Wendell Arnett, territory sales manager for Bayer, outlines the steps needed to correctly identify a pest ant species. 

When it comes to ants, customers have good reasons for relying on professional pest managers to resolve the issue. They may have tried and failed to deal with the ant infestation themselves, or are simply overwhelmed by the scale of the problem. Whatever the reason, a thorough and effective ant control job will ensure customer satisfaction, build business and enhance your company’s reputation.

With hundreds of ant species in Australia, each with their own behaviours, it can be challenging to get on top of ant problems, especially if you are new to ant management. Correctly identifying the species and so appreciating their specific characteristics and behaviours will allow the correct treatment regime to be implemented.

Understanding the anatomy of an ant is the first step to identifying the different types of ants.

Take a close look at the characteristics of the pest species. What colour are they? Do they have a shiny appearance? Are there any unusual features? Use this information to narrow down the likely species. One of the key physical features that can be used tell species apart is the petiole. All ants will have either one or two nodes on the petiole, which is the slender ‘waist’ between the abdomen and thorax (although the shape can vary between species). Figure 1 below groups some of the common species into one-node or two-node ants.

One-node ants

Two-node ants

Argentine ant (Linepithema humile)

Big-headed or coastal brown ant (Pheidole megacephala)

Black house ant (Ochetellus glaber)

Pavement ant (Tetramorium caespitum)

Carpenter ant (Camponotus spp.)

Pharaoh ant (Monomorium pharaonis)

Ghost ant (Tapinoma melanocephalum)

Red imported re ant (Solenopsis invicta)

Black crazy ant (Paratrechina longicornis)

Bull ant (Myrmecia spp.)

Odorous house ant (Tapinoma sessile)

White-footed ant (Technomyrmex albipes)

Meat ant (Iridomyrmex spp.)

Green-head ant (Rhytidoponera metallica)

Observing the ants’ behaviour is the next task. Ants are often split up into groups according to their food preference: sugar-feeding ants, protein-feeding ants, fat/oil-feeding ants. Finding out the food preference of the pest species is essential for successful baiting and can be easily worked out by placing different food types in areas of ant activity.

Attempting to locate the nest is an important part of the puzzle. Depending on the species, ant colonies can consist of millions of ants and may have a single nest (monodomous) or many nests (polydomous). The nests can be found in walls and voids of a house or building, under pathways, and inside trees. There are many different species of ants; each is unique in terms of nesting sites, habits, characteristics and feeding preferences. If the nest location can be identified, a direct nest treatment may be possible, but even if it can’t, understanding the potential nest locations and behaviours of the ant species in question will impact your treatment regime.

Once you have identified the ant species, a range of different products are available to control ants including baits, sprays, powders and granules. Understanding the traits of different active ingredients, the types of pesticide formulations available, and the pesticide label directions, application techniques and ant biology, will result in effective ant control and more importantly, customer satisfaction.

When Paul Kennedy from Wise Pest Control in Sydney received a call asking him to deal with black ants in a sensitive site, he knew that identification was the first step to control.

“We recently went out to a customer’s home with ongoing black ant issues. Upon arrival we identified white-footed ants (Technomyrmex albipes) throughout the interior of the dwelling, including in the cat food,” said Mr Kennedy.

“We made the identification by observing the behaviour of the ants and their characteristics. The ants were small, dull and cloudy black, with a pointed gaster. They had a single node which was hidden, so we knew it wasn’t a black house ant, which has a visible node. We only saw one worker size, too. We were sure they were white-footed ants, which we confirmed using an old Bayer ant identification reference book that I keep in my truck.

“The customer was very concerned about the use of conventional sprays or dusts in the home, so we used Maxforce Quantum Ant Bait from Bayer. We explained to the customer that it could take as long as eight weeks to eradicate the ants without doing a spray treatment in conjunction with the gel baiting, which they accepted.

White-footed ants were attracted to the Maxforce Quantum gel bait

“The customer’s cat was removed from the area, then Maxforce Quantum was placed in areas of ant activity. Within minutes the ants preferred the bait over the cat food, so we knew we had hit the nail on the head. Four weeks later, we returned to the property and no further ant activity had occurred.

“I have been using Maxforce Quantum for a while now and will not use any other product. I get great feedback from my customers, especially those that don’t like the idea of chemical sprays and dusts in their homes,” he added.

Maxforce Quantum includes the active ingredient imidacloprid, making it a suitable choice for gaining control of ants, even difficult to manage species such as white-footed ants and Argentine ants.

Professional pest managers who would like to know more about effective ant control can complete one of Bayer’s free, online training courses available through the Bayer Amplify program.

Wendell Arnett, Territory Sales Manager, Bayer