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Pat Munts: Common ants here lead busy, interesting lives

Thu., Dec. 5, 2013

Last week I talked about the general life habits of the ants we encounter and a few ways to get rid of them.

I heard from a reader suggesting that cornmeal will also kill them because they can’t digest it. I could not find any mention of research studies done on this, so I’ll leave it in the realm of a folk remedy and you can check it out for yourself.

I thought it might be interesting to look at the life habits of a few of the more common ants we run into here.

• Carpenter ants are one of the largest of the common ants that range in color from black to a black-red mix. They usually nest in logs, trees or wood buildings and are considered a structural pest. They don’t eat wood but hollow out nests in decayed or solid wood. Insects, dead or alive, honeydew (a saccharine deposit secreted on the leaves of plants usually by aphids) and food stuffs are on their menu.

• Pavement ants are a nuisance ant responsible for the little piles of sand or soil between cracks and slabs of concrete, driveway asphalt, pavers and basements. Large colonies can undermine asphalt, forming small but annoying sunken areas. These ants are small and generally light brown to reddish brown in color. They forage on seeds, live and dead insects, honeydew, sap and a variety of household foods. They can sting if trapped close to your skin.

• The western thatching ant is the ant responsible for the ant hills we find in fields, gardens and forest areas. These relatively large ants vary in color from a bicolor red and black to solid black or brown. They nest in soil, rotten wood or build mounds of finely cut plant debris. They are rarely found in houses but feed on sweets including tending aphids for their honeydew. They will defend their ant colonies and can bite hard then spray formic acid on the area creating a painful sensation.

• Thief ants are a native species and the smallest of our common ants measuring less than a sixteenth of an inch long. They range in color from yellowish to light brown to darker brown. Colonies can range from a few hundred to thousands living under objects, on bare soil, in rotted wood and the woodwork and masonry work of houses. Favorite foods include honeydew, nuts, grains and many household foods. They are a nuisance pest in houses because they do eat a wide range of foodstuffs.

• Odorous house ants are brown to black and when excited or threatened, emit a rotten, coconutlike odor. They nest in a wide variety of places including wooded areas, sandy beaches along lakes and rivers, under bark of stumps and logs and in structures. Their preferred foods are honeydew and sugary human foods but they will also eat raw and cooked meat, dairy products and vegetables. Their odor and presence in large number in our homes gets them in the most trouble.

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