What are the Different Types of Ants?

selective focus shot of an ant crawling on grass

Is that ant you saw in the cupboard a carpenter ant, a crazy ant (not to be confused with a crazy aunt), a field ant, or a ghost ant? We’ll spotlight some of the most common types of ants to help you figure out exactly what you’re dealing with in your yard and home. 

Different types of ants behave differently and respond to different control methods. That’s why we’ve included information on where each species nests and the best way to get rid of ants in addition to what they look like. 

Sugar ants

closeup of sugar ants in bowl
PaulNI | Pixabay

Description: In the United States, “sugar ant” isn’t a species but a catch-all term for tiny ants about 2.5 to 3 millimeters long that hunt for sugar. Sugar ants don’t bite. Some common species that fall under this umbrella are odorous house ants and pavement ants. 

Where you find them: You’ll usually find sugar ants inside your home, nesting in any crack or crevice they can find. Most of them will be in the kitchen, near a food source. Garbage disposals can be attractive to sugar ants. 

U.S. distribution: Throughout the country

Best control method: Place sugary baits near food sources and suspected nesting sites.

Carpenter ants

closeup of carpenter ant on leaf
Judy Gallagher | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Description: Carpenter ants are 9.5 to 13 millimeters long and have all black or red and black bodies. They have a slim middle with a large heart-shaped head and a rounded behind. Beware, as these ants have an especially painful bite. They’re mostly active at night. 

Where you find them: Carpenter ants in homes nest in the walls like termites. They’re most common in places with moist or decaying wood, such as bathrooms and attics. Outside, carpenter ants nest in trees, stumps, logs, and other wood structures. 

U.S. distribution: Throughout the country 

Best control method: Call a professional if you find carpenter ants in your home. An infestation can cause serious structural damage if you don’t handle it properly. For an outdoor infestation, remove the wood structure where their nest is located if possible. 

Fire ants

closeup of fire ant mound
Judy Gallagher | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Description: Fire ants are bright red to reddish-brown and about 1.5 to 5 millimeters long. They tend to be aggressive if you disturb their nests, and they’re famous for their painful sting. 

Where you find them: Almost always, you’ll find fire ants outdoors. They prefer open areas with moist conditions, such as irrigated lawns or riverbanks. 

U.S. distribution: Southern states

Best control method: Pouring hot water or soapy water into the nest can be effective for fire ants. If using chemical insecticides, choose one labeled specifically for fire ants, as these ants can resist many general pesticides. 

Crazy ants

closeup of crazy ants on leaf
Judy Gallagher | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Description: Crazy ants are about 2 to 3 millimeters long with dark brown or black bodies covered in long, hair-like projections. They move quickly and erratically, and they don’t rely on pheromone trails as much as other species of ants. 

Where you find them: Crazy ants are common indoors and outdoors. They tend to venture far away from the nest to look for food, so locating nests can be difficult. 

U.S. distribution: Southern and Eastern states; California; and Arizona  

Best control method: Natural or chemical baits are the best method of knocking out a crazy ant colony when you can’t find the nest. 

Pharaoh ants 

closeup of a pharaoh ant
Animal Diversity Web | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Description: Pharaoh ants are very tiny (less than a millimeter long) and distinctive with almost translucent yellow bodies and dark tips on their behinds. They usually look for food sources with lots of sugar or protein.

Where you find them: Pharaoh ants often nest indoors. You might find them in any dark, narrow space in your home or near water sources (sinks, toilets, etc). 

U.S. distribution: Throughout the country, especially in the South

Best control method: Place several ant baits in places where you’ve seen pharaoh ants and places you might expect them but haven’t seen them yet, as they tend to change locations. Use a variety of baits, some sugary and some protein-based. 

Little black ants

closeup of a black ant on a leaf
Liji Jinaraj | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Description: As you would expect, little black ants are dark brown or black and small, only about 1.5 millimeters long. They’re very shiny, which might help you distinguish them from similar species. 

Where you find them: Little black ants usually nest outdoors, but you can find them indoors, too. They prefer small, dark areas like underneath rocks or inside walls, but they can nest in the middle of the lawn. Little black ants are highly adaptive in where they can nest. 

U.S. distribution: Northern and Eastern states; Southern California 

Best control method: Little black ants rely heavily on their pheromone trails, so the most effective method of killing them is placing baits near those trails. You can cover the pheromones with a repellent to keep the ants from returning to a certain area if you don’t want to kill them.

Acrobat ants

closeup of acrobat ant on plant
Judy Gallagher | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Description: Acrobat ants act and look like carpenter ants, so they’re often confused with each other. You can distinguish acrobat ants in a few ways: 1) Acrobat ants are active during the day and 2) When you disturb them, acrobat ants lift their behinds and stand on their “hands.” 

Where you find them: Like carpenter ants, acrobat ants like moist wood. They typically nest in decaying logs or cavities in trees outdoors. They rarely infest homes, but when they do, they nest in wall voids, often in places where the wood is exposed to water. 

U.S. distribution: Throughout the country  

Best control method: For outdoor control, remove the wood structure they’re nesting inside. For indoor control, call a professional exterminator. Like carpenter ants, acrobat ants in your home can mean structural damage. 

Thief ants

closeup of a thief ant in sand
Bernard DUPONT | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Description: Thief ants are 3 millimeters long at most. Their shiny bodies are yellow, bronze, or dark brown. Thief ants build nests close to other colonies so they can steal eggs and food. If you have a thief ant problem in your yard, you probably have another ant species, too. 

Where you find them: Thief ants nest indoors and outdoors. They like small, dark, enclosed spaces such as the space under pavement, inside a moist woodpile, or inside walls. They travel long distances when foraging, so you might have a hard time locating a nest.  

U.S. distribution: Throughout the country, especially in Eastern and Central states

Best control method: Place grease- or protein-based baits (thief ants don’t like sugar) around their ant trails. If you can find the nest, drench it with an insecticide or boiling water. 

Pyramid ants

three pyramid ants in gravel
Judy Gallagher | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Description: Pyramid ants are red or reddish-black and about 3 millimeters long. Their most distinctive features are the pyramid-shaped projections in the middle of their bodies and their volcano-shaped anthills. They don’t usually bite unless provoked, and they prey on fire ants. 

Where you find them: Pyramid ants prefer open stretches of sandy soil free of obstructions or vegetation. Some pyramid ants may wander into your home, but they usually won’t nest indoors. 

U.S. distribution: Throughout the country, especially in the South 

Best control method: If possible, don’t kill pyramid ant colonies. They prey on live insects and control more harmful pest populations. Instead of killing them, use a repellent to keep them out of your home and away from the areas of your yard where you frequently spend time. 

Harvester ants

closeup of a harvester ant
Judy Gallagher | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Description: Harvester ants range in color from red to black, and they’re up to 13 millimeters in length. Harvester ants will clear away several feet of grass around their nests. They have painful bites and stings that they use often. 

Where you find them: Harvester ants nest outdoors, and they like bare soil and open stretches. Many harvester ants live in fields and deserts when they aren’t invading yards. 

U.S. distribution: Southwestern states; Florida

Best control method: Knock out harvester ant infestations as quickly as possible with a combination of ant baits around their foraging grounds and insecticides in their nests. Left unchecked, harvester ants can quickly destroy large portions of your lawn. 

Cornfield ants

closeup of cornfield ants
Sanja565658 | Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 3.0

Description: Cornfield ants are pretty non-descript. They range in size from about 2.5 to 4.5 millimeters, and their bodies are varying shades of brown. They will bite when their nest is disturbed. 

Where you find them: Cornfield ants like open spaces and grassy fields, so they often nest in lawns. They build huge nests that cause a lot of damage to grass. Cornfield ants don’t nest indoors most of the time, although they might come inside when hunting for food. 

U.S. distribution: Throughout the country, except the Southwest 

Best control method: Place sugary baits near the nest and ant trails. 

Argentine ants

closeup of group of argentine ants
Matthew Townsend | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Description: Argentine ants are wingless, about 2 to 3 millimeters long, and varying shades of brown in color. These ants build large colonies very quickly. They don’t bite or sting. Often, they “farm” insects like aphids, which eat and destroy plants. 

Where you find them: Argentine ants nest in lawns and landscape features such as potted plants and brick or stone structures. Because they have such large colonies, they tend to spread out, and they often find their way into homes. 

U.S. distribution: Throughout the country 

Best control method: Set up ant baits that contain natural ant killers or commercial insecticides anywhere you’ve seen Argentine ants. Remove water sources and any landscape features that attract the ants from your yard. 

Field ants

closeup of a field ant
stanze | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Description: There are many species that fall under the category of field ants. They are medium or large (5 to 9.5 millimeters long), and they can be all black or black and red. Field ants produce huge mounds, and they will bite anyone that disturbs their mounds.  

Where you find them: Field ants always nest outdoors, in places that give them enough space to build large nests. You’ll never find field ants nesting indoors. You’ll know if they’re present in your lawn because you can’t miss their huge mounds. 

U.S. distribution: Throughout the country  

Best control method: Surface insecticides aren’t effective because the large colonies go deep underground. Drench the mound by digging several channels into the underground nest and pouring in liquid insecticide. Alternatively, set up natural or chemical ant baits near the mound.

Ghost ants

closeup of a ghost ant
Sarefo | Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 3.0

Description: Ghost ants have a distinct appearance, with a dark brown head and thorax (middle portion of the body) and a milky white gaster (behind) and legs. They’re small, less than 2 millimeters long. 

Where you find them: Ghost ant colonies usually live in multiple small nests built close together. They like tight spaces such as the space beneath fallen leaves, twigs, or branches (outdoors) or gaps in baseboards (indoors). 

U.S. distribution: Florida; can show up inside greenhouses or heated buildings in other states if introduced but they don’t just turn up naturally 

Best control method: Spray natural or chemical ant repellents around your outdoor living spaces and entry points into your home to keep ants out. Set up ant baits near the nests and ant trails to kill the entire colony. 

Leafcutter ants

closeup of a leafcutter ant carrying a leaf
sam may | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Description: There are two species of leafcutter ants in the United States. They can be up to 13 millimeters long and are reddish-brown to black in color. Leafcutter ants remove leaves from plants and carry them back to the nest, so they look like walking leaves from far away. 

Where you find them: Leafcutter ants usually nest outdoors in soil. They may venture indoors, but they’ll usually leave soon after, and they never nest indoors. 

U.S. distribution: Texas; Arizona; Southern California; Western Louisiana

Best control method: Leafcutter ants primarily feed on plants, so keeping them away from your plants can make them leave your yard. Apply plant-friendly repellents around your greenery or spread smooth plastic coated with adhesive around the base of plants to trap the ants. 

Citronella ants (aka yellow ants)

closeup of citronella ants in dirt
Matt Reinbold | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Description: Citronella ants, also known as yellow ants, range in color from light yellow to light brown. The workers are wingless, while the swarmers have dark wings. Citronella ants get their name from the citronella-like odor they release when crushed. Yellow ants often are mistaken for termites. 

Where you find them: Yellow ants nest in relatively open areas such as thin forests, fields, and lawns. They sometimes nest next to home foundations or underneath rocks and decaying logs. 

You won’t find citronella ants indoors because they feed on honeydew (the substance created by aphids — not the melon) and don’t forage for anything else. 

U.S. distribution: Throughout the country, especially in Eastern states

Best control method: Exterminating citronella ants is hard because they don’t forage for food, so you can’t bait them. You can keep them away from your garden, home, and outdoor living spaces with natural or chemical ant repellents. 

FAQ about ants

1. How many varieties of ants are there?

There are more than 12,000 species of ants in the world. Around 1,000 of those species live in North America, but most of them are found only in nature and aren’t a concern for homeowners. 

2. What kind of ants get in your house?

Many types of ants might forage for food inside your home, but the most common are odorous house ants, pavement ants, and carpenter ants. Odorous house ants and pavement ants are both commonly called “sugar ants.” 

3. What are three different types of ants? 

Within an ant colony, different castes of ants have different roles. 

The three castes of ants in a colony are:

Queens: The queen or queens lay the eggs. Queen ants are the most important caste. Killing the queen is the only way to wipe out a whole colony.  
Female workers: Worker ants are female ants that can’t reproduce. They take care of pretty much everything around the nest, including building the nest, foraging for food, and protecting the queen and eggs. 
Male workers: Male ants exist only to mate, and they die immediately after. 

How to deal with pest ants

Once you identify the ant species in your yard or home, you can decide if it’s worth trying to exterminate. Many ant species don’t sting or bite, and they can actually benefit your lawn and garden

If the ants are causing problems and you want to exterminate them, there are several DIY methods you can try, including natural and chemical options. We described a few ant extermination methods in brief here, but you can learn more in our guide “How to Get Rid of Ants in Your Yard and Home“.

Sometimes, DIY methods aren’t enough to eradicate your ant problem, and you have to hire a pest control service near you. Keep in mind, you can prevent ants from ever infesting your yard if you keep your lawn healthy and dense. Lawn Love’s local lawn care pros can help with that. 

As for how to get rid of a crazy aunt, that’s something you’ll have to figure out on your own.

Main Photo Credit: Nandhu Kumar | Pixabay

Jordan Ardoin

Jordan Ardoin is a writer and editor with a passion for sustainable, earth-friendly gardening and lawn care practices. When she isn't sharing her knowledge about lawn care and landscaping, you can find her curled up with a good book and a cat in her lap.