Order: Hymenoptera (includes sawflies, bees, and wasps)
Spring is here! And although they assumed ecological dominance about 60 million years ago, for us, spring means that ants are marching on the streets, building colonies in damp wood, in pavement cracks, in gardens around your home and are likely snaking their way into kitchens all over Southern Ontario. In warmer months, ants often enter homes or apartments through the tiniest breaches and fissures in brick facades, gaps in window frames, and excavated wood while searching out sweet and greasy foods. When food is left out in kitchens and other areas of the home, ants with access to your living space will establish pheromone-marked scent trails, alerting the other workers of their colony to the supply. Spilt juice under the fridge or sweets discarded on a window sill can lead to the rapid invasion of ants from outdoors. In some cases, a continued supply of food may result in the development of ant colonies just about anywhere that provides fertile conditions in and around your home: In walls, under foundations and welcome mats, and in gardens next to your kitchen window. Although ants are considered more of a nuisance than a pest, ant colonies in your home are unsanitary, can lead to the contamination of your food stores and even cause structural damage.
Ants in your home or apartment can be difficult to root out and destroy, and often require a combination of physical control measures and residual insecticide use. Call (647) BED-BUGS today to schedule an inspection by one of Addison Pest Control’s licensed technicians, who will not only identify the species of ants found in your home but will tailor an integrated pest management plan to your particular pest situation.
Although the total biomass of ants on earth is about equal to that of humans, a mass consisting of over 20 000 species that support complex social structures, only the ants most common to human habitations in Southern Ontario will be discussed here (link to ant index). It is likely that at some point or other, all residents of Southern Ontario will come into contact with Argentine, Carpenter, Fire, Odorous House, Pavement, Pharoah and thief ants, be it in your kitchen, place of work, or a city park.
Although ants have species-specific physical characteristics, all adult ant bodies consist of a head, thorax and abdomen. Ants have a hard, waterproof exoskeleton, two antennae used to detect other colony members and maxillary palps to detect scents. Adults also have mandibles used for grasping, carrying and fighting (biting). All six legs are located on the thorax, with the abdomen holding reproductive parts and other vital organs. Ants take in and release carbon dioxide through tiny holes all over their body called spiracles, and their nervous and circulatory systems consist of body length tubes that pump commands and colourless blood throughout the body.
Given that the queen of a particular species may live for up to 30 years (about 100 times longer than similarly sized solitary) ant colonies can support up to 500 000 members and survive for decades. A particular ant colony can be understood as a single organism; this is because the individual members have little to no autonomy, but each species maintains a complex eusocial structure. There are even instances where whole colonies uproot themselves when threatened and move to more stable locations. Workers live up to 7 years, although 1-3 years is more typical. Reproducing males, or drones, tend to be nomadic and may live for only a few weeks outside of the nest. The typical life cycle of ant, from egg to adult, takes anywhere from 6-12 weeks with the greatest activity seen in the spring and summer months.
Although a variety of species-specific reproductive strategies have been documented which include colonies with several queens, and colonies without any queens at all, all species of ants undergo a complete metamorphosis: Egg, larva, pupa and adult, with larvae undergoing 4-5 moults.
Most ants are univoltine, which means that new reproductives leave the colony once a year for a species to establish new colonies. The stages of ant metamorphosis for a new generation of ants usually begins when a fertile female, or, princess ant, successfully mates with a male after its nuptial flight. The princess becomes a queen, locates a nesting territory, breaks off its wings, and starts a new colony with the first cluster of eggs it lays and incubates. The species-specific queen, who may mate regularly, or only once in a lifetime, is capable of harbouring semen and selectively fertilizing eggs that will later hatch to become sexually reproductive females. All ants are bred for membership in one of three colony castes; queens (reproductive females), workers (non-reproductive females), and males (typically produced for reproduction during swarming seasons).
Tiny, oval and translucent white, ant eggs are usually about 0.5 mm in diameter, and these initial offspring tend to be unfertilized, spawning relatively weak workers who do the grunt work of excavating the nest, collecting food sources and caring for newly laid eggs and larvae. Largely immobile but for the ability to orient their orifices towards regurgitated food supplied by workers, grub-like, legless ant larvae hatch from the eggs after about 1-2 weeks. Larvae feed voraciously and moult several times before pupating. Pupae, who usually reside in a protective cocoon, have the loose appearance of adults with maturing legs and antennae still folded into the body, although they are lighter in colour, and darken as their pupal bodies mature. Adults are fully grown when they emerge (their exoskeletons prevent them from getting any larger) from the pupal stage, but continue to darken in colour for some time.
Ontario’s humid continental climate means that ants are most active when temperatures are warmer in the spring and summer, entering a state of dormancy or at least, significantly reduced activity, in the winter months.
Adult ants emerge fully grown with membership in one of three different colony castes; queens, workers or males; Queens are winged reproductive females, better nourished as larvae, responsible for laying all of the eggs in a colony. Workers are non-winged, non-reproductive females who, less well nourished as larvae, are responsible for brood care, nest care, colony defence and food gathering. Males, or drones, are short-lived, winged, reproductive colony members who mate with queens. They may enter foreign colonies, or defend their colonies from competing foreign males.
During the species-specific breeding periods, typically in the late spring or early summer, princess ants and winged males leave the colony in a nuptial flight. Heat makes flying easier, and damper ground conditions allow females to excavate nest with greater ease. Males typically take flight before the females and congregate in a common location, collectively secreting mating pheromones that lead females to their selected breeding ground. Females may mate with one or a dozen males, storing sperm in their spermathecae for later fertilization.
Ants communicate with each other largely through the use of pheromones but also use sound and touch. Ants have long, thin and mobile antennae that can be used to determine the direction, intensity and meaning of a scent. Pheromone trails are established on the ground and are navigated and maintained by foraging workers when a colony has discovered a lucrative food source. When the source has been exhausted, the scent will slowly dissipate, redirecting foragers away from the exhausted site. Crushed and injured ants emit an alarm pheromone (formic acid) that send other colony members into a violent attack and defence frenzy. Pheromones are even mixed with food to transfer task information throughout the colony, also allowing colony members to detect the task group of other members.
Contact Addison Pest Control at (647) BED-BUGS to schedule an inspection with a licensed technician who will identify your pest species and tailor an integrated pest management program to your particular situation. Ant species have diverse social structures, and resultantly, complete eradication of any infestation can be a challenging process. Contact a pest control professional from Addison Pest Control when DIY solutions fail to permanently destroy your invading insect population.