All about the Different Types of Ants, Ant Life Cycle, Identification, Facts & More
See also: Ant Control
What are Ants?
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Ants are one of the most numerous and industrious insects on the planet. Known as some of the most successful ecologists, ants are in the Formicidae family and have been able to adapt to and dominate almost any ecosystem.
The ant family encompasses respectively 15,000 documented species out of 20,000 or more unknown species. Ants have six legs, and each leg has three joints. Different species of ants can vary in size from 1.5 mm to 1 inch or larger.
Ants are the most intelligent insect in the animal kingdom, when comparing number of brain cells to size. Ants are the developers of the insect order and on top of having the most brain cells, each species of family Formicidae have the unique capability of mastering and modifying habitats. Additional unique habits allow the ants to establish themselves in a plethora of different ecosystems. Each species has derived a new line of ant special to its own habitat such as ant carpenters, ant dairymen, ant soldiers, ant seed collectors, ant fungus growers, ant thieves, ant beggars, and even ant enslavers.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- This is kingdom of all animals on the planet, or the multicellular complex organism group
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- This is the phylum of the invertebrates, or skeletal system
- The members of this phylum have exoskeletons, segments, and joints
- Class: Insecta
- These arthropods are known to have
- Three body parts
- Jointed legs
- Compound eyes
- Order: Hymenoptera (Ants, Bees, and Wasps)
- Name comes from the insects wing structure and appearance
- These insects can be referred to as the ecological specialists
- They also so are known for their stinging capabilities
- Family Formicidae:
- Family of social insects known as ants.
Where Do Ants Come From?
The earliest recorded fossils of ants date back to the Cretaceous era, which was roughly 120 million years ago! Really, however, the ant species became more established around 45 million years ago. Still, these insects have been roaming the earth for a long time! The longer a species inhabits the earth, the more time it has to adapt to it or die. Today, there are over 15,000 different living species of ants!
Since ancient times, ants have been respected and have gained a strong reputation of efficiency and hard work that is unmatched by any other insect. The Formicidae family (Ants) became well known over the centuries. Though the ant is small, it shouldn’t be underestimated, and the tiny stature of the ant is soon forgotten when its strength, mighty work ethic, and collective problem solving are measured.
Through scientific research conducted over the years a theory has risen that ants have actually reduced in size throughout time. The ant species has moved to occupy and exploit a unique niche in the ecosystem. Consequently, no other species could stop nor compete with them. Why become smaller? It is believed that ants have reduced their size in an effort to become more energy efficient creatures. Ants have also increased their birth rate, as well as the number of young ants produced per generation by the queen. This evolutionary process has allowed ants to effectively develop massive populations to serve the will of the colony. The movement towards high numbers came with another development of social organization.
Over 40-45 million years ago, this species of ant derived a system that we call a “caste system”. This system isn’t about social status, but is devised to make the colony as successful as possible. The division of labor is equally spread amongst the workers, soldiers and the queen. This caste system allowed the ants to become one of the most respected, industrious insects in the world.
For their relatively tiny size, ants are some of the most ferocious entrepreneurs in the animal kingdom. The biomass of ant species nearly matches the human biomass on earth. In some areas of the world, like the tropical rain forests, the ant biomass is about four times that of the vertebrates inhabiting the same area.
Ants are so effective and efficient because each individual ant doesn’t act alone. The colony represents one functioning insect. With each task the colony does it reaches out with its population like extensions of its body. The members of the colony are constantly circulating, working together, and leaving messages through pheromones. Socially, the ants have devised a system of labor. The system of labor provides the species with the ability to dominate the environments they choose to inhabit. This behavior has given the ant species the title of social insects.
Ant Map (Locations)
Global Ant Distribution Map
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Key: The red continents are Ant habitats
Ants are found on any inhabitable landmass on the planet. The distribution and range of the vast species of ants grow with every year. Ants inhabit any climate from mountains, deserts, coastal plains, beaches, cities, grasslands, rainforests, and other locations. If there’s a niche to exploit, the ant will find a way to master it.
Types of Ants:
Acrobat Ant (Crematogaster sp.)
- Light brown to black
- Head and abdomen darkest region of the body
- 1/16 to 1/8 inch in size
- Found in trees or under rocks, logs, and other debris
- Feed on aphids, mealy bugs, and any other live or dead insect
Visit our Acrobat Ant Control page for more information about Acrobat Ants.
Allegheny Mound Ant (Formica exsectoides)
- Reddish brown with a dark tail or abdomen
- 3-6 mm in size
- Known to attack any nearby tree or nest
- They are known for building large mounds above ground
- Each mound can contain more than one queen
- These ants avoid shade due to the larva’s need to be warmed by the sun
- If managed properly, the species can be beneficial to farmers by removing crop damaging pest like aphids.
- Ex: Blueberry farmers allow these ants to coexist with the product, ridding them of the more problematic pest species
Argentine Ant (Linepithema humile)
- Light to dark Brown color
- Introduced in the U.S. on coffee ships from South America
- Survives on a wide array of food and are predominately found inhabiting urban areas.
- 1/16 of an inch long
- One of the key features is that they are “trailing ants” species.
- Trailing to food sources with large numbers
See our Argentine Ant Control page for more information about Argentine Ants.
Bigheaded Ant (Pheidole dentate)
- Yellow, light orange, and dark reddish in color
- Name is inspired by the species large head and jaws
- Key features are the major workers large jaws
- They defend the colony and crack open hard food products for colony.
- Like to nest under rocks an fallen trees
Carpenter Ant (Camponotus sp.)
- Active during the spring and summer
- Red to black in color
- Common misconception is assuming the ants eat wood like termites
- The carpenter ants actually feed on fats and sweet nectar of plants
- Sawdust piles are food near their nests or colonies
- More active in the afternoon or night hours
- A powerful colony can have nearby camp colonies or work station colonies with only workers.
See our Carpenter Ant Control page for more information on Carpenter Ants.
Crazy Ant (Paratrechina longicornis, Nylanderia fulva)
- Range from brown to black in color
- Are found on every state in the U.S.
- 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch in size
- This species likes to make nest in or around the home in potted plants, base of trees, heavy shrubbery, or in flower beds.
See our Rasberry Crazy Ant Control page for more information about Crazy Ants.
Citronella Ant (Acanthomyops interjectus)
- Yellow or light orange in color
- Known for emitting a citrus or lemon like odor
- Most noticeable after they are stepped on
- The species is primarily a nuisance and will not nest in the home
- Found under things like logs, rocks, porches or patios, and under concrete slabs
- Also along building foundations and can thrive in crawl spaces
- Known to avoid baits
- 3-5 mm in size
Desert Leafcutting Ant (Acromyrmex versicolor)
- Reddish brown color
- With spikes or spines on its back
- The abdomen has tiny bumps on it
- California, Arizona, Texas
- They are present in the warmer months with precipitation
- Nest is usually surrounded by leaf fragments
Texas Leafcutting Ant (Atta texana)
- Cut up grass, chew it up, and grow fungus.
- The fungus grown is used the feed to the colony
- Each colony has multiple queens
- Native to Texas and Louisiana
Field Ant (Formica spp.)
- Yellow, red, black, or a combination
- Favor nesting under sidewalks, fences, concrete foundations, rocks, and at the base of trees
- The ants bite and spray formic acid which is very painful
- Field ants feed on sweets like honeydew
- Found in Mealy bugs and aphids
- Some field ants keep and control small groups of aphids to reserve a constant food source
- They will also eat other insects and meats
Fire Ant (Solenopsis spp.)
- AKA: The Red Imported Fire Ant & Southern Fire Ant
- Commonly red or dark red
- 1-5 mm in size
- Most popularly known by their aggressive nature and painful sting with venom
- Fire ants do not swallow food so they can be seen carrying food back to the colony
- When you see large mounds created by these ants, there are usually small colonies that have yet to be visible
- It is believed that this insect entered the US in 1918 in southern Alabama, and since then they have spread throughout the southeast
- They prefer warmer temperatures
See our Fire Ant Control page for more information about Fire Ants.
Ghost Ant (Tapinoma melanocephalum)
- Have a pale legs and abdomen with a dark head and thorax
- 1-2 mm in size
- Popular in the tropical regions like Florida
- Indoors: found feeding on sweets
- Building nests in flower pots, base boards, other wall voids, cracks, and crevasses
- Outdoors: found feeding on aphids and other insects
- Outside colonies are usually built deep under rocks or other objects
Grease Ant (Solenopsis molesta)
- Yellow to dark brown in color
- These ants are One of the smallest ant species
- Under 1 ½ mm in size
- They are hard to spot but if you look closely you can spot the tiny ants making trails from the food source back to the colony
Silky Ant (Formica fusca)
- Brown and blackish color
- Silky abdomen
- Nests can be under stones, in grass, meadows, prairies, and forests
- Commonly known for its genus cousin, the slave maker ant
- Wide spread distribution
Harvester Ant (Pogonomyrmex spp.)
- Distribution is primarily all over North and Central America
- These ants are aggressive and have a strong sting
- Harvester Ants have colonies as deep as 4.6 meters underground
- There are over 100 different species of Harvester Ant worldwide
- The harvester has massive powerful mandibles
- The ants use the mandibles to crush seeds into a bread like form to feed the colony
- They were the first ants to go into space in 2003
Red Harvester Ant (Pogonomyrmex baratus)
- Light to dark red color
- These ants are found in the arid deserts of the mid-western United States.
- Active in the warmer months.
- Clear a large area for the nest entrance, with a crater-like mound of pebbles.
- Primarily store seeds and dead insects for the queen and young.
California Harvester Ant (Pogonomyrmex occidentalis)
- Nest in the sandy soils
- Uniformly reddish with black abdomens
- Primarily seed hunters
- Potential to have multiple queens
Black Harvester Ant (Pogonomyrmex badius)
- Shiny jet black color
- Found in Southern California to Southwestern Arizona
- One of the most studied ants in the southwestern U.S.
Little Black Ant (Monomorium minimum)
- Black in color
- No bigger than 2mm in size
- Known as the energetic worker, active throughout the day
- Feed on all sweet fruits, sugary products, and starches
Moisture Ant (Facanthomyops spp.)
- Get the moisture name from the species choosing to inhabit highly moist areas
- Yellow in color
- Produce a lemon-like scent
- Range from 4-5 mm in size
- This species also harbors the citronella ant genius
- These ants are commonly found to inhabit water damaged wood or other parts of the home
- This species is found anywhere on the Northwest and East coasts
Odorous Ant (Tapinoma sessile)
- Also known as the stink or coconut ant
- The name is given to this ant because when it is crushed, it discharges a pungent coconut or turpentine-like odor
- Brown or black in color
- 2-3.5 mm in size
- Feeds primarily by scavenging
- On a diet of sweet products or the honeydew produced by other insects
- It is most common to find this type of ant in the home after a rain storm
Pavement Ant (Tetramorium caespitum)
- Light to dark brown to a mixed brown and black color
- They get their name from making colonies under the pavement
- The pavement ants will eat just about anything
- Range from 2-4mm in size
Pharaoh Ant (Monomorium pharaonis)
- Common household pest
- Reddish brown in color with a distinctly darker abdomen
- No larger than 2mm in size
- Known for communicating with pheromones
- Nests are commonly small in size
- These nests are so small that they can be between sheets of paper, and can even be found in clothing that sits for a long duration of time
- Found also in furniture and shelves
- Most commonly found wall voids, under floors, behind baseboards, garbage dispensers, stone wall voids, light fixtures
Mound-building Ant (Formica exsectoides)
- All brown with yellow to orange legs.
- Eastern North America distribution.
- Catch and tend to aphids so they can store them for the winter months as a source of food.
Spine-waisted Ant (Aphaenogaster spp.)
- Reddish brown to reddish black color
- Feed mainly on other insects
- Known to fight other ant species and plug the other species’ nest entrances
- Found in the Western U.S.
Thief Ant (Solenopsis molesta)
- They get their unique name from nesting near other colonies of ants so they can steal food and resources
- Yellow to brown in color
- .5-3mm in size
- Love to eat grease and proteins
- Like all ants. they also will eat sugars and other insects
Small Honey Ant (Prenolepis impairs)
- AKA: The Honey Ant
- Yellow to dark brown in color, or honey colored
- Have a circle of hairs at the end of the tail region or abdomen
- They prefer to eat honey
- These ants will eat sweets an can be seen trailing into the home
- Night time or nocturnal foragers
Ant Reproductive Cycle
Image source: askabiologist.asu.edu
Mature adults in ant colonies are called the queen and drone. Most all reproductive adult ants generally bear wings and swarm to find a mate. The adults mate and the female leaves looking for a nest spot. Once she has located a suitable site for the nest, she then drops her wings or shrugs them off. Next the female begins digging the nest. Once it is large enough she begins laying eggs. The eggs take a few weeks to hatch. She cares for her first generation, rarely leaving if at all. Once the first generation is reared, they take care of the queen and she never leaves the nest again. Generation after generation is created to serve the queen and the colony as a whole.
Another neat trick of the queen ant is that she can continue to produce young without mating with a male. She generates young through asexual parthenogenesis or better known as cloning. The offspring will be exact replicas of their mother but will remain infertile females unless they are chosen to become reproductive. The process of becoming another queen involves a particular diet in the pupa stage.
Ant Life Cycle
Image source: askabiologist.asu.edu
Digging deeper into the typical ant life cycle it encompasses four stages. The order goes from egg, larva, pupa, and to adult. The queen can produce two types of eggs. One of the egg types can be a female ant, and can be a male ant. The queen ants lay 200-1,000 one millimeter or less sized eggs in 24 hours. The only unusually large egg produced is a queen egg.
As the eggs are produced workers are taking the eggs to hatching chambers. The eggs then turn into larva the eggs and larvae are sometimes stored together. Both stages need to have appropriate levels of heat or warmth. The larvae look like tiny worms that molt to get larger. The larvae do not have eyes or legs yet so they are fed by the workers. This is where having two stomachs plays a major role for the ants. The worker regurgitates food from its stomach to nourish the young.
Once the ant larvae have reached the desired size, they become pupae. The larvae actually spin a cocoon around itself where it pupates. This is where the major development of the ant takes place. The adult form is the finished result. The pupa shell or cocoon is then exited by the new fully grown adult ant. This life cycle can take anywhere from five to ten weeks. The average life span of an ant is 40-65 days. The queen, however, can live up to 25-28 years.
Image source: tpwd.state.tx.us and Alex Wild Photography
Ants are sophisticated social insects known for creating self-organized, highly specialized colonies. In each colony these remarkable insects are able to modify habitats, utilize resources, and provide protection. The ant colonies act as efficient networks working in unison. They communicate, problem solve, and perform tasks as a colony.
- Pheromones are released by a gland that allows workers, and other members to trail and follow one another
- This is called the Dufour’s gland
- The colonies are divided up into social ranks: Queens, drones, and sterile wingless females.
- Sterile females act as workers, and soldiers.
- The males and queens are the reproductive members of the colony.
- Queens have the longest known insect life span of up to 28 years.
- Queens can asexually or sexually reproduce.
- Queens can generate anywhere from 750 to 2,000 eggs a day.
- Sterile female worker ants provide vital service as colony caretakers of the offspring, defending the colony, and keeping the colony clean.
Effects of Weather and Climate on Ants
Ants are controlled by the seasons, just like any other insect. The weather can be both productive and destructive. The fact that ants have the capability to problem solve, and handle complex issues as a colony helps the ants survive the twists and turns of the weather.
The best way to survive unexpected weather is to be prepared or have a plan. Ants know this and ant colonies have built themselves on survival techniques that they develop to ensure the colony continues to thrive. The best example is in the state of Texas where fire ants experienced long droughts, and sudden floods. In order to survive, the fire ant colonies lock together to form a living floating raft to keep the eggs and queen safe. This adaptive trait allows the ant to survive what would surely wipe out any other insects.
This is just one example of what the various ants are capable of all over the world. Together they solve any issue that threatens the existence of the colony.
Ants, like most insects, prefer the summer and spring months of the year. The warmer temperatures are beneficial for many reasons. One is that the eggs must be warm and rotated in order to hatch. Another reason is the warmer seasons also provide endless amounts of food. The ants are either trailing to food sources or attacking other insects that are also in search of food. Ants and other insect species are synced with nature, so they have adapted to exploit the seasons gifts. The seasons bring more plants, seeds, crops, fruits, and other insects. Ants work endlessly, harvesting and storing endless amounts of food to survive and feed the colony when food is scarce. This is also the main reason why most people have pest problems with ants and other insects during the warmer months of the year. View our ant control page for more information on controlling ant pests.
In the colder seasons ants have utilized the warmer months to store as much food as possible to survive. The cold also causes a lack of movement for all animals and food needed to survive. They also have workers to move eggs and pupae to warmer parts of the nest. The workers may even bring the eggs into the open to sun.
More Ant Facts!
Did You Know?
- Ant’s worst enemies are not humans, but other ants
- Any ant from a foreign colony or species is treated like an enemy.
- Ants have been known to fight one another and the victor will return home with the losing colony’s eggs, young, and food.
- The Slave Maker ant (Polyergus rufescens) is one of the species that raids the nests of other colonies stealing the pupae. The stolen pupae then hatch and work as slaves within the slave maker colony.
- The Army Ants of South America can have up to 700,000 members in it colony.
- Army ants actually do not have a set home.
- They are nomadic having temporary homes and feed on the move.
- Despite the fact that ants are one of the most annoying pests around, they are actually one of the most interesting little creatures too. Here are some “did you know” facts about ants:
- In respect to an ant’s size and weight, if a man was to run as fast as an ant he would be as fast as a racehorse.
- Ants can lift 20 times their body weight.
- A single ant has 250,000 brain cells. Humans have 10,000 million, and 35,000-40,000 ants have the potential as a colony to match the human brain.
- Ants can survive 24 hours under water
- Some ants can swim and float
- The ant family actually has the most poisonous insect in the world; Maricopa harvester ant has the sting equivalent to 12 honey bees!
- The biomass or weight of all the ants in the world matches the weight of all of the humans in the world.
- Asian weaver ant can support over 100 times their body weight
- The largest colony of ants ever record is by the Argentinian ants, stretching over 3750 miles. This species was one of the first to be known for creating super colonies!
- The queen ant has the longest life span of any insect in the world, capable of living 30 years.
- Ants move an estimated 50 tons of dirt and soil per year in one square mile.
- Ants and humans are the only creatures to ever farm other animals.
- The wingless ants in the canopies of the tropical rainforest actually are able to glide when they fall from the tree tops. This is so they do not land on the dangerous floor of the jungle, gliding to nearby branches and leaves.
- Ants actually take naps. In a study it was found that ants have anywhere from 200-250 sleeping episodes as long as 1 minute or so adding up to about 4.8 hours a day.
Want more fun facts about ants? Check out our awesome Ant Jokes too!
Eiseman, Charley, Noah Charney, and John Carlson. Tracks & Sign of Insects & Other Invertebrates: Guide to North American Species. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2010. Print.
Evans, Arthur V. National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders & Related Species of North America. New York: Sterling Pub., 2007. Print.
Resh, Vincent H., and Ring T. Cardé. Encyclopedia of Insects. Amsterdam: Academic, 2003. Print.