  • Swarming can take place at any time of the year.
  • Winged adults seldom fly so rarely seen. Wings are soon lost after mating.

Habits

  • Well–defined trails are laid which are often associated with heating systems. Feeds indoors on high protein foods — meat, fats, blood, dead insects, etc.
  • Swarming characteristics — new colonies are often formed through nests that have been disturbed e.g., as a result of insecticide spray treatments.
  • Each queen produces up to 3,500 eggs in its lifetime.
  • Nest locations — deep seated in cavities in heated buildings. Often found in hospitals. Associated with humid conditions. Colonies can range from a few dozen to 300,000 individuals.

Sugar Ant

(Camponotus app)

Sugar Ant

Appearance

  • This species vary greatly in shape, size and colour. 
  • Range from 2.5 to 15 mm, and are some of the most often seen ants due to their size and often bright in colouring.

Lifecycle

  • The ant’s life cycle passes through egg, larva, pupa and adult phases.

Habits

  • Often nests in a variety of sites ranging from holes in wood to the roots of plants, twigs of trees and shrubs, between rocks or in the soil. 
  • They can also be seen during the day however, they are most active at night. 
  • They are unable to sting, but they do possess strong mandibles which can bite. In self-defense these ants are also able to spray acid from their abdomens to deter predators. 
  • They feed on dead and lives insects, household waste and are attracted by sweet food. 
  • They rarely enter houses.