The ants go marching one by one …
Did you know there are 136 ant species in Indiana? Ants are very common throughout our state. And as helpful as they are — cleaning up messes, picking up our discarded food, attacking garden pests — they can also be a nuisance if they get into our house or building. In their tireless drive to scavenge food, ants will often make their home indoors and begin collecting anything eatable, especially if it’s in the kitchen and not tightly sealed. What’s worse, some species not only grab up our crumbs, but they bite and damage framework.
Although there’s many species in Indiana, there are five “ants” you’re likely to run across. One of these you’re probably much less likely to run across than the other four, but you’ll only find it in Hoosier country, so we thought it worthy of our list.
1) Formica indianensis
If IU were to ever adopt a mascot (the current “Hoosier” mascot being … ambiguous), Formica indianensis would be a good choice. This medium-sized insect is found nowhere else in the world except Ohio, though its population in Indiana far exceeds that in the neighboring state. Not much is known about indianensis, but it can be identified. Indianensis is a yellowish-brownish color and has a few golden yellow hairs. It’s not the smallest ant — workers grow to 6mm (just shy of 1/4 inch), and its legs are longer and stouter than you’d typically see on other common ant species.
2) Black Carpenter Ant
Much more common than the indianensis, black carpenter ants are well-known pests. They build nests in damp or rotting wood in which they create tunnels from one section of their colony to another. Unlike termites, they don’t eat the wood. Rather, they chew it out with powerful jaws. They typically eat plants, fungus, and dead insects, so you won’t necessarily find them in your kitchen. But that doesn’t mean you won’t see them if they’ve made their home indoors, as their colonies can grow to include thousands of workers.
Black carpenter ants are dull black in color and have whitish or yellowish hairs on their abdomen. Black ants can grow quite large, ranging between 6 and 13mm (1/4 and 1/2 inch), with workers in the same colony ranging in size (polymorphism).
If ignored, these pests can cause considerable structural damage to a building. Make sure to call a pest control professional in your area if you think you might have an infestation. And make sure not to handle them. They will bite, and the formic acid they produce and cause quite a sting.
3) Red Pavement Ant
Usually found under large rocks and around concrete or asphalt, these little ants are quite common in the summer. They’re often found on sidewalks or around building slabs, where you can find little dirt mounts build around their entrances. While they usually stay outside, they can find their way into buildings and become quite a nuisance. Like other species, they never stop scavenging for food (they aren’t picky and will eat almost anything, especially sweets), and they will bite in defense.
You can identify them by their color and size. They’re a reddish or rust color, though they can be a blackish color. They’re small, too, growing between 2.5 and 4mm (1/10 to 3/20 inches) long.
As a note, red pavement ants aren’t actually native to America; they’re native to Europe and arrived in North America in the 1700s or 1800s.
These pests are persistent, and you may find it difficult to kill them using ant bait. If ant bait doesn’t work, contact a local pest control specialist to assist you in ridding them from your building.
4) Little Black Ants
Little black ants stand out from other ant species by sheer sheen. While most ants are dull, little black ants are shiny. They’re very small, growing to only 1 or 2 mm, and are dark brown or black.
Like red pavement ants, they’ll eat about anything, and are likewise highly adaptable to their environment. They usually live outside under rocks, decaying trees, or (like red pavement ants) under and around pavement. Inside, they’ll build nests in woodwork, baseboards, under carpeting, in wall voids, etc.
Little black ants are the stereotypical picnic raider. They’re known for their “roadways” on which they march one-by-one.
5) Velvet Ants
Surprise — velvet ants aren’t actually ants. They’re wasps. Also known as “cow killers,” females look like large, hairy hairs. Only males have wings, and they look quite different from their female counterparts.
Females are brightly colored — usually back and red or orange — and will inflict a painful sting if they feel threatened. If you see one around your home, you don’t have worry about an infestation. Velvet ants eat nectar, not human food. And they live solitary lives; they don’t form colonies.