Foraging worker ants cause a nuisance as they travel widely in search of food, following well-defined trails and clustering around the food source. They are attracted to sweet or fatty substances in kitchens, pantries, storerooms and warehouses. In hospitals they have been found feeding on septic dressings, soiled linen and excrement.
They are obviously an unpleasant sight in food areas and may damage or taint food intended for human consumption.
Ants are the most prolific and successful group of insects. Their nests can be found almost anywhere, in lawns, under stones or wood, in decaying trees, under buildings, in cavity wall and roof voids. Anywhere that affords them protection.
Ants are quite common in Australia and there are many species all with different habits and feeding preferences. You cannot live in Australia without having some sort of contact with one ant species or another. Some of the most common ones are:
BULL ANTS: MYRMECIA
Bull ants are large and they have a nasty sting, they use their large straight jaws to deliver the bite. Many species of bull ants have bright red or orange colours on the head or abdomen. There are about 90 species of bull ants in Australia with diverse behaviours and life cycles. Nine bull ant species have been recorded in Sydney, Some of the smaller species are known as jumper ants after their habit of aggressively jumping toward intruders.
They are found throughout Australia and range from 8-10mm in length. They will feed on animal prey and will also feed on plant material and nectar.
When their nest is under attack large aggressive ants will stream out of the nest which prompts a hasty retreat, they deliver a painful bite and will often bite multiple times.
Most species have no colony workers; instead the raiding queen will raid the nest of another species and kill the opposing queen. She will then take over the colony.
BLACK HOUSE ANTS – OCHETELLUS SPP
Black Ants are small and black, usually no more than 3 or 4mm. The males have wings. Females have wings until after mating, when she becomes the reproductive queen ant. Worker ants are sterile and their role is to maintain the nest, gather food and feed the larvae. Soldiers are also from the worker caste. Black Ants can be a pest around homes, especially when they get into the kitchen. They make long trails from the nest to food sources and can come in to the house under doors, or through cracks round windows. When they are nesting in the house they can sometimes be detected by the mess of black droppings (frass) on floors or window sills.
They generally eat sweet foods but will also eat plant materials, The queen black ant will lay small oval eggs which can be often seen being carried to higher ground during wetter periods. The larvae are then fed by the adults once they have hatched until they pupate.
CARPENTER ANTS – CAMPONOTUS SP
Carpenter ants are quite large they range from 6-12mm in size. They prefer to nest in dead wood or damp wood although it must be noted they don’t eat it. They vary in colour, anywhere from orange brown to a dark black. They often enter buildings to nest creating smooth tunnels through excavation of any damaged or moist timber in wall cavities.
Carpenter ants have multiple queens and will often have ‘satellite’ nests in other areas nearby. Each nest could be as large as 100,000 workers and will take some years to reach full maturity. The workers will travel large distances for food. They eat anything sweet, but will also eat plant materials as well.