Pharaoh ants are notorius indoor pests, often unnoticed due to their small size and colour. Workers are only 2 millimetres long. Though they are a tropical species, pharaoh ants are quite comfortable inside temperature controlled buildings in Canada and other temperate climates. One of the most difficult indoor pests to control.
Picture of pharaoh ant fragments to aid in identification
- Yellow to light brown in colour, darker abdomen, appears translucent
- Workers are 1.5 to 2 millimetres, queens are approximately 4 millimetres
- Three-segmented club on each antenna
- Thorax is evenly rounded
- Two segments (nodes) between the thorax and abdomen
Image of pharaoh ant fragments for identification purposes
Why should I be concerned?
Ant infestations pose a significant health risk to humans and pets. Pharaoh ants are particularly invasive and resilient against conventional bait and control treatments. As soon as you discover these ants at your home or business, contact a professional pest control technician to diagnose the extent of the infestation and to assess the appropriate response.
Habitat and Behaviour
A day in the life of pharaoh ants
Pharaoh ants mate in their nests and spread by “budding”, i.e. splitting the colony. They lack nestmate recognition so there is no hostility between colonies. A single colony may contain as many as 2,500 workers, but the close proximity of multiple colony can give the illusion of a single, large, supercolony
Pharaoh Ant Queens
Pharaoh ants are believed to have originated in the Afrotropic ecozone and were unintentionally introduced into Canada through human commerce. Acclimated for tropical climates, pharaoh ants found in Canada usually reside in heated structures. Nests often include multiple queens, which are capable of leaving their existing colonies to establish new colonies nearby. This makes the pest particularly troublesome because queens can spread colonies throughout the home in a relatively short amount of time.
Unlike many species of ants, pharaoh ant queens do not need to leave the nest to mate, which allows for easier proliferation of the species. These queens breed continually and generally live between four months and a year. In a lifetime, a queen pharaoh ant produces about 400 eggs, which are usually laid in batches of 10 to 12 at a time. After a queen lays her eggs, the offspring take about 36 to 42 days to hatch and develop into adults. Reproductively capable males and females usually take a few more days to develop. Reproductives are usually spawned twice a year.
New pharaoh ant colonies form through a process called budding. Queens in existing colonies and several workers leave nests to establish new colonies elsewhere. Budding allows for the insects to spread infestations quickly and into nearly any area of a structure. Queens often choose undisturbed nesting locations, like wall and floor voids, but are capable of inhabiting tight, seemingly inaccessible areas, as well. Unusual places a pharaoh ant queen can form a nest include between linen sheets, inside of electrical wall outlets, and between books. The budding process makes control difficult because infestation sources can be harder to locate. Additionally, if one nest is taken care of, a separate nest in the same structure can continue propagating the species. Inadequate control methods can exacerbate the problem by enticing queens to further branch out within a structure.
Queen pharaoh ants are reddish in color and feature enlarged abdomens, which are slightly darker than the rest of the body. About twice as large as worker ants of the species, queens measure about 4mm in length. Virgin queens have wings but are not capable of flight. After mating, queens drop their wings.
Do Pharaoh Ants Bite?
With pincer-like jaws, some ant species are capable of biting humans and pets. As a small ant, only 1 to 2 mm in length, the pharaoh ant, or Monomorium pharaonis, does not bite. Pharaoh ants are budding ants, meaning the species does not swarm but may still infest areas of Canada quickly by establishing new colonies often. The insect has become a known pest of factories, office buildings, hospitals, and residences. Though the ant does not bite, the insect may detrimentally affect humans in other ways. The pharaoh ant carries and may transmit many diseases, such as salmonella, staphylococcus, and clostridium, which may cause botulism. While homeowners are usually safe from these pathogens, the ants may transmit disease in hospitals or health care facilities. The pharaoh ant seeks warm, moist places, allowing for susceptibility in hospitals as ants may try to inhabit wounds under soiled bandages.
Though not a threat to bite, the pharaoh ant may cause problems for homeowners, as the insect congregates on foods and dishes left unattended. Nests may be built in walls, between studs, or in insulation, causing limited structural damage. The pest may be considered more of a nuisance to homeowners. When dealing with the small, typically out of sight insects, residents may have difficulty eliminating the ants without the assistance of a pest control professional.
Pharaoh ants have become a serious pest in hospitals, rest homes, condominiums, apartment dwellings, office buildings, motels and hotels, grocery stores, factories, commercial bakeries, food establishments and other buildings. infestations in hospitals is especially problematic as these ants can transmit over a dozen pathogens.
These ants will infest almost every area where food is available. They will travel along electrical wires and plumbing and disperse through out buildings and even entire blocks.
Pharaoh Ant Infestation
Telltale Signs of an Infestation
While detecting a pharaoh ant infestation is often easy, locating the nest may prove difficult, as the pest tends to colonize in inconspicuous areas of the house. Pharaoh ants like to colonize warm, humid areas indoors such as near drains, pipes, or wiring and are often seen in heated buildings during colder months in Canada. Common nesting sites include between wall voids, books, and sheets of paper, behind baseboards and refrigerators, in clothing, and even inside electrical switch boxes. Pharaoh ants may forage as far as 115 feet away from the nest, which can make it difficult to locate the root of the problem. Pharaoh ants forage by making trails for other workers to follow. Spotting one or more walking in a line may indicate a foraging escapade or the moving of a nest. Sighting one or several pharaoh ants indoors is an indication of an infestation which necessitates action, as they may already have several smaller nests nearby or are scouting for potential nesting sites.
What to Do in Case of Infestation
Call a pest control expert immediately after identifying a pharaoh ant indoors. While seeing one or two ants may seem harmless, the pest reproduces rapidly under optimal conditions. Do not spray the ants; spraying typically worsens the problem, as pharaoh ants are known for “budding,” or creating satellite nests very quickly after sensing danger. Strategic baiting remains the best way eliminate pharaoh ant infestations. However, using the wrong types of baits may also lead to budding. Trained professionals locate trails and place enticing baits appropriately for effective control. The process of controlling a pharaoh ant infestation may take several months and up to a year, due to the heavy network of nests the creatures often boast.
Tips for prevention and control
These tips may help you prevent pharaoh ants in your home:
- Clean up any spills and messes in dining areas
- Rotate stored food items, first in – first out
- Keep food preparation areas and floors clear of crumbs
- Make sure your trash cans have tight-fitting lids
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