Ant Colonies/Nests and Behavior

Ant Colonies and Nests

Ants are social insects, living together in colonies ranging in size from a few dozen to millions of individuals. Most colonies include: one or more fertile queens; wingless female castes of workers, soldiers, or other specialized groups; and male drones. Ants are one of the most successful insect species; there are more than 20,000 species of Ants, and they are found everywhere on Earth except Antarctica and some very remote islands.

In addition to the queens, workers, and male drones, colonies include eggs, larvae, and pupae. The queen's main job is to lay eggs. The eggs hatch into grub-like larvae that later change into adult Ants. Unfertilized eggs hatch out males, and fertilized eggs become females. Most females are sterile worker Ants that do not compete with the queens. They build and maintain the nests, forage for food, feed the queens and developing larvae, and defend the nest. A very few fertilized eggs hatch out new breeding queens. All males are fertile drones, and their only purpose is to breed with the queens.

Nests protect Ants against enemies, offer some protection against extremes of weather, and are often located close to water and food sources. Some Ant species nest in the ground, oftentimes under concrete slabs or stones. Some species are found in wood such as fence posts, dead logs, hollow trees, or within buildings.

Termites are also found in wood, but Termite damage is much more extensive. Ants cannot eat wood as Termites do because they can't digest cellulose.


All Ants (small and large species) live in colonies and most build nests, although some species are nomadic. The Ants you see foraging in your garden or house are workers. These workers lay down pheromone trails, cultivate other insects for use as food sources, and swarm to create new nests. Ants may choose to feed on sweet foods, protein foods, or greasy foods, invading homes to forage for these substances.


Worker Ants forage, and when they find food they lay down a pheromone scent trail that tells other worker Ants where to locate the food. Ants that find the food at the end of the trail reinforce the pheromone signal on the return trip to the nest; once the food source is exhausted, the pheromone trail eventually dissipates.

Relationships with Other Insect Pests

Some Ant species develop relationships with insects that are detrimental to plants. For example, Aphids and Mealybugs secrete a sticky, sweet substance known as honeydew, and since honeydew is a type of Ant superfood, Ant colonies will defend the insects that provide this food. Sometimes Ants will even relocate their insect friends, moving them to new food sources. Most insects cultivated by Ants damage garden plants by feeding on sap or eating leaves, making it even more important to control outdoor Ant populations.

Swarmers-Winged Ants

Ant colonies produce winged Ants known as swarmers. The swarmers leave the nest in order to mate and start new colonies. If you see an Ant swarm inside a home, it may be a sign that a nest is within the building.

Termites also develop wings, swarm during the spring, and look similar to winged Ants. They differ in appearance in the following ways: Ants are thin-waisted and have elbowed antennae. Termites have thicker waists and have antennae that resemble strings of tiny beads. You may need a magnifying glass to examine the antennae.


Click on the Ants to the left for more information on identification, pictures, habits, and recommended products and procedures. You will find descriptions and recommendations for control of the more common household Ants such as: Argentine Ants, Carpenter Ants, Red Fire Ants, Ghost Ants, Odorous House Ants, Pavement Ants, and Leafcutter Ants.