Types of Ants: A Comprehensive Overview

Ants are everywhere. From our backyards to forests and even our kitchens, these small insects have made almost every corner of the world their home. 

But did you know there are thousands of different types of ants? 

In this article, we’ll dive into the fascinating world of these creatures, exploring the various species and their unique roles. 

Whether you’re curious about the ants in your garden or the ones you find on your kitchen counter, this article has got you covered. 

Let’s get started.

Types of Ants
Ants eat Giant Silkmoth Caterpillar

Type of Ants In The World

Ants, some of the most ubiquitous creatures on our planet, boast an impressive diversity. 

With over 12,000 identified species, researchers believe that this number only scratches the surface, with some estimates suggesting the existence of up to 20,000 different species. 

These tiny insects, often overlooked in our daily lives, play crucial roles in ecosystems across the globe.

Geographical Distribution

Ants have truly conquered the world, establishing their colonies in almost every corner of the globe. 

From the dense rainforests of the Amazon to the arid deserts of Africa, ants have adapted to a wide range of environments and climates. 

However, there are a few places where ants have not set foot (or, rather, set antennae). 

These include the icy expanses of Antarctica, the isolated landscapes of Iceland, and the cold terrains of Greenland. 

These exceptions aside, it’s safe to say that wherever you go, ants aren’t far behind.

Notable Species Worldwide

Here’s a deeper dive into some of the most notable ant species found globally:

Carpenter Ants: Native to many parts of the world, carpenter ants are known for their wood-boring habits. They carve out wood to establish their nests, often leading to structural damage in human-made structures.

Fire Ants: Recognized by their reddish-brown hue and painful sting, these aggressive ants often build large mounds and are known to attack en masse when threatened.

Fire Ants. Source: Stephen Ausmus, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Argentine Ants: Originally from South America, Argentine ants have spread globally. They form supercolonies and can displace native ant species, making them a significant concern in some regions.

Army Ants: Predominantly found in Central and South America, army ants are nomadic predators. They move in large numbers, consuming almost any prey in their path.

Leaf-cutter Ants: Native to the Americas, leaf cutter ants have a unique behavior of cutting leaves to cultivate fungus gardens, which serve as their primary food source.

Bullet Ants: Found in Central and South America, they are named for their extremely painful sting, which has been likened to being shot.

Pharaoh Ants: These tiny yellow or light brown ants are a common household pest, known for their preference for warm habitats and their ability to spread diseases.

Harvester Ants: Found in North America, these ants gather seeds as their primary food source, playing a crucial role in seed dispersal.

Pavement Ants: Common in many urban areas, these ants nest under pavements and are often seen pushing up mounds of soil between cracks.

Odorous House Ants: Named for the rotten coconut-like smell they produce when crushed, these ants are common pests in homes across the U.S.

Odorous House Ant. Source: Brian GratwickeCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Weaver Ants: Found in Asia, Australia, and Africa, these ants are known for their unique nest-building behavior, weaving leaves together using larval silk.

Honeypot Ants: Native to North America and Australia, these ants have specialized workers called repletes that store food, swelling to a large size, and serve as living food storage for the colony.

Ghost Ants: These tiny, pale ants are named for their translucent appearance. They are common household pests in tropical regions.

Dorylus Ants (Driver Ants): Found in Africa and Asia, these ants are close relatives of the army ants of the Americas and are known for their massive raiding columns.

Trap-jaw Ants: Recognized by their large mandibles, these ants have one of the fastest predatory strikes in the animal kingdom.

Types of Ants in a Colony

Ant colonies are bustling hubs of activity, where each ant plays a specific role, ensuring the survival and prosperity of the colony. 

The intricate division of labor and the complex social hierarchy within these colonies are testaments to the evolutionary success of ants.

Here’s a look at the various roles that different types of ants perform.

Queen(s)

The queen, often larger than other ants in the colony, holds a pivotal role.

She is the primary reproducer, laying thousands, if not millions, of eggs throughout her lifetime. 

Her primary function is to ensure the continuity and growth of the colony. 

In some species, there might be multiple queens, a phenomenon known as polygyny

Beyond reproduction, the queen also exerts leadership, with her pheromones guiding the behavior and tasks of other ants.

Queen ants have a significantly longer lifespan compared to other ants in the colony. While worker ants may live for weeks to months, a queen can live for several years

Queen Green Tree Ant

Workers

Worker ants are the backbone of the ant colony. These sterile females undertake a myriad of tasks essential for the colony’s functioning. 

From foraging for food to tending to the young, maintaining the nest, and even caring for the queen, their roles are diverse and crucial. 

In some species, workers can further be divided into subcategories based on size or task specialization.

Drones

Drones are the male ants of the colony, and their primary purpose is reproduction. 

Unlike the workers, they possess wings and are geared towards mating with the queen. 

After a nuptial flight, where they mate with a queen, their role is typically complete. 

Post-mating, drones usually have a short lifespan and may die soon after fulfilling their reproductive duties.

Soldiers

Soldier ants are the colony’s defense force.

Typically larger and more robust than worker ants, they are equipped with strong mandibles or other specialized tools suited for protection. 

Their primary role is to defend the colony from threats, which can range from predatory insects to other ant colonies. 

In some species, soldier ants may also assist in tasks like foraging or nest construction, but their primary duty remains defense.

Types of Ants at Home

While ants play essential roles in the ecosystem, their presence in our homes can be a nuisance. 

From contaminating food to causing structural damage and even biting humans, household ants can pose various challenges. 

Remember, ants are social creatures, and even though they might not feel pain, they are very much capable of retaliating any attacks on their homes. 

Understanding the common types of ants found in homes and their behaviors can help in effectively managing and preventing infestations.

Common Household Ants

Here’s a closer look at some of the most common household ants:

  • Odorous House Ants:
    • Appearance: Small, dark brown to black ants.
    • Characteristics: They emit a rotten coconut-like odor when crushed. Often attracted to sweet foods, their colonies can be extensive, with multiple queens and thousands of workers.
    • Habitat: They prefer to nest in warm, moist areas and can often be found near food sources in homes.
  • Pavement Ants:
    • Appearance: Small, brown to black ants.
    • Characteristics: They nest under pavements and can often be seen pushing up mounds of soil between pavement cracks. While they primarily feed on seeds and dead insects outdoors, they can enter homes in search of food.
    • Habitat: Typically found under rocks, logs, and, as their name suggests, pavements.
Pavement Ants. Source: Paul HarrisonCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Pharaoh Ants:
    • Appearance: Tiny ants with a yellow or light brown color.
    • Characteristics: Known to spread diseases and prefer warm habitats. They breed rapidly and can establish multiple nesting sites, making them challenging to control.
    • Habitat: Often found in kitchens, bathrooms, and other warm, humid areas in homes.
  • Carpenter Ants:
    • Appearance: Larger than most other household ants, they can be black, brown, or reddish.
    • Characteristics: They don’t eat wood but burrow into it to create their nests, which can cause structural damage to homes.
    • Habitat: Prefer damp or decayed wood, often found in window sills, porches, and roofs.
  • Argentine Ants:
    • Appearance: Small, light to dark brown ants.
    • Characteristics: Known for their massive supercolonies and aggressive behavior. They can displace native ant species.
    • Habitat: They prefer moist environments and can often be found near food sources.
  • Ghost Ants:
    • Appearance: Tiny ants with a pale color and translucent legs and abdomen.
    • Characteristics: They are attracted to sweet foods and can often be found in kitchens.
    • Habitat: Prefer warm, humid areas and can often be found inside homes in tropical regions.
  • Thief Ants:
    • Appearance: Very small, yellow to brown ants.
    • Characteristics: Named “thief” because they often steal food and young from other ant colonies.
    • Habitat: They prefer high-protein foods and can be found in homes searching for meat, cheese, and greasy foods.
  • Acrobat Ants:
    • Appearance: Small, often shiny ants with a heart-shaped abdomen.
    • Characteristics: Named for their ability to raise their abdomen over their head, especially when disturbed.
    • Habitat: Often found in decayed or damp wood.
Acrobat Ants. Source: Bernard DUPONT from FRANCECC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Big-headed Ants:
    • Appearance: They have two distinct worker sizes, with the larger ones having disproportionately large heads.
    • Characteristics: Primarily ground-dwelling, they can excavate soil and create mounds.
    • Habitat: Often found in sandy or loose soils.
  • Crazy Ants:
    • Appearance: Long legs and antennae with a reddish-brown body.
    • Characteristics: Named for their erratic and rapid movement.
    • Habitat: They prefer moist environments and can be found under carpets, inside walls, and in house plants.

Prevention and Control

Managing ant infestations begins with prevention. Here are some tips to keep these tiny invaders at bay:

  • Food Storage: Ensure that all food items, especially sweets and proteins, are stored in airtight containers. This not only prevents ants from accessing the food but also ensures they aren’t attracted to the scent.
  • Cleanliness: Regularly clean countertops, floors, and cabinets to remove any food residues. Immediate cleanup of spills, especially sugary liquids, is crucial.
  • Seal Entry Points: Regularly inspect your home for cracks, gaps, or holes in walls, windows, and doors. Sealing these entry points can prevent ants from entering.
  • Regular Trash Disposal: Ensure that trash, especially food waste, is disposed of regularly and that trash bins are sealed.
  • Natural Repellents: Consider using natural repellents like lemon juice, peppermint oil, or cucumber slices at entry points. These can deter ants without the use of chemicals.
  • Professional Help: If an infestation becomes severe, it might be time to consult with pest control professionals who can provide specialized treatments and solutions.

Ants with Wings

Winged ants, often mistaken for termites, are a fascinating aspect of the ant world. 

These ants, also known as alates, play a crucial role in the lifecycle of an ant colony. 

Their presence often signifies a mature colony ready to expand and establish new colonies elsewhere. 

The sight of swarming winged ants, especially during specific seasons, is a natural phenomenon that underscores the reproductive phase in the life of an ant colony.

Winged Ants

The primary role of winged ants is reproduction. Their wings are an indication of their fertility and readiness to mate. 

The presence of wings allows these ants to disperse over larger areas, ensuring genetic diversity and the establishment of new colonies. 

After the nuptial flight, where mating occurs, female ants shed their wings and seek suitable locations to start new colonies, while male ants typically die shortly after mating.

Do All Ant Species Have Winged Ants?

Not all ant species produce winged ants. In species that produce winged ants, both males and females have wings during their nuptial flight phase. 

After mating, the males typically die, and the females, which become future queens, shed their wings to start a new colony.

However, there are some ant species or specific colonies within species that reproduce through a process called “budding” or “satelliting.” 

In this process, one or more reproductive females, accompanied by several workers, leave the original nest and establish a new colony nearby without a nuptial flight. 

In such cases, winged ants might not be produced.

It’s also worth noting that even in species that typically produce winged ants, not every individual will develop wings. 

Alates

Only those ants destined to reproduce will become alates. The majority of the ants in a colony, the workers, remain wingless throughout their lives.

Here are the main ant species that do have winged ants:

  • Carpenter Ants (Camponotus species)
  • Fire Ants (Solenopsis species)
  • Odorous House Ants (Tapinoma sessile)
  • Pavement Ants (Tetramorium caespitum)
  • Pharaoh Ants (Monomorium pharaonis)
  • Argentine Ants (Linepithema humile)
  • Harvester Ants (Pogonomyrmex species)
  • Ghost Ants (Tapinoma melanocephalum)
  • Acrobat Ants (Crematogaster species)
  • Big-headed Ants (Pheidole species)
  • Lasius Ants (Lasius species)
  • Cornfield Ants (Lasius species)

Conclusion

Ants, despite their small size, play a significant role in our ecosystems and daily lives. 

With over 12,000 known species, their diversity is astounding, ranging from the common household invaders to the vital contributors in natural habitats. 

We’ve explored the various types of ants found globally, the intricate roles within their colonies, and the common species that often share our living spaces. 

Understanding these different types not only deepens our appreciation for these industrious insects but also equips us with the knowledge to coexist harmoniously. 

Whether they’re building vast underground cities or simply searching for a sugar crumb on our kitchen floor, ants continue to fascinate and remind us of the intricate web of life on our planet.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Sausage Fly from Pakistan

 

Subject: Paypal Location: Islamabad, Pakistan May 6, 2014 1:33 pm My apologies, I did not know how else to ask: where is your Paypal link? I think you do great work and understand that it costs money. I also understand (as you say on the site) that donating does not increase my chances of getting a letter answered. That is fine, small staff means slower/fewer responses. Fair enough. You very kindly answered my first post (Pakistan centipede, unnecessary carnage) a few days ago. But your website is fascinating and user-friendly. Best of all, it returns personalized responses. I will keep visiting. And donate something small, whenever I can. I am submitting shots of an unknown insect from yesterday. Is something pretty common, but I do not know what it is. Thank you! Best, Ali S. Pracha (aspracha) Signature: aspracha
Sausage Fly
Sausage Fly
Dear aspracha, Our PayPal donation link is located in a goldenrod colored banner at the top of our webpage and any donation you are able to provide is greatly appreciated. This creature is a male Driver Ant in the genus Dorylus, commonly called a Sausage Fly, and when we first received an image from Israel last year, we were quite puzzled, though at least we had the insect order correct.  According to Alex Wild on his Diversity of Insects website:  “Dorylus is an African and Asian genus of nomadic predatory ants. The surface-foraging species conduct spectacular raids and are often referred to as driver or safari ants.”  According to Myrmecos:  “Most people who see Africa’s ‘sausage flies’ wouldn’t pick that they are actually ants. In fact, these monstrous insects are males of the common Dorylus driver ants. They fly at night to gain a chance to mate with a queen from another colony.”  Discover Life has some excellent technical drawings and images.  According to FerreBeeKeeper:  “One of the strangest and most alarming creatures on the planet is the driver ant.  Driver ants belong to the genus Dorylus which is comprised of about 60 species.  In the larger Dorylus species, each worker ant is only half a centimeter long.  The soldier ants which guard the hive are a mere 1.5 centimeters.  Males, which can fly, are 3 centimeters long and the queen, the largest of the ants, is from 5 to 8 centimeters long.  These are not the sort of sizes that allow one to play professional football, so what makes Dorsylus ants so fearsome?  Well, there are lots of them.  Driver ants form the largest colonies of all the social insects.  They live in hives numbering more than 20 million individuals, all born by one single queen.  When marching or foraging, these hives can overrun and overpower much larger animals and generally everything that can do so gets out of their way (including mighty elephants).”  The site also states:  “Male driver ants fly away from the colony very soon after birth.  If a colony of foraging driver ants comes across a male ant they rip off his wings and take him to mate with a virgin queen (after which he dies).  The queen ant then lays 1 to 2 million eggs per month for the remainder of her life.”  We suspect you are familiar with with wingless worker Driver Ants, but that you have not connected them to these unusual winged Sausage Flies.
Sausage Fly
Sausage Fly

Letter 2 – Red Driver Ant from South Africa

 

Subject: Species name Location: Kimberley Sout Africa November 17, 2014 1:37 am Hi! I am trying to make preserved specimens of bugs in our area for a laboratory. It is important to have information of the specimen which will enable the students to learn from these specimens. I was hoping you could help me with the species name of each. Signature: Odette du Plessis
Red Driver Ant
Red Driver Ant
Dear Odette, The quality of your images is quite poor, and we do not believe we will be able to give you an accurate species identification on either the Scarab Beetle in the family Scarabaeidae or the Preying Mantis.  Your third insect looks very much like a male Driver Ant or Sausage Fly in the genus Dorylus.  You can view additional images of Red Driver Ants on the iSpot website.  As an aside, we find it curious that you are mounting your specimens on glass slides like microscope specimens instead of on pins like most insect specimens. Hi! Thank you for trying to help me identify the species. I am sure your information will steer me in the right direction. They are on glass slides as I intend placing them in glass jars filled with alcohol. I found this recipe for mounting insects. I would have sent it to you just to show you, unfortunately the information is in afrikaans. How do you prevent insects that are mounted with pins from going mouldy and becoming brittle and breaking? Thank you once again for the information. Odette Hi again Odette, Insects do dry out when they are mounted on pins.  We do not have a collection, so we are not prepared to relay the necessary steps for mounting insects, but that information should be readily available in books or online.

Letter 3 – Red Harvester Ants in Texas

 

Subject:  Red Harvester Ants? Geographic location of the bug:  Stephenville, TX Date: 08/01/2018 Time: 01:34 AM EDT Your letter to the bugman — Hello! I hope you are both well! I see that you’ve discovered a harvester ant colony, that’s awesome. I also discovered what I believe to be a red-harvester-ant colony in north Texas,  in mid May 2018. Alas, the ant bed is located on the edge of a playground, not good. Warm, windy, dry weather. I found a reference: https://texasinsects.tamu.edu/red-harvester-ant/ I was intrigued by the ants’ use of wood; are they actually shoring up their tunnels, like tiny miners reinforcing their mine? One ant carried what looked like a bird dropping. Mysterious creatures, sadly they are increasingly rare here. Best wishes! How you want your letter signed:  Ellen
Harvester Ant carrying more than its weight
Hi Ellen, Are you the very same Ellen with the great garden in Coryell County?  Alas, that great garden that attracts so many native insects does require irrigation, and you will not find Harvester Ants in areas with irrigation.  Daniel has known about the colony of California Harvester Ants several vacant lots away from the WTB? offices since 1995, even before WTB? was a column in the photocopied zine American Homebody, during the time Daniel was renting a house across from the vacant lots.  At that time there were many more vacant lots and the Ants were often found foraging in the road, but as available housing in Los Angeles becomes more difficult to find, more and more previously unbuildable lots are being developed, and with development comes irrigation.  With irrigation come the invasive Argentine Ants that need the water, and much like gentrification, the Argentine Ants will force out the previous inhabitants, including the California Harvester Ants which are drought tolerant.  That is why Harvester Ants are rare in urban environments that lack natural open space.  Daniel has decided to try to get the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to purchase some of those vacant lots just to preserve the Harvester Ant colony along with other creatures that will most likely not survive additional development with landscaping.  Your images are wonderful.  We hope some bug-phobic parents don’t insist that the colony be exterminated because of a child being stung by a Harvester Ant near the playground.  We believe Harvester Ants do blockade their tunnels during the rainy season.    
Harvester Ant Colony
Thank you for the reply! Yes, I live in Coryell County and was visiting Stephenville when I saw the harvester ants. Such fascinating insects. Best wishes in preserving the undeveloped lots.
Harvester Ant

Letter 4 – Request to use a Photo

 

Permission to use a photo from your website? January 12, 2010 Hello, Wonderful site!!! My name is Daniella Martin, and I am an edible insect enthusiast. I am compiling a list of edible insects, and I would very much like to have your permission to use the photo of a Mexican Leafcutter Ant that you have on the following page of your website: 2008/08/11/mexican-edible-leafcutter-ant/ My website, www.girlmeetsbug.com, is dedicated to educating people about edible insects, and the potential thereof to help solve world hunger, and reduce CO2 emissions and pesticide use. It is non-commercial. May I have permission to use this photo on my website? Thank you very much for your time. Sincerely, Daniella Martin Yes you may Daniella, If we have time, we can search our old computer to see if we have a higher resolution image and we can email it to you.

Letter 5 – Sausage Fly from Namibia

 

Subject:  Unknown red bug Geographic location of the bug:  Namibia Waterberg Date: 03/27/2020 Time: 06:21 AM EDT Your letter to the bugman:  Hello, we saw some of those bug in Namibia located at the Waterberg plateau. These bug were able to fly (very uncontrolled) and had an pulsating rump. Do you know what it is or what it will be some day after the final development? Thank you. How you want your letter signed:  Max
Sausage Fly
Dear Max, This is a male Driver Ant in the genus Dorylus, commonly called a Sausage Fly.  Of the genus, Springer Link Encyclopedia of Entomology states:  “Driver ants are those army ant species in the afrotropical subgenus Dorylus (Anomma) that hunt by massive swarm raids on the forest floor and up in the vegetation. Any animal capable of moving fast enough and lacking other effective protective mechanisms flees from such an advancing swarm of hundreds of thousands or even millions of ant workers in search of prey. Hence the raid swarm ‘drives’ many animals before it.”
Dear Daniel,
thank you very much for enlightening me!
Kind regards,
Max

Letter 6 – Sausage Fly from Tanzania

 

Subject:  Hymenopterian from Tanzania Geographic location of the bug:  Serengeti in Tanzania Date: 11/26/2017 Time: 02:45 PM EDT Hi! I’ve seen that someone have asked for an hymenopterian from Colombia, and I’ve seen that is very similar to this one I ask for. It was in may 2016, but not in Colombia but in Tanzania. What do you think? Thanks. How you want your letter signed:  Ferran Lizana
Sausage Fly
Hi Ferran, That Hymenopteran from Colombia is still unidentified, and it does bear a resemblance to the Sausage Fly you have submitted.  Sausage Flies are male Driver Ants in the genus Dorylus.

Letter 7 – Scale and Ant from New Zealand

 

Subject: Bug ID Location: Auckland, New Zealand November 8, 2012 2:09 am Hi Bugman, spotted these today making a meal of a woody perennial. They were attached to the stems. It’s spring time moving towards summer here at the moment. Signature: Steve
Scale tended by Ant
Hi Steve, You should try to eradicate these Scale insects that are being tended and spread by Ants.  Scale Insects are sedentary relatives of Aphids, Cicadas, True Bugs and Hoppers in the order Hemiptera.  They can be easily removed by hand, but the gardener must be vigilant against reinfestation.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

5 thoughts on “Types of Ants: A Comprehensive Overview”

  1. Morning, What is the best way of getting rid of Red Driver Ants. Especially in your home. I have had 3 nests emerging from underneath my cupboard floor. Do they also envade in the foundation of the house or will they lie eggs just under the cupboard floor. Regards Nico

    Reply
  2. I live in Newcastle south Africa and a few weeks ago found it in the corner of our bathroom wall it’s got a tiny hole in it and we have tried everything to get rid of them nothing seems to be working! We closed the hole with a bit of cement and the ate through it. What else can I do?

    Reply

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