What Good Are Ants?

By Chris Williams on January 26, 2015.

ants in group on floorIn the pest control business, we often hear the question, “ What good are cockroaches?” … or “yellowjackets?” … or “mosquitoes?” Most insects that we consider pests are beneficial, at least in some aspect. As we like to say, an insect is a pest only if you think it is. Ants are a good example.

Ants are everywhere, and are the most successful of insects. There may be up to 20,000 different kinds (species) of ants worldwide. From the southern tip of Africa up to the artic circle and around the world, ants adapt to almost any environment, and often become the dominant life form in an area. A scientist working in the Amazon once found 43 different species of ants on a single tree! Ants typically make up from 10 to 15% of the weight of all animals in a study area.

Most Ants Are Beneficial to the Environment

  1. Ants are predators on other insects and arthropods. Ant workers forage for food to feed the queen, the young, and others in the nest. They don’t discriminate in their choice of food but many insect pests become ant food. Ants are the primary predators of forest-defoliating insects.
  2. Ants, in their abundance, provide food for many other animals: insects, birds, lizards, frogs, even anteaters. Some animals feed on foraging ant workers, others raid ant nests to feed on the fat, juicy larvae, and others (especially birds) feed on winged ant swarmers when they take to the air.
  3. Ants act as environmental sanitation engineers when they clean up dead insects and animal carcasses. Ants, along with other insects, will haul off the flesh, and sinew, and muscle, eventually leaving only clean bones.
  4. With their nest building activities, ants aerate the soil and recycle nutrients. They play a role in pollinating plants, too.

That Doesn’t Mean They Can’t Be Pests

Yet because of a few bad apples, ants have become the number one insect pest of homes and other buildings. Of the more than 550 species of ants in the U.S., only about 30 commonly invade buildings. Of these, less than 10 species are of importance. Mostly, ants are annoying, but they can be more than a simple nuisance.

Food contamination occurs when ants crawl over dead animals or sewage and then crawl over food. In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, carpenter ants rival termites as wood destroyers. Tiny pharaoh ants can spread germs by getting into wounds, sterile dressings, and IV tubes. Some ants bite, and some sting when handled.

While you may acknowledge the good qualities of ants, you may not be thrilled when they get up close and personal. We prefer that ants remember their place, and their place is not our place! Got ants? Give Colonial a call. We can put ants back in their place.

Photo credit: Public Domain Photos / Foter / CC BY

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