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Ants in Houston | Ant ID Houston Texas | Ant Control Houston

Everything Houston Area Residents Need to Know About Ants...

About 120 million years ago when dinosaurs still walked the Earth and Texas lay submerged under a shallow sea, the first primitive ants evolved from prehistoric wasps. It took ants only 60 million years, an eye-blink in geologic time, to dominate the ecological landscape.

Today, an estimated 22,000 ant species inhabit the Earth. Still one of Earth’s dominant species, ants comprise 15% to 20% of the planet’s total animal biomass worldwide; 25%, in the tropics.

According to renowned American biologist E. O. Wilson, on any given day, the biomass of all living ants (an estimated 1 to 10 quadrillion individuals) is approximately equal to the biomass of every living human being, all 7 billion of us!

Biologists attribute ants’ success as a species to this insect’s adaptability, ingenuity, intelligence and social cooperation.

Nature’s most industrious workers, ants play a critical role in the soil aeration needed for healthy crop growth and in the decomposition and recycling of dead organic material. However, their persistent nature, small size and vast numbers make ants a formidable foe when they invade Houston homes, yards and businesses.

Detecting the source of an ant invasion, locating a colony’s well-hidden nests, and successfully eliminating extensive ant infestations require the skill and resources of an experienced Houston ant control professional.

Successfully exterminating ant infestations in the Houston area for over 33 years, Protex Pest Control has the winning combination of professional expertise and practical field experience to eliminate invading ants and stop their return.

Ant Identification

Like all true insects, ants have three pairs of legs (six altogether), a tri-segmented body, and two pairs of wings (although these are only found on queens and reproducing pairs). The ant’s nipped-waist shape is a vestige of its evolution from prehistoric wasps. Wings are another sign of that shared heritage; although they now play only a minor role in colony expansion (see Ant Behavior).

Covered by a tough exoskeleton that protects its internal systems, an ant’s body is divided into three segments:

  • Head. Ants have compound eyes like a fly’s that provide excellent motion detection but poor resolution, which means that the ant’s world is always slightly out of focus. To compensate, ants rely on the two antennae attached to their head. These sensitive organs allow ants to detect vibrations, chemicals and air currents. Ants also use their antennae to send and receive signals by touch. Unlike other insects, ants have flexible, segmented antennae to facilitate touch communication. The ant’s head also sports two strong jaws (“mandibles”) that are used for defense and assist in carrying, manipulation and construction activities.

  • Mesosoma (Thorax or Trunk). The mid-section is where the ant’s legs attach to its body. Ants have segmented legs that act like joints, allowing these insects to climb or navigate uneven terrain. A small claw at the end of each leg aids climbing and makes it easier for ants to hold onto objects.

  • Metasoma. The hind end of the ant is devoted to defense, housing the ant’s stinger and poison sack.

Texas ants range in size from the thumbnail-sized Carpenter (at ¾ inch, the largest ant in North America) to the pen point-sized Thief Ant (at 1/32 inch, the smallest ant in Texas). At the small end of the size range, it is difficult to tell one species of ant from another with the naked eye. Making ant identification more difficult is the limited color range of these insects.

Most Houston, Texas ants are variations of black, brown or red and occasionally yellow. Successful ant control begins with accurate identification of the problem species. The experienced neighborhood pest professionals at Protex Pest Control are experts at identifying problem ant species and selecting the proper ant control treatment to successfully solve your ant problem.

Ant Behavior

Ants are social insects that live in cooperative colonies that may include from dozens to millions of individuals. Omnivores and scavengers, ants will eat almost everything, including meat, eggs, fruit, vegetables, bread, fats, oil, sweets, and dead insects. Sweet exuded “liquid honey” produced by sap-sucking aphids, scales and mealy bugs is one of the ants’ favorite food.

Like other insects, ants develop through the process of metamorphosis, moving from egg to larvae to pupa to adult in about two months. Each individual’s role in the colony is defined by a strict caste system. Adult ants emerging from the pupa stage belong to one of three major castes:

  • Female winged reproductives, the colony’s future egg-laying queens;
  • Male winged reproductives whose sole job it is to mate with the queen; or
  • Wingless, sterile female workers that guard the colony, forage for food, feed colony members, care for the young, maintain the nest and tend the queen.

In some ant species (Crazy Ants, Little Black Ants), all colony members except the queen are the same size. (Egg-laying queens are often two to four times larger than other colony members.) In other species (Leafcutter Ants, Fire Ants), the ant’s role in the colony is reflected in its physical size and characteristics. For example, soldier ants are larger than other workers with big heads and powerful mandibles for fighting.

When colonies become crowded or resources scarce, ants use two strategies to expand their colonies:

  • Swarming. Winged male and female reproductives are produced. After climbing to the surface, they pair off and mate during a nuptial flight. Males die almost immediately. Females land, bite off their wings, and crawl into a protected crevice to begin laying eggs to start a new colony.

  • Budding. A queen and a group of workers break away from the colony to establish a new colony nearby. Some species (Pharaoh Ants, Ghost Ants) connect and travel between these satellite colonies creating massive super colonies.

The Houston Ant Habitat

Ants need three things to survive: food, water and nesting space. One of Earth’s most adaptable species, ants thrive in every environment and on every continent except Antarctica. Most of the 250 ant species that inhabit Houston, Texas prefer to nest outdoors, although there are a few tropical transplants like the Pharaoh Ant that can only survive indoors. However, many ant species will seek indoor nesting sites to take advantage of easy foraging or to escape particularly hot or dry weather.

Depending on the species, ants typically build outdoor nests deep underground, under surface rocks, in rotting stumps, in ground-level mounds or in damaged trees. The two things that are most likely to attract ants to invade a Houston home are water damage and easy access to food. Leaking roofs, clogged gutters, flooded foundations, and dripping pipes provide the combination of moisture and soft, rotting wood that attracts ants. Food scents wafting from kitchen trashcans, sinks and counters are also powerful ant attractants.

Ants are small enough to crawl under doors and windows or squeeze through the tiniest foundation crack to gain entry to your home. Overhanging tree limbs, overgrown shrubbery, electrical wires and pipes provide handy “bridges” into homes. Once inside, ants easily adapt to indoor nesting sites, building colonies inside wall voids, behind cabinets, under sinks, under counters, behind baseboards, under flooring and inside window framing -- anywhere they find an open space.

Ants Commonly Found in Houston, Texas

Of the approximately 2,500 identified ant species that inhabit our planet about 250 are native to Texas. Only a few native ant species pose problems for humans, but the same cannot be said for the numerous invasive ant species that also call the Longhorn State home. With no natural predators or native environmental controls, non-native ant species pose the greatest threat to Houston residents.

The problematic ant species that Houston-area residents are most likely to encounter include:

Carpenter Ants. Ranging in size from ¼ inch to ¾ inch depending on caste, Carpenter Ants are native to Texas and the largest ant species in North America. Coloration is solid dull black or a combination of black and dull red. Carpenter Ants feed primarily on aphid honeydew but also eat food scraps, sweets, and ripe or rotting fruit, foraging as far as 100 yards from their nest. These ants do not sting, but their powerful jaws are a formidable defensive weapon. The formic acid injected into bite wounds makes Carpenter Ant bites particularly painful.

Preferring to nest outdoors in damp, wooded areas, Carpenter Ants usually colonize dead trees, rotting tree stumps or fallen branches. Excellent climbers, they sometimes attack living trees, gaining entry to soft interior wood through broken branches or pruning scars. Attracted by wet wood, Carpenter Ants also build nests in stacked firewood, fence posts, hollow porch columns, damaged wood shingles or the damp foundation wood of Texas homes. Carpenter Ants prefer to nest in wood but will colonize manmade voids, including wall voids, hollow doors, curtain rods, and window frames.

Carpenter Ants can cause significant structural damage over time. An unusually long-lived ant species – queens can live 20 years – untreated infestations can result in structural collapse. Employing their formidable jaws, Carpenter Ants tunnel into damaged wood, carving out galleries to house their nests and nurseries (hence their name). As the colony grows, excavations are extended into undamaged wood.

Unlike termites, Carpenter Ants do not ingest wood. The by-product of their excavations (“frass”) is deposited below tunnel openings; the conical piles of sawdust-like debris a clear indication of Carpenter Ant activity. Carpenter Ant tunnels can be distinguished from rough, mud-lined termite tunnels by their smooth, clean interiors.

An established Carpenter Ant colony is usually composed of a primary outdoor nest connected by pheromone trails to multiple satellite nests, including indoor nests. After the first year, colonies grow exponentially and can number anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 workers with one or several queens, depending on the species. Colonies expand by swarming; mature colonies producing winged reproductives (“alates”) in the spring or early summer.

Black Crazy Ants. Ranging in color from jet black to dark gray, Black Crazy Ants are 1/8 inch long. The “crazy” in their name refers to the species’ “crazy” form of locomotion. Crazy Ants dash about in an apparently random frenzy. Identifiable by their long legs, Black Crazy Ants also have unusually long antenna, earning them the nickname “Longhorn Ants.”

They may also be called “Hairy Crazy Ants” because of the long, coarse hairs that cover their bodies. These ants have a preference for greasy and sweet foods but also eat fleas, Imported Red Fire Ants and other small insects. Considered a nuisance pest, Black Crazy Ants do not sting or bite.

Originating in the Orient or Africa and spread to American by early traders, Black Crazy Ants are highly adaptable, thriving in a wide range of environments from very moist to very dry; however, their tropical origin makes them sensitive to cold, limiting their northward expansion. Black Crazy Ants live in mobile colonies, relocating whenever local conditions become unfavorable.

Preferring to nest outdoors, they live beneath ground objects such as fallen logs, rocks, debris, mulch, bricks, and concrete slabs. They frequently infest potted plants, facilitating their spread. When invading homes, Black Crazy Ants nest in wall voids, beneath flooring or near hot water heaters and pipes. Colonies are moderate in size with only a few thousand workers supporting as many as 40 queens. Colonies expand by budding.

Fire Ants. Ranging in size from 1/16 of an inch to 1/5 of an inch long, Fire Ants are red to dark red-brown in color. A serious urban, agricultural and wildlife threat, Fire Ants feed on plant material, including tree seedlings, plant buds, seeds and developing fruit; as well as insects and small ground-dwelling animals and birds. In East Texas, native Southern Fire Ants have been largely displaced by the more aggressive Red Imported Fire Ants, also called Red Fire Ants, an invasive South American species that arrived in the U.S. in 1920. More aggressive than native Fire Ants, Red Fire Ants now infest two-thirds of East Texas, including the Houston area, and cost the state $1.2 billion in damages annually.

A serious medical threat to people and pets, Fire Ants sting and bite. Aggressive defenders of their nests and food sources, they are quick to attack, swarming onto intruders en masse, stinging and biting repeatedly. Fire Ants are named for the fiery burning sensation produced by their bites. The itchy white pustules that form at bite sites take several weeks to heal, posing a risk of infection and scarring. People allergic to Fire Ant venom can go into life-threatening anaphylactic shock if attacked.

Red Fire Ants prefer to nest in sunny, irrigated, open grasslands, such as farm fields, golf courses and lawns. They build distinctive dome-shaped mounds of loose dirt that are approximately 12 inches tall and 18 inches in diameter and can quickly colonize an area with multiple mounds. In comparison, mounds built by Southern Fire Ants are indistinct, flat, and irregularly-shaped. Fire Ants may also nest in building walls, inside electrical fixtures, under sidewalks, and in rotting logs. Fire Ants are often spread in infested soil, sod, nursery stock, and hay bales. Colonies expand by both budding and winged reproductives.

Ghost Ants. Less than 1/16 inch long, Ghost Ants have a dark head and thorax that seem to float ghost-like above their pale, nearly translucent body and legs. Ghost Ants feed on dead and live insects, but prefer sweets, especially honeydew.

An invasive tropical ant species that originated in Africa or Eastern Asia, Ghost Ants are extremely mobile and adaptive. Outdoors, they build their nests under stones, logs and debris or in tree crotches. Unable to survive in cool temperatures, Ghost Ants move indoors in temperate zones, building nests in protected cavities behind baseboards, under counters, and behind cabinetry. Colonies expand by budding. Frequently, satellite nests are connected by pheromone trails to form huge super colonies with multiple queens and thousands of workers.

Leafcutter Ants. Varying in size from 1/6 to ½ inch depending on their role in the colony, Leafcutter Ants can carry loads 12 times their body weight. Rusty brown to a dull dark brown in color, Leafcutter Ants are distinguished by four pairs of spiky spines that protrude from their thorax and head. A rare home-invader, Leafcutter Ants present a serious agricultural and landscape threat, causing $5 million in damage each year. A mature colony is can strip the foliage from a medium-sized tree in a single night.

Leafcutter Ants nest in open and low-brush areas, excavating complex underground nests in well-drained sandy or loamy soils. Crater-shaped mounds of loose soil slope toward a center hole that provides entry to the underground nest. Multi-storied nests can extend more than 19 feet underground and feature intricate ventilation and flood-prevention systems. Integral to each nest is a fungus garden that provides the only food consumed by the entire colony.

Leafcutter Ants forage for leaves, flowers and stems, sometimes traveling long distances to obtain specific plants. They prefer introduced cultivars to native plants, tender new shoots to mature growth, and favor plant material with high water content. Guarded by soldiers along their foraging trail, workers cut and carry plant material back to the nest. Smaller workers may ride on the backs of foragers to ward off carnivorous flies.

Their peculiar habit of carrying leaf cuttings above their heads like umbrellas has earned them the nickname “Parasol Ants.” At the nest, leaf pieces are cut into smaller fragments, then macerated and deposited onto fungal beds to nourish the special fungus that is the colony’s sole food source.

Colonies are populated by a single queen and may encompass more than 8 million workers. Leafcutter Ant colonies expand via winged reproductives. Female alates carry a bite of fungus in a special mouth cavity to seed a fungal garden for the new colony.

Little Black Ants. Living up to their name, Little Black Ants are a tiny 1/16 inch long and have shiny black bodies. These slow-moving ants eat nearly anything, including sweets, grease, meat, fruit, vegetables, other insects, and honeydew. Nuisance insects that do not pose a threat to human life or property, Little Black Ants invade food cabinets and pantries, their minute size allowing them to infiltrate sealed food containers, contaminating the contents.

Outdoors, Little Black Ants live in lawns and under rotting wood, stones, and other objects. Indoors, they nest in masonry, behind woodwork, in wall voids, and under carpets. Mature colonies have multiple queens supported by several thousand workers. When invading homes, these ants quickly disperse throughout the structure, invading every crack and crevice, making these ants difficult to eradicate.

Pharaoh Ants (Sugar Ants). Ranging in size from 1/16 to 3/32 inch long, Pharaoh Ants are among the smallest ant species in Texas. Their translucent yellow to red coloring makes these tiny ants difficult to see. They are frequently confused with Thief Ants which have a similar appearance. Also called “Sugar Ants” because of their appetite for sweet foods, Pharaoh Ants feed primarily on sweets, fruit juice, honey, jelly, corn syrup, soft drinks, cakes and breads but also eat grease, fatty foods, and dead insects.

A tropical African transplant, Pharaoh Ants thrive in temperatures between 80 and 86 degrees F. Temperature sensitivity makes these ants a frequent home invader. Pharaoh Ants build their nests in warm, humid spaces near food and water, including kitchen wall voids under kitchen sinks, in cabinets, food boxes, furniture, appliance motor casings and light fixtures. As colonies increase in size, numerous satellite colonies are formed by budding to create massive super colonies with hundreds of queens.

Pharaoh Ants have a stinger but do not sting humans. However, these ants are a serious public health threat, carrying and spreading more than a dozen dangerous pathogens and bacteria, including Salmonella, Staphylococcus, Pseudomonas, Clostridium and Streptococcus pyogenes. Problematic in hospitals and nursing homes, Pharaoh Ants will forage in open wounds, feeding on used dressings and blood plasma and spreading infection.

Rasberry Crazy Ants. (mispelled as Raspberry Crazy Ants) An exotic invasive species exclusive to the Houston area, Crazy Rasberry Ants were discovered in 2002 by exterminator Tom Rasberry for whom they are named. While rasberry crazy ants share many characteristics with Black Crazy Ants, they may be more similar to Caribbean or Colombian Crazy Ants. The scientific community says further study is necessary before these ants can be properly classified.

Rasberry Crazy Ants are 1/8 inch long and reddish brown in color. Their bodies are covered with long hairs and they have long legs and antenna. Omnivorous, they will eat anything but prefer sweet aphid honeydew and ripe fruit. They obtain protein by eating other insects and small invertebrates.

Rasberry Crazy Ants move in a rapid, erratic manner apparently without purpose, foraging randomly along loosely-defined trails. The “crazy” in their name refers to their chaotic locomotion. When foraging outdoors, the landscape may appear to be “carpeted” with a writhing mass of these ants. Their overwhelming presence forces out native species, threatens small ground-dwelling animals and nesting songbirds, and makes back yards uninhabitable.

Rasberry Crazy Ants form massive super colonies that can number in the millions and support many queens. Winged reproductives are occasionally produced, but colony expansion occurs through budding. Unlike other ant species, these ants do not build typical centralized nests or mounds but nest under any water-retaining object, including rocks, timbers, debris piles and other landscape features.

While they do not typically nest indoors, Crazy Rasberry Ants sometimes invade homes while foraging. Particularly attracted to computers and electrical equipment, massive ant accumulations can clog mechanisms and cause short circuits, resulting in equipment failure and causing thousands of dollars of damage every year.

Rasberry Crazy Ants do not have a stinger but their bite is painful. This new invasive species is gradually expanding outward from Houston, transported in infested nursery stock, hay bales, potted plants, garbage trucks, and transport carriers. The good news is that Rasberry Crazy Ants seem to be displacing Red Imported Fire Ants as they move into new territory.

Thief Ants. (Grease Ants). A minute 1/32 inch long and golden yellow to light brown in color, Thief Ants are often confused with Pharaoh Ants but can be differentiated by the Thief Ant’s visible stinger and unusually long club on the end of its antennae. Appropriately named, Thief Ants co-habit the nests of larger ant species, stealing their food and feeding on the larva and pupa of their host. Thief Ants prefer high protein and greasy foods, feeding on meat, animal fats, dead insects, nuts, vegetable oil, dairy products, breads, and sweets. Tiny enough to infiltrated packaged foods, these ants can contaminate food supplies.

A native species, Thief Ants are adaptable nesters living outdoors in exposed soil, decaying tree stumps, and under rocks, logs, bricks and other items. During hot weather, Thief Ants are frequent home invaders, infesting wall voids, cupboards, woodwork, and masonry. Colonies are usually small, having numerous queens but only a few hundred to a thousand workers. Colonies expand via winged reproductives.

Protect Your Houston Home or Business from Invading Ants

You can reduce the risk of ant invasion by taking proactive measures to remove ant attractants -- food, water and nesting sites -- and eliminate insect pathways into your home or business.

  • Eliminate possible food sources with scrupulous attention to kitchen sanitation and food storage.

  • Eliminate water sources by repairing water leaks and moisture problems.

  • Eliminate potential nesting sites by keeping your home and yard free of clutter and debris.

  • Eliminate insect paths into your home by keeping overhanging trees and foundation plantings well-trimmed; replacing wood mulch with stone around building foundations; maintaining door, window and vent screens in good repair; caulking holes and cracks around windows and doors, in masonry or siding and around pipes and wires where they enter your home.

At the first sign of an ant infestation, call your neighborhood pest pros at Protex Pest Control. The more entrenched an ant infestation becomes; the harder it is to eliminate.

Do not attempt do-it-yourself ant control. At most you may only kill the visible 5% of the colony, but the remaining 95% will simply avoid the treated area or relocate, making it that much more difficult to find and eliminate the colony. Successful elimination of an ant colony requires the elimination of the entire parent nest and any satellite nests, including all larvae, pupa and the well-protected queen. If the queen is not eliminated, she will repopulate the colony.

Successful elimination of Texas ant species requires the knowledge and expertise of an experienced Houston ant control specialist. If you have an ant problem, call us today.

The pest control professionals at Protex have been providing guaranteed residential and commercial ant control extermination services to the Houston area for 33 years. We can help you too. Call today! 

Houston Pest Control Experts since 1978