Most of the calls we get asking for ant identification help involve either very little black ants or very big black ants. If you have little blacks ants, follow that link or continue reading. See also Ant identification based on size - below.
For a guide to identifying winged ants: see the link: Flying Ants because the information below will not apply. Ants with wings are reproductives - and it is really tough to identify your type of ants from a winged specimen, as they are often of a different size and color than the worker ants, and have extra muscles to work the wings.
A quick ant identification guide to:
(note: If this page doesn't help you with the ant you are having a problem with, check out: other pest ants, or give us a call.)
(Not to scale - but close)
Tiny ants - usually seen in the kitchen, sometimes in the bathroom, especially in the spring or when food is left out: 9 times out of 10, tiny ants in these areas are odorous house ants (OHAs), they will range from 'tiny' to slightly larger but still 'very little' and are usually dark brown to black. If the ants are tiny but red, the treatment may be be the same and you should check out our link to Odorous House ants. Swarms, if they occur, often happen between May and July. (Swarms involve flying ants.)
Little ants, although typically larger than OHAs, usually seen outside around pavers, under or around walkways, and often seen where driveways meet garages. These ants are seen inside sometimes, around the edges of garage floors or in basement or slab homes, coming up around cracks or crevices in the floor. They range in color from a reddish brown to a dark brown / black and are noted for making small mounds of sand or fine dirt particles. If you have mounds of sand or fine dirt showing up between pavers, or slab joints, you probably have pavement ants. Unlike OHAs, these guys show up often in areas of a home other than kitchens and bathrooms. They often do not respond well to baiting.
In our area we lump two different kinds of ants together, because of their nesting habits, and call them 'moisture ants'. Moisture ants often infest homes for years before being noticed. When they are noticed, it is typically because someone is repairing some rot or water damage and the tiny to medium sized ants are found in the area of damage or, just as commonly, between July and September a swarm of ants (activity from winged ants) will occur in the home. The winged female swarmers are a reddish brown color and about the same size as Carpenter ant workers, and are sometimes mistaken for those ants, especially when they lose their wings. The winged males are tiny and dark brown to black, about the size of a gnat or a large mosquito.
Like the odorous house ant noted above, these ants are often seen inside during the spring. They forage for food or moisture for a few weeks and then when their real food sources develop outside they seem to vanish. This is a clear indicator of nesting activity in the home.
There are over a dozen different species of Carpenter ants. The most common is a very dark brown. They may however be brown with a very dark red middle section, black, and sometimes completely red.
Unlike most ants that you will encounter, Carpenter ants come in multiple sizes. The largest number of ants in a colony, and all the ants when the colony is young, will be 'minor' workers, that is, workers of a smaller size. As the colony matures it produces medium size and 'major' size ants.
A really good indicator that you have Carpenter ants is when you see ants that look like each other, occur in the same areas, but vary in size.
Carpenter ants swarm typically in May or early June. Winged female swarmers are very large, up to an inch or more, and the winged males are about a half inch long.
Since almost all ants are little in comparison to us, lets set some size parameters that should be easy for all of us.
If you stack pennies on top of each other you will get 16 to 17 pennies in an inch high stack. All the ants noted below are sized by the thickness of a penny. So the thickness of a penny is about a sixteenth of an inch wide.
Tiny: Ants as small as 1 to 2 pennies are thick:
Big Headed ants, Thief ants, Pharaoh ants, Rover ants, some species of Odorous house ants, Ghost ants, Large yellow ants, and Little Black ants. (Yes, there is a little black ant species named: Little Black ants. All of these ants are about a 1/16th of an inch long.
Little: From 2 to 3 pennies thick:
Acrobat ant, Argentine ant, Cornfield ant, Pavement ants, White Footed ant, and some species of Odorous House ants. These ants are about an 1/8th of an inch to just over an 1/8th.
Medium: From 3 to 4 pennies thick:
Velvety Tree ants, Carpenter ants start at this size, at least some species, and even the minor workers of the larger species. Up to a quarter of an inch long.
Carpenter ants may be from 4 pennies to 9 pennies wide. If you are seeing ants that range in size but all look the same, same color and shape- you probably have Carpenter ants. If they are all exactly the same size, you may have some species of Thatching ants.
Ant color is based on the same factors that govern hair color in humans. If you have more pigment the color will appear darker. How many shades of brown hair do humans have? Combine that with the fact that there are almost always more than one species of each type of ant - like with flowers. The color of an ant is the least reliable method of identifying it.