Thief Ants

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thief ants outside a home in Alexandria VA

 

Thief Ants

Thief ants are distributed through DC, Maryland and Virginia, as well as the rest of the United States. Their name is derived from the habit of some of the species that nest close to other, larger ants, of entering the neighboring ants' nest to steal food and prey upon brood. Because they are so often mistaken for other ants, their significance as pests is often discounted. Some types of thief ants have polygyne (multiple queen) colonies, and some mated females may return to the nest after their nuptial flight. Mating flights take place in late July to early fall. Colonies may contain hundreds to a few thousand ants. Outdoors, nests are found in exposed soil, under rocks, or in rotting wood. Indoors, they nest in woodwork and masonry. They may use electric wires in wall voids to move from one room to another.

Thief ants are omnivorous. They prey upon fire ant queens, and other insects, and can prevent the re-establishment of incipient fire ant colonies. Occasionally, they are responsible for injury to sprouting seeds and vegetables, and are believed to hollow out seeds for their oil content. Because they feed on dead rats and mice, they can also carry disease-producing organisms to food. They may also be an intermediate host for poultry tapeworms.

Thief ant workers are monomorphic and small, measuring only 1.5 to 2 mm long. Depending on the specific species, their body color can range from brown to yellow. Thief ants have a two-segmented pedicel. Their antennae are 10-segmented with a two-segmented club. Thief ants are often confused with Pharaoh ants.

 

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