The beautiful weather found in Southern California attracts residents and tourists from all around the world. Unfortunately, people are not the only thing that our beautiful weather attracts. Our year-round mild weather means that ants are a constant problem.
Many different species of ants call the Coachella Valley home, but two main types of ants are found more frequently and are well known for two very different reasons. The Argentine ant is known for invading homes and is commonly called the sugar ant, while the fire ant is well-known for its painful sting and aggressive behavior.
But how can you tell the difference between these two species? Here we take a closer look.
- Learn how to identify the Argentine ant.
- Learn how to identify the fire ant species found in the Coachella Valley.
- Understand the difference between these two common ant species.
- Explore ways to control and prevent potential ant infestations.
What are Argentine ants?
The Argentine ant, Linepithema humile, is an invasive species from South America and is considered one of the most troublesome ants when it comes to home invasion and infestation.
Often referred to as the “sugar ant,” the Argentine ant ventures inside homes during the hot, dry seasons looking for sources of water and sugary foods. Inside the home, these ants can often be seen in a large, noticeable line of hundreds to thousands of ants.
The Argentine ant does not bite or sting and is not considered a direct threat to humans, but these ants can carry bacteria and viruses throughout your home.
In addition, these ants feed off the sweet honeydew secretions from plant-feeding insects, such as aphids and mealybugs, and will help protect them, putting your plants and landscape at risk.
What are fire ants?
Southern California is home to two different fire ant species: the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) and the Southern fire ant (Solenopsis xyloni). Both species of ants are considered aggressive and the worker ants deliver a painful sting that causes the development of fluid-filled pustules. When the nest is disturbed, thousands of these fire ants will emerge and quickly attack anything or anyone in their path. They can be very dangerous for small children and pets. In addition, these ants can carry pathogens and viruses that can affect people.
In addition to delivering a painful sting, these ants can be very destructive, often building large nests or a supercolony underneath the pavement and home foundations. They will often venture inside searching for food and water.
How to differentiate Argentine ants and fire ants
Unfortunately, both of these different ant types can be difficult to eradicate once they establish a colony in or around your home. However, fire ants create an additional risk when it comes to eradication due to their aggressive behavior and risk of injury. Knowing which type of ant you are dealing with can make all the difference.
Argentine ants are typically a dark brown to black color and shiny in appearance and are often referred to as black ants. They measure between 2-3 mm in length and, when crushed, emit a musty odor. In contrast, the fire ant is very red to reddish brown in color (though we do have a small variety that can be black in color) and measure around 6 mm in length.
Argentine ant populations typically build colonies that are located in damp areas near a food source. Ant colonies and nests are often found under rocks or yard debris, along sidewalks, underneath landscaping, and in potted plants. When traveling into your home, you can recognize Argentine ants by the noticeable trail of ants they will create.
Fire ants, in contrast, typically build their colonies in open, sunny areas with a lot of available space, as they can grow larger than 2-4 sq ft in size. Their nests are sensitive to vibrations, so they often look for areas with no traffic. When moving in or around the home, these ants can build colonies underneath your foundation or within the wood or masonry of your home. They also feed on everything, including the insulation around your wires, leading to shorts in the wiring.
Fire ants can cause significant structural damage to your home by feeding on just about everything, including your wire insulation. In addition, their aggressive behavior and stinger can cause injury to humans, pets, livestock, and natural wildlife.
In contrast, Argentine ants are unlikely to cause a direct threat to you or your home. While considered a nuisance ant, these ants are more of a risk to the environment, often replacing and taking over an area from native ant species. They can be beneficial however and can eliminate other species of insects that can cause structural home damage, such as dry wood termites.
Control and Prevention
Eliminating an Argentine or fire ant infestation can be very difficult and is often best handled by professional ant control.
Sprays and baits can be effective temporarily by killing the ants you can see but are unlikely to provide a long-term solution.
- Because both these ant species look for food and water sources, your best method of prevention is eliminating easy access to food and water.
- Address any leaky water pipes and eliminate areas of standing water, such as birdbaths, pet bowls, and baby pools.
- Keep garbage away from your home and in a sealed container.
- Do not leave pet food and water bowls outside.
- These ants can squeeze through even the smallest of openings, so it is important to seal your home, especially around doors, windows, and cracks in the foundation.
Understanding which ant is marching into your space
Learning how to tell the difference between Argentine ants and fire ants is essential in order to avoid potential injury. While Argentine ants are more of a nuisance, fire ants can cause serious pain and, in the case of allergies, anaphylactic shock. Although DIY ant treatments are an option, they are often ineffective for the long-term management of these ant species, and professional ant and pest control is recommended.
Keeping your property ant-free
At Arrest a Pest, we understand the pest challenges in the Coachella Valley, including the Argentine and fire ant species. Our pest management programs work to eradicate current infestations while also helping to keep your home and yard ant-free. To learn more about how we can help keep your home and yard safe, schedule an appointment today.