Many different species of invasive ants can become unwelcome visitors to American backyards, including trap-jaw ants. Trap-jaw ants are not as well known as other invasive ant species, like fire ants, but they can cause problems for homeowners. Here are four things you need to know about trap-jaw ants.
How can you identify trap-jaw ants?
Trap-jaw ants have a distinctive appearance and are not hard to identify if you know what you're looking for. They have large, powerful jaws that look like pincers, while other ants lack this characteristic. Their bodies are dark brown and quite large; their heads alone are about 2-3 mm (0.07 to 0.1 inches) long. If you look closely, you'll also see spines on their backs as well as a stinger at the end of their bodies.
You can also identify trap-jaw ants by their behavior. These ants can use their powerful jaws to launch their bodies into the air. They can jump as high as 8.3 cm (3.3 inches) by pushing off the ground with their jaws. Groups of ants do this at the same time to make it harder for predators to get them; their movements have been compared to popcorn popping. If you see a group of ants with large jaws jumping up and down, you can bet that they are trap-jaw ants.
What is their range?
Trap-jaw ants are native to the tropics and are found in South America, the West Indies, and Costa Rica, but their tolerance for dry habitats allowed them to leave the tropics and venture into semi-arid areas. They were first reported in the United States back in 1956 when they were spotted in Alabama. In the decades that followed, the ants spread to surrounding states. They are now found throughout the Gulf Coast region and can be found as far east as Florida. Their range is still expanding so if they're not in your state now, they could be there soon.
Within their range, they live outdoors, either at ground level or in the canopies of trees. At ground level, they like to live in mulch or other ground coverings, so you may encounter them while you're gardening or doing other yard work. They can also be found crawling around the foundation of your home. Children that climb trees or play in tree houses may see these ants crawling on branches or on leaves.
Do they bite?
Trap-jaw ants have a venomous sting and are aggressive, so try to avoid getting too close to them. If you inadvertently put your hand too close to these ants, they will immediately sting you to protect their nests. This sting is reported to be painful, but fortunately, the effects don't last long.
While the sting isn't dangerous for most people, it can be dangerous if you are allergic to trap-jaw ant venom. If you experience symptoms like hives, a constricted airway, or dizziness after a sting from a trap-jaw ant, you need to get medical treatment right away as you could be having an anaphylactic reaction.
How can they be controlled?
If you find a nest of trap-jaw ants in your backyard, you can control them by destroying their nest. You can locate the nest by watching the ants to see where they go. Once you've found the nest, spray the nest and the surrounding area with insecticides. Use a residual insecticide so that the poison will keep working for an extended period of time. You may also want to spray the perimeter of your house to keep the ants from coming into your house. If you don't feel safe handing insecticides, have a pest control company do it for you.
Read more about pest control or contact a local pest control company to determine which services you and your home could benefit from.