Pharaoh ants…the name possibly arises from the mistaken idea that it was one of the plagues of ancient Egypt. However, this common household ant is distributed worldwide and carries the distinction of being the most difficult household ant to control.
Pharaoh ants are found throughout the U.S. Pharaoh ants are small, but an infestation can be an extreme annoyance and a serious problem for those affected. Studies have shown that Pharaoh ants can transmit more than 12 infectious organisms. In addition, this pest can become a serious problem in apartments, schools, office buildings and just about any locations where food is handled. Pharaoh ants consume sweet substances but seem to prefer foods like greasy and fatty meats.
Pharaoh ants prefer to build their colony in protected, secluded locations that are warm, humid and near sources of food and moisture. The ants you see are typically the foraging worker ants that are sent out to collect food and moisture. These foraging sites are likely located well away from the ant’s colony. Examples of nesting sites are wall voids, furniture and within and behind kitchen appliances. Mature Pharaoh ant colonies normally contain large numbers of workers and several queens.
Pharaoh ants do not swarm and mate, as other species of ants often do. Instead, the colony will have many fertile queens who will move to other locations and start a new colony on their own – a characteristic known as budding. Should a Pharaoh ant colony become too large, or sense they are being threatened, colony budding will usually occur.
Tale of the ‘Insect Tape’
- Size: Pharaoh ants are very small—less than 1/16 of an inch
- Color: They have light yellow bodies with red and black markings on the abdomen
- Antennae: 12 segments with a club at the far end
Pharaoh ants can take advantage of artificial heating in buildings to survive the winter. Infestations commonly occur in food service areas. They will nest in well-protected and hidden areas throughout a structure, but they can also nest outdoors in lawns or gardens in warm climates. These ants can build nests in walls, cabinet voids, behind baseboards, refrigerator insulation, the hollows of curtain rods, the folds of clothes, sheets and paper and other undisturbed dark spaces. A colony of Pharaoh ants will scatter if a toxic substance disturbs it, creating multiple problems where there had been only one.
Pharaoh ants eat food of all types, but especially sweets. They will also eat other insects.
Pharaoh ants have multiple queens and are able to move their colonies from place to place when disturbed. Workers can grow from eggs to adults in as little as 38 days and may live for nine to 10 weeks. Queen pharaoh ants can live for four to 12 months, but male pharaoh ants die within three to five weeks of mating. Pharaoh ants begin new colonies by budding.
How Did Pharaoh Ants Invade My Home?
Pharaoh ants enter homes taking advantage of crumbs, spills, moisture and protective habitat sites. Grease stains, dead insects, and sweet drinks attract these pests. In pantries, Pharaoh ants infest and eat sugary foods and proteins like honey, peanut butter, and baked goods, but they can also be found infesting locations that have no food sources present. For example, Pharaoh ants are known to build their nests around piping, and places generally located away from sources of food
These pests typically make their way indoors through torn window screens, poorly sealed doors, windows or other entryways. Keeping doors, windows, patio doors and shutters closed and tightly sealed when not in use can limit their access. However, tiny pharaoh ants can also sneak in through cracks in walls, foundations and outdoor siding.
Are Pharaoh Ants a Serious Issue?
Managing Pharaoh ants is tough. In fact, the incorrect use of pesticides may prompt the insects to split off (budding) from existing colonies and begin new colonies in new locations rather than leave. Pharaoh ant populations can grow rapidly, especially if they go unnoticed near kitchens and pantries. Residents should throw away infested food, as the pests can spread salmonellosis and dysentery. A peculiar mating habit takes place with Pharaoh ants since the mating of males and females takes place in the nest. As a consequence, homeowners will not see a Pharaoh ant mating swarm, unlike most other ant species.
Prevention & Control
- The first step toward prevention is to correctly identify the ant species causing the problem. There are other ant species that look like Pharaoh ants, and here at Millette Pest Control, we can correctly identify the ant species.
- While DIY (do-it-yourself) methods may work for some ants, controlling the Pharaoh ant is best left for the professionals here at Millette Pest Control. A common error that people make is to only deal with the ants they see – foragers looking for food and water. Since foragers are only a small part of the colony, you won’t eliminate the majority of the ants. Eliminating queens and other workers is the key to effective Pharaoh ant control.
- The most effective control materials are baits that are attractive to foraging ants properly placed near ant trails and food sources. Foraging Pharaoh ants will locate baits, collect from the bait and feed it to other members of the colony, including the queens. The goal of the baiting program is colony elimination. Baiting programs are not a short-term approach and must involve the entire structure to be effective. Homeowners and building occupants must be patient since effective Pharaoh ant management requires weeks.
- Pharaoh ants are very small and can enter a home or building through small cracks and crevices, or through electrical wires and plumbing pipes, so sealing the structure’s exterior is likely impossible. When inspecting for ant trails, make sure to let us know the location of both exterior and interior trails to help them decide where to place baits.
- Sanitation is important to Pharaoh ant prevention. Keep countertops clean, remove food scraps from sinks and dirty dishes, keep garbage cans clean and pet foods covered and picked up at night. In addition to reducing access to foods, sanitation is important because fewer food sources mean foraging ants are more likely to accept and feed on baits.