Pharaoh Ant Control: Protect Your Home
Scientific Classification: Monomorium pharaonis (Linnaeus)
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 Mid-Atlantic pests.
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 Mid-Atlantic cities.
What Do They Eat?
As omnivores, pharaoh ants maintain a wide-ranging diet. Like many ant species, the insects prefer sugary foods such as jelly, honey, and cakes. Bread, butter, bacon, shoe polish, medical bandages, dead insects, seeds, nuts, fruits, nectar and fungus also function as food sources for the pests.
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. 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.
- 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
Tips for Removal from Home
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.
Pharaoh Ant Resurgence
“There’s been a huge resurgence in Pharaoh ants. DIY solutions can really make the problems worse, stimulating the colonies to split into two and making the problem worse.” – Hope Bowman, Entomologist, B.C.E
Signs of Pharaoh Ants
- Pharaoh ants are minute, measuring at about 2 mm in length (<1/10 inch long). Their color ranges from yellowish to light brown, or even red. Their antennae are conspicuously clubbed at the tip (last 3 segments). You will often find them in bigger populations, as colonies are known to be rather large.
- Where to find them:
- This pest is commonly found beneath floorboards, in cement wall voids and within furniture. This makes them even more difficult to eradicate.
- Favorite Meal:
- Pharaoh ants particularly enjoy sweets, meats and dead insects. They are also drawn to moist areas. A common response they exhibit to chemical stresses is a phenomenon called ‘budding’, where the colony splits into two or more distinct colonies. The wrong approach with these guys can turn a single problem into dozens