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The first commercially sold formicarium (structure used to observe live ants) was patented by Dartmouth professor Frank Austin. It was not until the 1950’s that “Uncle Milton” Levine coined the phrase “ant farm” and began mass-producing the farms as part of his novelty business. To date, Uncle Milton Industries has sold over 20 million ant farms!
The ants used for the “ant farm” are Western Harvester ants. These ants are very common in arid, western parts of the United States and known for their painful sting.
Contrary to urban legend, aspartame (an artificial sweetener) was not first developed as an ant poison and will not kill ants.
Ants will protect and care for shrub damaging insects such as aphids, soft scales and whiteflies because these pests produce a sugary substance called honeydew. By protecting these shrub pests, the ants get food and the shrub pests can continue feeding undisturbed by natural predators.
A common misconception is that the Florida carpenter ant damages wood. This species of ant nests in soft materials (water damaged wood, for example) or in voids (i.e. old termite galleries). Many times when carpenter ants are seen in a structure, this is an indication of a moisture issue such as a roof or plumbing leak.
Ant swarmers (adults) are often confused with termite swarmers, but there are some physical differences between the two. Ant swarmers have two pairs of wings of unequal size. Termite swarmers have two pairs of wings that are all equal in size. The waist of an ant is pinched, whereas the waist of a termite is thicker and cigar-shaped. The antennae of the ant appear elbowed, the antennae of a termite swarmer are straight and look like a row of beads.
RED IMPORTED FIRE ANTS:
It is said that imported fire ants arrived in the United States in the early 1900’s from South America by ships that docked in Mobile, Alabama.
They infest more than 260 million acres of land in the United States and an estimated 14 million people are stung by them each year.
Imported fire ants are not just a nuisance to people, they may also harm livestock and pets. They injure crops by their feeding and equipment can be damaged by their nesting.
When a fire ant mound is disturbed, hundreds of workers will swarm out and attack to defend the colony in a matter of seconds!
When a fire ant stings, it first clamps down with its mandibles (jaws) to hold itself in place. One fire ant can sting multiple times.
For most of us, the sting from a fire ant will cause localized pain and a raised pustule at the sting site.
For those allergic to fire ant stings, they may go into anaphylactic shock which is a serious allergic reaction requiring immediate medical attention! Symptoms of anaphylactic shock are dizziness, nausea, sweating, low blood pressure, headache and shortness of breath.
Many touted home remedies to control fire ants do not work or have any scientific foundation. Some are very dangerous or could pollute the environment if applied. Using bleach, ammonia, strong detergents, drain cleaners, gasoline, kerosene, acids, club soda, grits, instant rice or Plaster of Paris will not control a fire ant mound. Neither will digging up and relocating a mound close to another mound in hopes the ants will destroy each other!
Pyramid ant mounds are often mistaken for fire ant mounds. Where fire ant mounds can be rather large and irregular shaped, the pyramid ant’s mound looks similar to a small volcano. These ants do not sting and are beneficial (they feed on other ant species and various insects).
Ants are closely related to wasps, bees and sawflies, all of which are in the insect order Hymenoptera. Hymenopterans undergo a complete metamorphosis, starting as an egg, then larva, pupa and adult.
Ants may have large or small colonies consisting of at least one queen, many workers, males and immatures (referred to as brood).
Worker ants are sterile females. A male ant’s only function in the colony is to assist in reproduction. After mating, he dies shortly thereafter.
The queen will initially care for the workers of a new colony. Once these workers have matured, they will be responsible for feeding the young and queen, as well as protecting and maintaining the colony.
Worker ants may travel some distance searching for food and water. They lay down pheromone (scent) trails that other workers will follow when food or water is found.
Workers will carry food and water back to the nest, where it will be used to feed immatures, other workers and the queen. Worker ants cannot eat solids, so these solids are brought back to the nest and broken down by older larvae. The larvae then regurgitate the liquefied food to feed the workers.
Ants may reproduce via large numbers of swarmers. These are winged male and female ants that will pair up to start a new ant colony.
Some ants also reproduce by budding. In this process, part of an established colony will split off from the main group to start a new colony in another location. This can be an issue when repellants are used for certain ant species found infesting the interior of a structure.
There are many components to ant control: Proper identification of the ant, excluding the ant if present on the interior, removing conducive conditions as much as possible and, if necessary, selection and application of an appropriate control product.
To eliminate an ant colony, control products must contact the queen. This is why baits are so effective. Workers will bring back this “food source” to feed the queen!
Eliminate water sources whenever possible. Insects, such as ants, roaches, mosquitoes and termites, are attracted to moisture.
Keep tree branches and other plants cut back from the house. Insects and rodents may use these as a highway to get into your home.
Reduce the number of cracks or little openings around your home by caulking, installing weather stripping, etc. Pests may use these openings to enter a structure.
Yard debris should be reduced whenever possible and firewood stacked away from your home. Insects, spiders, snakes and rodents like to harbor in debris, where they feel safe and protected.
Remove food sources that may be attractive to ants. Examples of food sources are: Honeydew producing insects on shrubs, pet food, crumbs, dirty dishes, garbage, spills, sweaty items, dead insects and food stored in unsealed containers.
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