A source for information on Ants
normally seen in the Florida area
Florida spans multiple temperate and tropic climate zones, jutting out into a warm ocean.
Couple this geographic placement with abundant rainfall, and you have a state with a rich diversity of both plants
and animals. The Florida Natural Areas Inventory currently lists 82 natural communities identified within Florida,
including moist hardwood hammocks, fire-dependant pine flatwoods, dry oak scrub and numerous marine coastal areas.
These ecosystems have been influenced for millions of years by the presence or absence of fire and water, forming a
patchwork quilt of wet/dry environments.
Spread throughout this diverse mix of habitats and climate patterns are 221 species of ants
recognized so far. They inhabit a wide variety of nesting locations including tree limbs and twigs, grass culms,
rotten logs, leaf litter, soils of all types, acorns, pine tree bark and even pocket gopher burrows deep
underground. This number includes a vast array of dacetines (32 species), common species such as
Hypoponera opacior (Forel 1893) and
an endemic species of ponerine (Odontomachus
relictus Deyrup & Cover 2004). The favorable habitat and
climate conditions that exist in Florida also make it easier for exotic ant species to become established,
especially when combined with this state's vagabond human population and history of tropical plant commerce.
Of the 221 species, 52 are exotic, the largest exotic ant fauna of any U.S. state. A recent arrival, the
white-footed ant (Technomyrmex difficilis Forel) has been spreading quickly throughout Florida, often displacing other exotic
ants such as the ghost ant (Tapinoma
melanocephalum (Fabricius)) within urban
most prevalent of household pests, ants can be a nuisance for any Florida home or business owner. Ants will
infest almost any structure, excluding those with extreme temperatures, where they can find food and water.
Leave a crumb of food or a juice spill unattended and you are liable to wake up to find not just one ant, but
many, many ants; long trails of ants busily moving back and forth around the food site and the surrounding
areas. Their small size makes them very difficult to keep outside as they are constantly foraging for food. When
ants find food, they lay down a chemical trail, called a pheromone, so that other ants can find their way from
the nest to the food source.
There are many different species of ants in Florida, and these pests range from the tiny, essentially harmless
Ghost ant to the ferocious and prolific Fire ant that deliver a bite
that literally feels like you’ve touched fire. Ant mounds can damage lawns and landscaping and contaminate food,
food preparation areas, and invade pet food bowls when they make their way into your home or business. They may be
small, but they make up for their size in numbers; if you spot one ant, be certain there are thousands, even
hundreds of thousands, more where that one came from.
Ants belong to the insect order Hymenoptera and are close relatives of bees and wasps. They have three body parts:
the head, thorax, and abdomen. Ants undergo complete metamorphosis, passing through egg, larval, pupal, and adult
stages. They are social insects, with specific duties divided among different types, or castes, of adult
individuals. Queens and specific males are reproductive, and workers are sterile wingless females.
Winged ant reproductives, called alates or swarmer’s, leave the nest in large numbers in warm weather to mate and
establish new colonies. They are often mistaken for termites that are similar in appearance and also exhibit this
behavior. The way to tell them apart is by appearance, since the ant’s body is thin and constricted, whereas the
termites body is straight-sided. Ants
also have two pairs of long narrow wings that are firmly attached; the termite wings, which are similar in
appearance, break off easily. If termite swarmer’s have been crawling, their broken wings litter the swarm area
(which is also a good indicator of termite infestation, especially if found indoors). Ants have elbowed antennae,
while termites have straight, beaded antennae.
The queen is larger than the others and conducts the reproductive duties of the colony. Sterile female workers
gather food, feed larvae, build tunnels and defend the colony. Males are few in number as their sole purpose is to
mate with the queen. Ants usually nest in soil but can also be found around buildings or outdoors in warm, moist,
protected areas that are in close proximity to food sources, such as trees or plants.
Some species, such as the Pharaoh ant, prefer to nest indoors, especially during winter months. Others, such as the
Argentine ant and the Big-headed ant, build multiple sub-colonies that are linked to form one large “super colony”
which consists of multiple queens and can stretch out over a considerable distance. Fire ant mounds are often
numerous and may contain multiple queens and 500,000 or more individual ants. Others, such as the Twig ant, have
small, single-queen colonies in which only a few individuals are seen.
Pyramid ants and Pavement ants deposit soil in a circular crater to build their nests, with pavement ant leaving
unsightly mounds on sidewalks, driveways, etc. Indoors, Carpenter ants tend to nest in wood, using their strong
mandibles, or jaws, to chew smooth galleries and tunnels into moisture-softened wood, increasing the nest size for
their ever-expanding colonies.
Food preferences vary among ant species, but almost all ants are attracted to sweets. Honeydew, the sweet excretion
of aphids and scale is highly favored by many ant species. Some, such as Argentine, Ghost, and White-footed ants
actually tend or “farm” these insects, protecting them on the plant they eat and driving off any predators or
parasites in order to secure a constant honeydew supply. This also increases damage from these pests. Thief ants
are so named because of their habit of stealing food and larvae from other ant colonies. Ants can lift 20 times
their own body weight, and large numbers of ants can often be seen carrying a dead insect or other food source back
to the colony.
Other ants exhibit interesting methods of defense. Acrobat ants emit a foul odor when bothered, as do Odorous house
ants. Crazy ants and Rover ants display fast, erratic movements when bothered. The most aggressive ant species, the
Fire ant use their large numbers and painful, stinging bite to ward off intruders, and will rush out of their
mounds en masse to attack anything that disturbs them, regardless of size.
Although they can be a nuisance indoors and out, ants are fascinating insects that have many important functions in
the ecosystem, such as feeding on other pests (caterpillars, termites, etc.) and contributing to the natural
decomposition of dead animals.
Images and information derived in part or in
whole from Trueman's Scientific Guide to PMO 6th ED