Ants, though often small, are the biggest pests of the summer for homeowners. They can enter homes through tiny cracks, looking for water and food - mainly sweets, meats or greasy foods - in the kitchen or pantry area. Ants may also be forced inside because of the weather, in search of a cooler or drier environment and better living conditions.
They leave an invisible pheromone trail for other ants in their colony to follow once they find a food source. Ants can nest in lawns, walls or under foundations.
The most common types of ants to look out for this summer include:
* Argentine ants are one of the biggest problem ants across the country. Colonies may contain hundreds of queens and can grow and populate entire city blocks. Nests are usually in moist soil. These ants travel in trails, foraging day and night and are about one-tenth of an inch long. They prefer sweet foods.
* Fire ants use their mandibles to attach themselves to prey and inject venom through their stingers. They are very active and aggressive and will sting humans and animals repeatedly, sometimes leading to death. These ants are reddish in color and are about one-fourth of an inch long. Nests can be one to two feet in diameter and stand over a foot tall.
* Carpenter ants are among the largest ants, but the worker ants vary in size and range from one-fourth to three-eighths of an inch long. They establish their colonies in wood by cutting passageways through the grain and can be as destructive to homes in the Northeast as termites are in the South. However, they do not eat wood and instead feed on sweets, meats and other insects.
* Pharaoh ants are tiny light yellow ants that are capable of traveling and nesting throughout a building. They rely on artificial heat in buildings to survive, but can also nest outdoors in lawns and gardens in warm weather. These ants prefer sweets but will eat any type of food.
* Pavement ants are small, dark ants that construct mounds of soil between slabs of a sidewalk, brick pavers or driveways or indoors in walls and under floors. They will eat many things, but prefer sweet and greasy foods.
"Most of these ants can make a living inside or outside your home," says Dr. Ron Harrison, entomologist and Orkin technical services director. "They are looking for the basics - food, water and shelter, and will make their home just about anywhere."
Harrison recommends the following tips to keep your home safe from ants this summer:
* Clean up spilled food and drinks quickly.
* Pick up your pet's food at night, and don't feed pets outdoors.
* Keep children away from fire ant mounds.
* Keep your yard mowed to 3 inches or shorter.
* Hire a pest control professional for treatment.
For more information, instructional pest safety videos or to receive a free home inspection, visit www.orkin.com.