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Ants - Biology & Identification

Common Ant Problems In The Northwest (chart graphic)

Ants belong to the insect order Hymenoptera and are close relatives of bees and wasps.(1) They are among the most common insects on earth. More than 12,000 species of ants have been identified worldwide.(1)

Ants are social insects that live in large colonies. Colonies typically consist of three distinct castes: workers, queens and males. The queens lay eggs and are larger than the other ants. 

Female workers, who are sterile, forage for food, care for the nest, and defend the colony. Worker ants are the largest caste and are the ants most commonly seen by humans. Males do not participate in colony activities except to mate with the queens.(1)

Depending on the species, new ant colonies are formed by either swarming or budding. Swarming occurs at certain times of the year, usually spring and early summer, when winged males and females leave the colony in mating flights. After mating, the males die and the mated females, or queens, establish new colonies. Alternatively, budding occurs when either workers or queens (from species with multiple queens) crawl to new locations to start new colonies.(2,3)


1. Univ. of California Div. of Agriculture and Natural Resources. 2000. Ants. Pest Notes Publ. 7411.
2. Washington State Dept. of Ecology. 1998. IPM for nuisance ants. Ecology Publ. #97-428. /
3. British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Land, and Parks. Pollution Prevention and Pesticide Management Branch. 1996. Integrated pest management manual for structural pests in British Columbia.


American Museum of Natural History. 1997. Biodiversity inventory and monitoring methods for ants.

National Park Service. Undated. The National Park Service integrated pest management manual. Ants.

Olkowski, W., S. Daar and H. Olkowski. 1991. Common-sense pest control. Newtown CT: Taunton Press. pp. 235-237.

Daar, S. et al. 1997. IPM for schools: A how-to manual. U.S. EPA. Region

Pp. 27-34.9. Stein, D. 1991. Dan’s guide to least toxic home pest control. Eugene OR: Hulogosi Press. Pp. 61-65.

Washington State Univ. Cooperative Extension. Undated. Insect answers: moisture ants. EB 1382.

Homan, H.W. and F.W. Merickel. 1993. Nuisance ants. University of Idaho College of Agriculture. CIS 988.


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