Florida has its fair share of ant pests, such as the White Footed Ant and the Big Headed Ant. These invasive species are widespread here in South Florida. After invading, these exotic ants have thrived throughout Florida and pose a danger to native ants. A nuisance for homeowners, these invasive ants in South Florida can make their way into your home and cause problems for you. When they enter your home, they hide in nooks and crannies and cracks and crevice and feed on food in your kitchen. Most homeowners do not want to share their homes with these problem pests. We break down the background on what makes these problem ants such an issue, signs that these pests are in your home, and how to prevent or rid yourself of these intrusive insects.
Most Common Types of Ants in South Florida
There are many different types of ants in South Florida, a tropical and subtropical climate zone where many insects thrive. Two invasive ants, the White Footed Ant and the Big Headed Ant, for example, are a problem for homeowners who want a pest-free home. Pest control experts frequently see these ants in homes throughout South Florida, and both ant species top the list of the most problematic ant species in and near structures.
White Footed Ant
This invasive ant species was first correctly identified in 2007 and is a major nuisance in South Florida. The ant has established itself throughout Florida. More than likely, they were introduced to the state by accident. Entomologists think that one of the primary ways these ants spread to new areas is via infested landscaping plants, goods, and materials in residential settings.
Read more: White Footed Ant facts
What Do White Footed Ants Look Like?
A black or dark brownish-black ant, White Footed Ants have abdominal segments and are about 2.5 to 3 mm long. The ants have yellowish-white tarsi or feet, hence the name, white footed ant. They do not sting. These ants are sometimes confused with the Argentine ant because of their similar appearance. Note that the Argentine ant’s petiole has a vertical projection, which the White Footed Ant lacks. In South Florida, the bug is also sometimes confused with a kind of "black crazy ant” called Paratrechina bourbonica. You can distinguish this ant from White Footed Ants by their faster speed, denser hair, longer legs and antenna, and the fruity smell they give off when crushed.
Where Do White Footed Ants Live in Your Home?
White Footed Ants find their way into your home through small entry points, namely cracks and crevices from the exterior such as doors and windows, and sometimes into wall voids. Once inside, they love moisture, and sweet foods and look for liquids and food solids in your home, which is why you will find them most commonly in your kitchen and bathroom. The forager ants who locate food in your home lay pheromone trails, which will result in heavy trailing activity and lead other ants to the food source. These trails can often be found along the edges of your home. They might follow an exterior wall panel to an opening into your home's interior. You will also find them foraging on tree trunks and branches of trees and shrubs where they search for nectars and honeydew. Often White Footed Ants will use trees to get onto your roof and invade your attics through vent stacks and soffit vents.
Typically, their nests are outside, but sometimes they nest in an attic, rain gutters, and wall voids. If you suspect you have White Footed Ants nesting around your property, the first places to look are in trees and bushes and under landscape debris, palm fronds, leaves, and loose mulch. White Footed Ants prefer nests that are close to food and moisture. They also like to choose sites that offer protection from wind and predators.
It is difficult to determine the boundaries of one colony. Neighboring colonies are interconnected, and numerous nests can make up a colony. This can make ant control difficult for homeowners, and is one reason to consult with a professional pest control company, like Hulett Environmental Services.
Where Do They Live in Florida?
The first Florida White Footed Ant was captured at a Homestead nursery in 1986. Mark Devrup was able to collect and identify one in Miami. South Florida has vegetation that attracts White Footed Ants and they enjoy the following indigenous plants:
- Large ficus trees
- Most fruit trees
- Palms: coconut, sable, and queen
- Plants with flowers and sweet nectars
- Plants infested with sap-sucking insects
Infestations of White Footed Ants have been confirmed in the following counties:
- Indian River
- West Palm Beach & Palm Beach
- St. Lucie
Big Headed Ants
This invasive tramp ant is widespread and thrives in South Florida where it has become a pervasive nuisance. Big Headed Ants displace native ants. Some entomologists speculate that frequent hurricanes are to blame for the success of this pest. Hurricanes destroy trees and damage lawns, which requires a homeowner to replace sod and other vegetation. These soil-nesting pests then make their home in this replacement vegetation.
What Do Big Headed Ants Look Like?
Big Headed Ants are dimorphic, which means that they have both major and minor workers. The major worker ant is much larger and has a big head that outsizes the rest of its body, which is where its name originates. Major workers make up only 1-3% of the colony. The major worker is about 3 mm to 4 mm in size, while the smaller minor worker measures 2 mm. These reddish-brown ants have a two-segmented petiole or waist.
These ants are sometimes confused with the red imported fire ant or termites. People confuse these pests with fire ants because they also make mound-like nests in the turf, grass, sidewalks, driveways, etc. The ants look similar too! A minor difference being that the Big Headed Ant is smaller than red imported fire ants. It is also darker in color and less shiny. Red imported fire ants have multiple size workers in their colonies, whereas big-headed ants only have two. Unlike red imported fire ants, Big Headed Ants will not sting you. Big Headed Ants can also be confused with termites because Big Headed Ants leave behind piles of loose sand-like soil that resemble the mud debris left behind by termites, often under baseboards in your home.
Another way to identify these ants is to look for “supercolonies,” which are a series of connected colonies through which the ants can move freely and bring food to other colonies. A single colony can produce multiple queens. An impregnated queen will start her own colony, which will still be connected to the colony from which she originated. Because of the way they make their home, it can be more difficult to eradicate this invasive pest. Frequently, they do not limit their supercolonies to one property, which only adds to the difficulty. Often professional pest control is required to control this invasive ant species.
Where Do Big Headed Ants Live in Your Home?
Big Headed Ants head into your home in search of food. They may nest in your yard and forage for food and water in bathrooms and kitchens. They look for food residue such as grease, meat, peanut butter, pet food, fruit, and juice on your kitchen surfaces and in your cabinets or pantry. You may also find them near doors and windows or walking along walkways or driveways in cracks and crevices.
The nesting sites of Big Headed Ants are often in sand or soil. You may find their conical-shaped nests in lawns, flowerbeds, disturbed soils, under objects (bricks, flowerbeds, cement slabs, etc.), or between sidewalks and pavers.
You may notice trails of foraging ants on your property. Look for these ant trails along tree trunks and exterior walls.
If unchecked, these ants will take over a landscape. With a severe infestation of big-headed ants, they may travel up walls and into attics, or kick-up dirt under your baseboards. Unlike termites, however, these pests will not harm the structural integrity of your home.
Where Do They Live in Florida?
Big Headed Ants thrive in tropical and subtropical environments, which is why they love South Florida so much. The first recorded sighting of a Big Headed Ant was in the eighteenth century on the island of Mauritius. They were first spotted in Florida in 1933 in the Everglades, Key West, and St. Augustine.
Cases have been confirmed in the following Florida counties:
- Indiana River
- West Palm Beach & Palm Beach
- and More...
Since this data is from 2007, it is likely that the infestation has expanded beyond these counties.
How Ants in South Florida Cause Problems for Homeowners
Although neither species of ant will bite you, homeowners consider them a nuisance. They forage in kitchens, bathrooms, and around the exterior of buildings, and sharing a home and food supply with pests is disturbing to many people. Big Footed Ants may also leave debris in your home. Because of how invasive the ants are, these ant species can quickly take over your home. Tackling the problem early, and continued maintenance service from a pest control company is the best way to rid yourself of these pests, and keep them from coming back.
Tips for Preventing Problem Ants in South Florida
There are a few steps you can take to prevent these South Florida invasive ant species from entering your home. Food items can attract a range of pests, including these two species of ants. Wipe down and vacuum food spillage like sugars, grease, fats, oils, etc. Keep food items secure and sealed. Do not leave food out on your counter. Leftover food should immediately be disposed of or sealed in an airtight container. Wipe down surfaces like counters and pantry shelves as well as the exterior of food containers on your counters or pantry. Note that pet food attracts ants, which is why you should avoid leaving a dish with food or food residue on the ground. Trim any bushes or shrubs within a foot of the perimeter of your home. Use caulk to seal any visible cracks in the exterior of your home, or underneath baseboards or door and window frames to help prevent entry. Also, make sure all plumbing, roof, attic, door and window leaks are resolved.
Due to both ant species’ invasiveness and their interconnected nests, these tips may not be enough to rid yourself of these pests. If these measures do not work for your home, you need the help of a professional pest control company. They can inspect your property and consult with you as they develop a plan to solve the problem. More than one treatment may be necessary to address the ant problem on your property, and you will likely need continued maintenance service.
Read more: How to rid your home of big-headed ants
How a Pest Control Expert Can Help
There are many ways a reputable pest control company can help you address the ants on your property. They use both sweet and granular baits depending on the species of ant, and also spray the exterior with a residual product to help defend your home. Pest control companies use baits with sweet liquids and insecticidal gels or residual insecticide to lure and eliminate ants. These baits are especially helpful with treating White Footed Ants. Granular insecticides may be used to protect your yard from these pest ants as well, especially Big Headed Ant.
Treating around trees and ornamentals near entry points is an important part of any ant control effort. Treating the perimeter of your home and around trees and shrubs is a very important aspect of controlling the ants on your property that invade your home. At Hulett we are experienced in getting rid of infestations of Big Headed and White Footed Ants. We want to help you eradicate these troublesome pest ants from your property and maintain a bug-free home. Let us get you the peace of mind that comes from knowing that ants are no longer crawling around the interior of your home. We send an experienced pest control technician to your property who is knowledgeable about controlling these pest ants in South Florida. Your home inspection is free. Then your Hulett technician will lay out a plan to prevent or eliminate the ants.
If you are ready to take action and address the Big Headed or White Footed Ants in your home, contact the pest control experts at Hulett Environmental Services.
Just call Hulett!