With summer approaching in Houston and more time spent outdoors, it’s important to learn about the risks associated with pesky ants and how you can avoid the pain, annoyances and potential dangers of ant bites. There are currently over 2,500 ant species that inhabit the earth and of these 2,500 species, about 250 are native to Texas.
The majority of the ant species living in Texas fortunately prefer to nest outdoors. Most species of ants in Houston will construct nests or colonies buried deep underground, in rotting stumps, in damaged trees or under surface rocks. However, some transplant species, like the pharaoh ant, will prefer to take up shop inside of your home. There are two factors at play that will attract ants to the inside of your home, with the first being water damage. If you have a leaking roof, flooded foundation, dripping pipes or a clogged gutter, you are at higher risk for an ant infestation and consequently, painful ant bites. These water leaks provide moisture and can cause the wood surrounding your home to rot, creating an ideal environment for ants. The second factor that will attract ants to your home’s interior is easy access to food. Ants have an impressive sense of smell and the scent of food wafting from your trashcans, kitchen counters or sinks will entice these insects and send them on the hunt for any available food source inside of your home.
To help keep ants out of your home and to decrease your risk of ant bites, there are a few steps you can take. First, trim any overgrown shrubbery or tree limbs that can act as a bridge for ants from the outdoors to the inside of your home. Also be aware of pipes or electrical wires that lead indoors, as these can also offer ants easy access to the inside of your house. Whether the ants on your property choose to invade your home or remain outdoors, it’s important to know how you can protect yourself, your family and your property from ant bites and ant infestations. First, read on to learn more about the different species of ants that have the most potential to infest your living space.
Common Ant Species in Houston
As mentioned, Texas is home to 250 native ant species. However, only a handful of these species are common in the Houston area. Each ant species has different habits, including feeding and nesting habits. Knowing which type of ant you’re dealing with and the habits of that particular species can help you to determine how you can protect your home and property, what type of ant control you might need and how you can avoid or prevent ant bites.
As one of the most prominent ant species throughout the southeastern United States and specifically in Houston, the habits and identification of the fire ant should be common knowledge to every Houstonian. These ants are recognizable by their reddish-brown bodies and the many different sizes of ants in the same colony. Fire ant mounds can also be identified through the lack of a hole in the top. As their name suggests, fire ant bites are very painful and cause a burning and itching sensation at the site of the bite. Fire ants are very aggressive species and if their mound is disturbed, will attack in large numbers, administering many simultaneous ant bites and stings to the perceived threat. These ants will generally build their colonies outdoors, but will venture indoors as they search for food sources and water.
Carpenter ants are one of the largest ant species in Texas and even in the United States. These ants are generally one-fourth of an inch long and vary in color from black, brown and orange or a combination of all three. Carpenter ants are nocturnal critters, coming out during the night to forage for food. They will make their nests both outdoors in hollow tree trunks, branches, old firewood or rotting fence posts and indoors in walls, ceilings, hollow doors and boxes. Carpenter ants will search for meat, eggs and greasy or sweet foods inside your home and if nesting indoors, will often nest close to a food source. If nesting inside the wood of your home, carpenter ants can compromise its structural integrity. If you notice large ants in or around your home, you may be facing a carpenter ant infestation. Like the fire ant, carpenter ants are also attracted to moisture.
These ants do not sting, but can produce a painful bite as they inject formic acid into the skin. The ant bites from this species can break the skin, causing a pea sized bump that may swell or become infected.
Although smaller, acrobat ants are similar to carpenter ants due to their color and nesting habits. However, acrobat ants are not nocturnal and prefer to forage and remain active during the day. When acrobat ants are disturbed, they will defensively lift their abdomens in the air. This defense mechanism is what gives the acrobat ant its name. This ant species will usually build their nests in trees and like the carpenter ant, will also nest indoors. If the acrobat ant decided to make build its nest in your home, you will likely find it in the walls or insulation and especially if you have moisture damage. Once the acrobat ant has entered your home, it will search for protein rich and sugary foods. If disturbed, worker acrobat ants can release a foul odor and aggressively bite in an effort to defend themselves and their nests. These ant bites produce only a mid sting.
The pharaoh ant is a very small ant measuring only approximately one sixteenth of an inch long. This ant species will usually live and nest indoors, making the risk of an in-home infestation greater for you and your family. These invasive ants gained the name “pharaoh” ants, as they were initially found in Egyptian tombs. Identifying features of pharaoh ants include their small size, yellow color and dark-tipped bellies. Pharaoh ants prefer to nest in narrow, warm and dark spaces which commonly includes wall voids, electrical boxes, under appliances, in wall outlets and underneath carpet. Their diets include a wide variety of foods but like other ant species, pharaoh ants seek food sources rich in proteins, fat and sugar. Pharoah ant bites are not poisonous, but can cause pain, swelling and rashes.
Raspberry Crazy Ants
Raspberry crazy ants are usually dark brown or red in color, have antennas and measure approximately one eighth of an inch in length. These ants earned their names through their erratic, or crazy, running behaviors. If you notice ants in your home or on your property that move in unpredictable patterns, you might be facing a raspberry crazy ant infestation. Raspberry crazy ants are primarily found in Texas and were first discovered in Houston in 2002. These ants are common in coastal areas stretching all the way to Florida. Often times, raspberry crazy ants will be unknowingly transported from place to place by humans. This ant species typically prefers to nest or colonize outdoors, only making their way into your home as they forage for food. However, in some cases, they will build their nests indoors, including inside of electrical equipment or walls. If this happens inside of your home, ant control might be the best option, as their nests can cause electrical equipment to malfunction. Outdoor nests are found in dry and moist areas. If nesting outside, you might find the raspberry crazy ant colony in soil, under rocks, in tree holes, under buildings or under rotten wood. Their inability to survive in cold weather makes Houston an ideal environment for this ant species. If the weather does become too cold, they will move indoors to infest the interior of building. Raspberry crazy ants are infamous for being able to take over your yard or home very quickly. Although they are known to bite, raspberry crazy ant bites are usually less painful than the bite of other ants.
Rover ants are relatively new to Texas and can sometimes be mistaken for the pharaoh ant due to their similar appearances. This ant species can vary in color from pale yellow to dark brown. They are very small in size, measuring approximately 2.5 millimeters long and have antennae. Rover ants fortunately do not consume wood or cause structural harm to homes. However, they will infest building interiors, including homes, hospitals and businesses as they search for food or a place to build their small nests. The rover ant’s diet consists of mostly of sweet food, and especially sweet liquids. They will also feed on the protein of other dead or living insects. In urban environments, rover ants will build their nests outside in areas including mulch, leaf litter or potted plants. If nesting indoors, these ants will nest in wall structures, cinder blocks, light sockets and electrical outlets. There is no need to worry about rover ant bites, as these ants cannot sting, bite or transfer diseases to humans.
Health Risks of Ants and Ant Bites
Although less dangerous than some insects, ants can pose a health risk to you and your family, and especially to those who are sensitive to the venom produced when an ant bites. Most common is an allergy to fire ants. If an individual who is allergic to fire ants gets bitten or stung, they may experience a serious allergic reaction that can be life threatening. This potentially fatal reaction is called anaphylaxis and will produce symptoms such as itching, swelling in the tongue and throat, hives, dizziness, stomach cramps, difficulty breathing, diarrhea or nausea. If you or someone you know is bitten by fire ants and exhibits these symptoms, it is a good idea to seek emergency medical treatment. Ants have also been found to cause asthma if present inside of the home. It is best to avoid the health risks of ant bites and ant infestations by seeking ant control at the first signs of ants on your property or in your home.
How to Protect Yourself and Your Home from Ant Bites
One of the best ways to avoid ant bites or infestation is to safe guard your home so that ants cannot make their way indoors. There are a few different steps you can take to ensure that ants won’t be joining you in your home.
1. Using caulk to seal any window or door cracks will eliminate a common entry point for many ants. As a bonus, this will also help to give you better temperature control in your home.
2. Ants dislike the smell of coffee grounds, so sprinkling coffee grounds in your garden, the outside of your house or any points of entry you suspect the ants are using is another way to prevent them from coming indoors.
3. Clean any surfaces in your home, and especially in your kitchen, with vinegar. Vinegar will destroy the scent trails used by ants to remember the location of a food source. Ants also do not like the smell of vinegar.
4. Spray lemon juice around the locations where you suspect ants are entering your home. Like vinegar, lemon juice will also erase the ant’s scent trails.
While spending time outdoors, you can also take precautions to avoid ant bites, and especially fire ant bites. First, it is important to watch where you step while outdoors. The majority of those who get bitten by ants are not paying attention to where they are walking or stepping. Another way to help prevent ant bites outdoors is to avoid stepping on or disturbing ant mounds. Ants are very protective of their nests, with hundreds and sometimes thousands of ants ready to attack if threatened. It can also be helpful to avoid even standing near an ant mound, as where there is an ant mound, there will be ants close by. Using insect repellent on your socks, shoes and pant legs and on your gloves if digging in the garden is another way to deter ants from biting you. You should also always wear protective clothing if you’re in an area where ants are present. Long pants, socks, long sleeves and gloves will help to protect you from ant bites. Lastly, if you do find yourself getting bitten by fire ants, it’s important to stay calm and leave the area with the fire ants. You should remove and shake out your clothing immediately if you are getting attacked by fire ants.
Natran offers an effective and green solution to your ant infestation. During the initial visit by a Natran technician, any entry points or ant infested areas will be treated. Your technician will also be diligent about finding any additional areas that may need improvement, including areas that are continually moist, holes in sheetrock or inside of cabinets. Once the interior of the home has been treated, your Natran technician will then service the exterior every two months, so to provide an invisible twenty foot barrier around your home. If you’re facing an ant infestation, call Natran today and get ready to enjoy the summer months without worrying about ant bites or an infestation.