Who Are You Calling A Sugar Ant?
How about we start our ant discussion with a little history class? Yes, you say? Let’s go!
There is sometimes a bit of confusion about the term “sugar ant”. We Georgians know the sugar ant to be a small, blackish ant that usually appears in droves in our kitchens and bathrooms. And we typically find them…in or near sugary foods. But the truth is that there is a difference between what we are seeing here in north Georgia and another insect known as the banded sugar ant. Let’s explore and see what we see.
The original insect known as the banded sugar ant is only native to Australia. It was named by German medical doctor and entomologist, Wilhelm Ferdinand Erichson, back in 1842. He thought the name appropriate considering the orange-brown band that wraps around the insect’s middle and the species’ love of sugar and all sweet foods. Forests, grasslands, and urban areas in Australia see the sugar ant in residence. The only place they don’t like? Dry areas. So don’t look in the desert. Anyways, my research shows this little guy is only found in Australia. And that’s fine. Frankly, we have enough ants, no US passports available guys. Thank you very much. Before we leave the outback, here’s another interesting fact about this Aussie resident: Aboriginal Australians are said to have once consumed the eggs of this ant. Yesterday, my son ate fish eggs. I suppose you can’t account for taste. Ok, then…moving along.
Now back to Georgia. What we typically call the sugar ant could actually be several different varieties of ant. When we Canton folks say sugar ant, we mean small ants that like sugary foods. I have childhood memories of my mom mashing the little suckers with her thumb as they run around the sugar bowl!
Since we are not seeing the banded sugar ant, what could these little pests actually be? The answer is somewhat open-ended. It could be Argentine ants, odorous ants (icky), or maybe crazy ants (sounds like a good time). Honestly, this is not a complete list as ants are prolific in the South.
According to our in-house pest control experts, to be certain of the exact species is not easy. Most ant varieties are fairly small, making distance identification challenging. Obtaining specimens and looking closely at the segmented antennae and node numbers would be the only accurate method of identifying smaller ant species. Also, understand that all ants enjoy sugary foods. But for the purposes of this article, let’s get a quick overview of the two
First up is the Argentine. This variety is common to the southeast and is light brown in color and about 3/16 of an inch long. Their colonies have been found with millions of workers and hundreds of queens. Not only that but their trials have been measured at up to 350 feet in length. This may not seem like much to you but give the little guys some credit! That’s a long way for a little ant. This hard-working attribute means the Argentine can arrive in your kitchen from a long way off. The Argentine loves damp areas such as mulch, compost, and pine straw. Outside they like to eat honeydew (Aphid poop…yes). We see this species more as the weather heats up and drought conditions appear. They will come inside to search for water. The good news is that they don’t really bite you like the fire ant. The bad news is that they are hard to get rid of and can live in your wall voids and other places you can’t see or get to very easily.
Now let’s talk about the crazy ant. This one was introduced to the US as many other invasive species have been, through shipments in port cities. The first Georgia town to find the crazy ant was awarded to Albany, Georgia in 2013. It looks a good bit like the Argentine and it is likely that only an expert can tell the difference. The tawny crazy ant is hairier. That’s right if these guys shave, it’s all over. The disguise will be complete. Seriously though, they look remarkably similar. The color is a little more orange, their movement is rapid and kind of crazy, and their numbers are remarkably large. For ants, saying there are a lot brings to mind hundreds, maybe thousands. But for the tawny crazy ant, this means a whole lot more. It has been estimated that between 15 and 20 billion ants can be spread across an acre of their territory.
There is a good bit of concern over this ant. One reason is that they are dominating food resources and available sites to nest, leaving other ant species endangered. Maybe you think that’s not an issue, but the truth is that nature needs a certain balance. These invaders are messing up the balance. Here’s another weird problem: they nest in electrical equipment. This is bad. There have been reports of damage to expensive set-ups because of infestations of the crazy ant. Their vast numbers are a large part of the reason for danger. It has been observed that a group of these crazy ants have shorted out electrical boxes! That’s a lot of ants and a scary problem. Texas has also reported them as being pests to the livestock. Outside is enough of a problem, but unfortunately, they will come inside searching for food and water. All in all, the tawny crazy ant is bad news.
Next up is the odorous house ant. The extremely knowledgeable staff here at Canton Termite tells me that the majority of ‘sugar’ ant calls are of the odorous variety. These pests will come inside seeking water, food, and a place to call home. Luckily for us, they can’t sting so there’s that positive. What they can do is stink when you crush them. I guess we can call it the ant’s revenge. I’ve heard it said they smell like rotten coconut, although I can’t personally imagine that scent. ⅛ of an inch in length and brownish/black in coloration, they are fairly nondescript. For those looking with a microscope, the Canton Termite staff tells me the waist has only one segment and no noticeable node to be found. Outside, these ants like to eat a variety of foods such as honeydew, pet foods, and dead things. Inside, they are much the same as other ants and look for sugary foods and starches. They don’t build nests in the soil and aren’t picky about where they set up home. Some common sites are underneath leaves or debris, in dog houses, beehives, firewood, or pinestraw. Inside, these ants have been found under carpets, toilets, in cabinets, and near trash cans.
Whether you have Argentine, crazy, or odorous ants, Canton Termite has solutions! Give us a call at 770-479-1598 for a free estimate.