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Pharaoh Ants: Identification & Control Guide

pharaoh ants in their nest

The pharaoh ant is a common household ant that is thought to have originated from Africa. Some scholars speculate that the ant earned its name from a mistaken idea that it was one of the plagues that hit ancient Egypt. Wherever the name began, it is a nuisance that can seem like a plague to people living in the many areas this ant frequents.

The pharaoh ant is found in every inhabited region on the planet, and it nests outside only in places below the equator. However, it has adapted to some of the southern United States. That is because the ant’s favorite home is in places where it is between 80 to 86 degrees, humid (80 percent or more) and is close to food and water.

But that definitely does not mean the pharaoh ant is only in the southern area of the United States. The pharaoh ant has adapted to colder climates by moving inside. The species has adapted to heated buildings and are found just about everywhere. It has become the most common indoor ant in Texas. If you live in the Lone Star state or have visited, chances are high that you have come across a pharaoh ant in your home, another lodging or a business.

How to Identify Pharaoh Ants

You might know this species by another of its popular names: sugar ants. Pharaoh ants are often thought to be Argentine ants because they look very similar, but they are very different. It’s important to know what kind of ants you are dealing with before you decide on a treatment. You might end up using the wrong type or end up spending more than you need to with little payoff. Your best bet is to call in a licensed pest professional to identify the type of ants you have. They can determine the most effective way to control them.

It takes about 38 days for a pharaoh ant egg to turn into an adult. Adult pharaoh ants’ bodies are only one-twelfth of an inch to one-sixteenth of an inch long, about 2 millimeters. Different “classes” of these ants have different shading. Workers can be a variety of colors, from golden yellow to reddish-brown. They only live for about 70 days.

Males that aren’t workers are about the same size as the worker ants but they are black. Once males have mated, which happens in the nest, they will leave the nest and die within a couple of weeks. Queen ants are 4 millimeters long and darker than the worker ants. They live a lot longer, up to a year, and they can lay up to 35 eggs every day.

Where Do Pharaoh Ants Live?

In cooler climates, you will find these ants indoors. But you might not be able to see them, or at least all of them. Pharaoh ants live in moist, warm spots in hard-to-reach areas. These include behind baseboards, between stored linens, under flooring, in furniture or in the voids behind walls.

The ants’ nests can be quite large, some with as many as 300,000 ants including many queens. Secondary colonies split off from the main one in a process called budding. A queen and a few of the worker ants will break off from the main colony and form their own. And on and on it goes until the infestation is enormous. If a queen doesn’t come along to the secondary colony, workers can develop a queen from one of the broods that has split off from the original colony.

You will often see lines of pharaoh ant workers marching along feeding trails, using things like wiring or water pipes to move along through walls and between floors. Once they find food, they create chemical trails between their nest and the food source so all their ant friends can have a turn at the buffet.

pharaoh ants drinking water

Are Pharaoh Ants Dangerous?

It’s helpful to know what these ants eat. These ants have a taste for many kinds of foods. They love sweet snacks, fatty foods and treats with a lot of oil. If any of these are left uncovered, even for a little while, pharaoh ants will find them.

Pharaoh ants have a wide preference in the types of food consumed. In infested areas, if sweet, fatty or oily foods are left uncovered, one can likely find a trail of pharaoh ants to the food. This is annoying in homes, but they aren’t just homebound. Pharaoh ants have even infested a seven-floor hospital in Texas and even secure DNA labs.

In hospital infestations, these ants do pose some risk to certain patients. Pharaoh ants can pass along about a dozen or so bacteria and viruses like Salmonella, Staph and Strep, which are especially dangerous to burn victims or newborns. Pharaoh ants have even been seen trying to get moisture from IV bottles at hospitals–while they were hooked up to patients!

Of course, restaurants, bakeries and other places with a lot of food are like a playground for pharaoh ants. Their large numbers mean that once they find food, they can easily bring a few thousand friends along. Their small size makes it easy for them to get into even the most secure packaging, bringing germs along for the ride. The ants’ enthusiasm for their food sources often leads to tremendous waste as everything they get into has to be thrown away.

These ants, like a lot of other types, have an affinity for electrical wires. When they are present in large numbers, they can disrupt more sensitive electrical components. They can crawl in and out of electrical outlets and in general, are a major nuisance for homeowners and businesses.

All told, pharaoh ants have the capability of carrying germs and passing them along in certain settings. The biggest danger they pose is the havoc they wreak on homes and businesses. They make an enormous mess and can seem like they are everywhere once they settle into your space. If you are having a problem with what you believe to be pharaoh ants, call in a licensed pest control professional to confirm the type of pest you have and make a pest treatment plan.

a home that has implemented a pest treatment plan to get rid of pharaoh ants

How To Get Rid of Pharaoh Ants

Because pharaoh ants can easily grow and branch off their nests and create chaos quickly, getting rid of them quickly is a top priority for homeowners. There are things you can do to try to prevent ants in the first place.

Ensuring that food sources are sealed is a big start. Keep your counters and floors clean and free of food. Make sure no crumbs are hiding in the corners, attracting the ants to invade. Make sure you take your trash out often. Finally, make sure you are sealing the bags as best you can and putting them in a sealed receptacle.

Pharaoh ants love moisture, so be sure to fix any leaky taps in any water faucet, inside and out, and use a dehumidifier inside if you live in a humid area. Interestingly, these ants also love pet food, so don’t leave Fido’s bowl out if they didn’t eat all their dinner. Similarly, don’t leave human food out longer than two hours or you risk unexpected and unwanted guests.

Outside, get rid of any standing water and keep trees and shrubs trimmed nicely and away from your home. If you store firewood outdoors, keep the stacks at least 20 feet away from your house. It’s a good idea to speak with a professional about pest prevention so you don’t have to look for a way to get rid of the ants in the first place.

Pharaoh ants are hard to get rid of! If you try an insecticide spray, you risk the colonies budding out and creating new ones instead of destroying the nest as you intended. Baits won’t work if the colony or colonies are quite large. These baits just can’t overcome huge numbers. Your best bet in the case of a medium to large infestation is to call in the professionals. It might take a few visits, followed by preventative maintenance, but licensed pest professionals can take care of your family and home and control these pests.

ABC Can Treat the Pharaoh Ants on Your Property

If you’re dealing with pharaoh ants, contact ABC Home & Commercial Services. Our professionals will create a custom pest treatment plan for your property. We even offer preventative pest control services, so any potential pest problems will be stopped in their tracks.

Russell Jenkins

Russell Jenkins is the Chief Communications Officer for ABC Home and Commercial Services in North Texas. Russell has been working as part of the ABC Family since he was 12 years old under the direction of his father, Owner Dennis Jenkins, and has since held several leadership roles at ABC. Russell holds a degree in Agricultural Leadership from Texas A&M University, and is a Food Safety Specialist. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his family and two children, playing tennis, and gaming.

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