Pharaoh Ant Control For the Home
Known for being particularly hard to eradicate from homes, pharaoh ants tend to congregate in large numbers. Colonies span several nest locations, and the insects generally resist attempts at comprehensive removal by way of insecticides or other chemicals. Capable of carrying diseases and remaining largely undetectable, pharaoh ants earn a special place on the list of the most challenging pests.
Scientific Classification: Monomorium pharaonis (Linnaeus)
Class: Insecta; Order: Hymenoptera; Family: Formicidae
Appearance / Identification
What Do They Look Like?
Size: Worker pharaoh ants vary slightly in size from 1/12 to 1/16 of an inch. Queens grow to at least twice that size.
Color: The body of the pharaoh ant is yellow to light brownish-red, while the end of the pest’s abdomen appears darker to black in color.
Characteristics: Like other insects, pharaoh ants have a segmented body made up of a head, a thorax, a two-segmented waist known as a pedicel and an abdomen. Additionally, the pests have antennae with segmented clubs, mandibles and a stinger.
Most scientists and entomologists believe that pharaoh ants originated in South America or Afrotropical regions. Thanks to international trade and commerce, the insects now enjoy a worldwide distribution. The pests thrive in cosmopolitan areas and remain a major problem in many cities.
Food / Diet
What Do They Eat?
As omnivores, pharaoh ants maintain a wide-ranging diet. Like many ant species, the insects prefer sugary foods. Below is a broad list of things they will feed on:
- shoe polish
- medical bandages
- dead insects
Pharaoh ants prefer to construct nests in inaccessible, warm and humid areas. Colonies range from a few dozen ants with one queen to several hundred thousand ants and multiple queens.
Colony splitting (makes it difficult to control them)
Instead of producing winged swarmers that mate and establish new colonies, pharaoh ants observe the unique practice of splitting habitats, whereby a queen and a few workers break from the main colony to build a nest in a different yet nearby location. The practice of colony-splitting often makes pharaoh ant infestations challenging to control.
Like most ants, the pharaoh species undergoes complete metamorphosis. Queens, males and workers comprise the castes of pharaoh ant colonies. Immature worker ants reach adulthood in an average of 38 days, while males and queens need about 42 days to reach maturity.
Within their lifetime, queens produce about 400 eggs in batches of 10 to 12 apiece. Males die within three to five weeks after mating, while queens live as long as a year.
How to Find Them
- Look for adult ants around high-moisture points in the home, such as plants, sinks and bathrooms.
- May notice the increased presence of dead insects on windowsills.
- Check for ants around food sources, such as pet food, microwaves, ovens and trash bins.
Signs of Infestation
Difficult to detect, pharaoh ants seldom leave many signs of infestation. Individuals suspecting a pharaoh ant infestation may bait the adults with sweet or fatty foods. While the insects prefer to nest in warm and moist areas such as wall voids, residents should also check for nests between pieces of paper, layers of bed linens or cloth, under floors, behind baseboards, in appliances, light fixtures or piles of trash.
Problems Caused by Pharaoh Ants
Pharaoh ants are notorious for their ability to pilfer and spoil large amounts of food, infiltrate small, undetectable places and spread disease.
Due to the small size of the ant, colonies often spring up undetected inside homes, hospitals, hotels, grocery stores, restaurants and similar locations. The insects often set chemical trails that lead to food sources inside walls along electrical wires and piping, which keeps the pests out of sight.
Why they are dangerous
Especially problematic in hospitals, pharaoh ants are known transmitters of salmonella, staph infections, pneumonia and strep. Furthermore, foraging ants have been found in surgical wounds, I.V. glucose solutions, sterile dressings and even in the mouths of sleeping infants.
Due to the small size of the pests, an important part of pharaoh ant prevention entails finding and sealing any cracks in the building foundation or gaps around windows and doors. Storing foods in airtight containers and making sure trash bins possess a tight-fitting lid also helps deter the pests from foraging. Fix any leaky pipes or other causes of moisture buildup. While limiting yard clutter proves beneficial, it may not completely eliminate the possibility of pharaoh ants since the pests are capable of nesting under tiny stones.
Why They Are Hard to Get Rid Of
Thanks to the colony-splitting habits of pharaoh ants, insecticides and other chemicals usually create more colonies and spread the infestation to a greater area. The insects are difficult even for pest control professionals to eliminate, so attempting to remove an infestation without professional assistance remains inadvisable. Contacting an experienced pest control specialist serves as the best course of action.
A colony of pharaoh ants has thousands of ants and many queens. When there is danger, the ants scatter. Queens run in every direction and some workers go with each queen. This process is called budding. The ants do this to start new colonies. They also do it when someone sprays insecticide or uses harsh-smelling cleaning products. After the budding happens, there are many colonies of pharaoh ants instead of just one.
Tips for Removal from Home
Many people use repellants for ants and other insects. There are a number of things that people have used. Some people recommend things like powdered red chili, vinegar and water (apple cider vinegar 0.5 and 0.5 with water), cinnamon, and peppermint.
For pharaoh ants, repellants can work best if the whole colony is outdoors. The repellant can keep the ants outdoors and prevent them from coming inside. If the pharaoh ants are already inside, repellants might help keep them confined to one part of the building. Since they are so tiny, pharaoh ants can travel inside of walls along electric wires and pipes. They can often get around the repellant to get the food or water that they need.
If pharaoh ants encounter a strong substance, insecticide, cleaning product, or a natural repellant in the area where they have been active, they react by budding. Using a repellant where you have seen the ants can make them scatter and cause a worse problem.
Experts recommend combining techniques. Outside, eliminate their harborages. Rake mulch and dead leaves away from the foundation and make a 12″ bare zone. They will avoid nesting in this area.
Make sure exterior doors close tightly and replace missing weather-stripping. If the home has a brick exterior, try inserting small pieces of plastic screen into the weep holes. This will help keep the ants out but it will allow air to circulate.
If the pharaoh ants are inside, ant bait may be the best solution. Put it where the ants have been spotted. Make sure there is no strong scent on your hands when you handle the bait. If pharaoh ants have been active in several areas, it may be helpful to put bait in each area.
If the pharaoh ants accept the bait, they will swarm over it in great numbers. For a day or two, the ant problem may even appear to be getting worse! The workers will take the bait back to the nest and share it with the other ants. It is important that all of the ants get some of the bait.
The bait treatment can take several days to eliminate the whole colony. Do not disturb the bait while the ants are feeding, but make sure to keep the bait stations filled with fresh bait.
Controlling pharaoh ants requires some detective work and a lot of patience. For that reason, many people prefer to let a pest control professional deal with these pests.