November 2011 — With some 9,000 to 10,000 known ant species and literally millions of members in every colony, ants have reached the top of the list of pest concerns for American homeowners and the Greater Houston area is no exception. In recent years, a study by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) showed that more than half of all homeowners experienced problems with various varieties of ants, making them the most prevalent pest nationwide.

Carpenter ants can destroy wood, which is found throughout a home, but are usually found in framework, subfloors, and foundation areas where the ants’ boring activity is hidden and their nests are located. Unlike termites, they don’t feed on wood, but will tunnel into it to make their nests. Over time, this tunneling can weaken wood to the point of collapse. Carpenter ants also target rigid foam insulation for tunneling. This destructive activity, plus their unpleasant presence make these ants a formidable pest. Even though their colonies develop slowly, damage to wood and foam can be quite extensive over time. So, when you notice carpenter ants around or in your home, you have cause for concern. Most commonly, these ants will be traveling from a parent nest elsewhere in order to establish nests indoors, especially where wood and moisture are present together in a house. Unfortunately, locating and eradicating nests can be difficult or seemingly impossible. Indoors, these nests can be well hidden, hard to reach, and not easily traced. Ants may travel in winding and obscure paths. These paths become more spread out the farther from the nest they travel. Outdoors, nests can be buried underground, found in tree stumps, or tree sections.

Fire Ants — The impact of fire ants in Texas is estimated to be $1.2 billion annually, and they can pose a serious health threat to plants and animals. They are medium-sized red and black colored ants that build mounds of soft soil, usually no larger than 18″ in diameter. When disturbed, fire ants are extremely aggressively, crawling up vertical surfaces, biting and stinging simultaneously. Their sting can be quite painful and usually leaves a white pustule on the skin, often leaving a permanent scar. Worker fire ants vary in size from small (1/16 inch) to large (almost ¼ inch) in length. Many native ant species build small nests in soil and often have central nest openings for the ants to come and go, but fire ants mounds have no central openings, making it harder to eliminate them.

Leaf Cutting Ants live in large colonies of up to two million. They will bite people, but are a pest because they can be extremely destructive to landscape plants, gardens and some agricultural crops in Texas, completely stripping leaves from plants in large areas, often over an acre. They are usually found in deep, well drained sandy or loamy soils; large colonies can excavate soil from underneath roadways, potentially causing a structural threat.

Any consistent sighting of ants in or around your home should be dealt with by a professional pest control service. Other clues of an infestation include small accumulations of saw dust near wall cracks or falling from ceiling areas, sounds of crunching in your walls, or seeing ants indoors. Although normal ant activity begins in spring and goes dormant as the weather becomes cold in the winter, they are still around. If nests are found inside your home, they are best treated directly by a licensed pest control service.