When you step out into your yard and see a mound, you’re probably quick to worry that you have giant fire ants or another type of bad ants — meaning a species that poses a risk to your plants or could leave you with a nasty bite. Don’t jump to conclusions. You may have a less-scary type of ant sharing your property, and some species are helpful to have around. Take a closer look and check for these signs to see if you have fire ants or another type exploring your yard.
Large, Red, and Angry: Red Fire Ants
Fire ants are identifiable by their color and body type. You can also check the mounds in your yard to identify the species. These ants can grow up to 0.25 inches long, so they’re considerably bigger than some common species you may find on your property. Red fire ants are named for their color, though the abdomen may be more of a darker reddish-brown than the head and body. Their abdomens are a bulbous oval shape and have stingers on their ends.
You can also identify fire ants by their behavior and mounds. They build their homes in the sunshine, so you’re less likely to find them under rocks or porches than other species. Fire ant mounds also don’t have a hole in the top. Rather, they enter their colonies through underground tunnels. Most other species build hills with an opening in the center, so this is a big tell that you have fire ants. Fire ants feast on dead insects and animals, but they’re also drawn to sweet foods and plants. This species is found throughout all of the United States.
Tan, Red, and Black: Carpenter Ants
Carpenter ants are even bigger than fire ants, growing up to 0.25 inches long. Though carpenter ants have some red in their thoraxes and heads, it’s a much darker species compared to fire ants. You’ll also notice some tan and black in the head and abdomen. The carpenter ant’s abdomen is larger than the fire ant’s abdomen as well.
Carpenter ants won’t build mounds in your yard. Instead, they burrow into wood and build their tunnels in trees, fence posts, and other structures. If you spot dark red and black or tan ants but don’t have mounds in your yard, you may have carpenter ants.
Heart-Shaped Abdomens: Acrobat Ants
Acrobat ants have a reddish-brown abdomen, so you might confuse them with fire ants. You can tell the difference, however, by checking the metasoma. Acrobat ants have a heart-shaped abdomen that’s a darker shade of brown than the rest of the body. These ants grow to only about 0.125 inches long, which is a bit shorter than red fire ants.
You’re most likely to find acrobat ants underneath rocks or a pile of wood. Unlike fire ants, they probably won’t build exposed mounds in the middle of your yard. This species may also make its home in tunnels that termites or other ants constructed.
Small and Brown: Argentine Ants
Argentine ants look like fire ants but are a light brownish color all over. They’re also smaller than fire ants and only reach about 0.125 inches long. They build homes under logs and rocks, like acrobat ants. If you have mounds in the middle of your yard, you may not have Argentine ants.
Big Heads and Small Bodies: Big-Headed Ants
Image via Flickr by bob in swamp
As their name suggests, the most distinguishable feature of this type of ant is the enormous head. Their head is far larger than their abdomen, giving these ants a unique look. Big-headed ants have a browner hue than red fire ants do, and they’re also much smaller. Workers don’t get much bigger than 0.63 inches long.
These ants are foragers, so they have a distinct feeding pattern. If you see a line of ants leading to and from their colony, you may have big-headed ants. Their mounds are also likely to be hidden in a shaded area.
Small and Golden: Caribbean Crazy Ants
If you live in Texas or Florida, you may have a problem with Caribbean crazy ants instead of fire ants. To identify this species, check whether their color is more of a golden brown than a red. These ants also burrow into home exteriors and wood rather than making hills. Though they won’t sting like fire ants, this species is known for building extremely large colonies.
Dark and Smelly: Odorous House Ants
Odorous house ants look like fire ants but are a darker color. They’re also smaller and don’t grow longer than 0.125 inches. If you really want to be certain about which kind of ants you have, just step on one. Odorous house ants, living up to their name, emit a smell like rotten coconuts when crushed.
This species is unlikely to build mounds in the middle of your yard. Instead, you’ll find their hills under stones and wood debris and in shaded areas, like under your porch. This is another foraging species that may organize a few ant trails around your property.
Red With a Black Abdomen: Pyramid Ants