The past two decades have seen several invasive ant species make their way into Texas where they have caused extreme pest problems for homeowners as well as ecosystem upset by displacing native ant species. Argentine ants and Tawny crazy ants are the two most recent and notable of Texas’ invasive ant species, and both of these species are known for congregating in unusually large numbers within hard-to-access locations within homes, such as within wall voids, beneath baseboards, attic spaces, and in the case of Tawny crazy ants, both heavy and light electronic devices.
Many ant species, like the red-imported fire ant, have been described as being attracted to electronic machinery, and sometimes, ants pests damage wiring, but only Tawny crazy ants invade electronic devices in massive numbers where they cause internal damage in nearly every infestation case. These ants have caused refrigerators, air conditioning units, video game consoles, and even smartphones to stop working due to their habit of nesting within such electronic appliances and devices. In fact, an infestation of Tawny crazy ants in Waco saw more than half of all window-placed air conditioning units in an apartment building become infested with these ants in a matter of hours.
Tawny crazy ants were first discovered in the US back in 2002 when an exterminator gathered specimens that he had encountered in a Houston Neighborhood. Since then, these highly destructive ants have colonized much of eastern and Central Texas, and they have been a problem for homeowners in Waco for a decade. Tawny crazy ants have the peculiar habit of nesting within electronic devices because, unlike most ant species, they do not build their own nesting burrows. This is because the ant pests constantly roam in large masses where they seek out natural or manmade nesting cavities that are warm and dark, like inside of electronics. This species’ constant roaming is also why they are common home invaders and prefer to settle in dark wall voids. The massive size of these roaming colonies is the worst aspect of treating structures infested with Tawny crazy ants. For example, massive colonies in Waco saw millions of the ants invade an apartment building where thousands were found in 90 out of 150 air condition units. This infestation spread out of control quickly and took two months to control.
Have you ever found a roaming mass of Tawny crazy ants?
The mosquito pest population was particularly high in central Texas this year, and several insect pest reports name Texas as one of the worst states for biting mosquito pests. Texas is home to some of the most dangerous disease-carrying mosquito species, including Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. In residential areas, mosquito bites are generally sustained while residents are gardening or performing yard work, but it is not uncommon for people to sustain mosquito bites within their own home as well. In addition to mosquitoes, chiggers and fleas are common yard pests in central Texas. Chiggers are technically arachnids known as mites, and they are very common on turf lawns where residents often sustain bites. It is not uncommon for residents to unknowingly transport chiggers into their homes, but luckily, chiggers do not survive long within indoor conditions. However, this is not the case when it comes to another common lawn-dwelling arthropod pest, fleas. Fleas inflict bites on humans and pets in order to feed on blood, and both humans and pets often transport fleas indoors after the insect pests become attached to the body. Once indoors, fleas can establish stubborn infestations that are difficult to eradicate.
Basically everything people have heard about “natural” mosquito control is wrong. For example, bats prefer to feed on beetles, moths and grasshoppers, but not so much mosquitoes, and the Environmental Protection Agency states that ultrasonic mosquito repellent devices do not work to keep mosquitoes out of yards. Homemade repellents containing garlic are also ineffective against mosquitoes, and bug zappers may do more harm than good, as they also kill beneficial insects that prey on mosquitoes. The best way for homeowners to control residential mosquito pests is to remove stagnant water and containers that gather rainwater from lawns, as disease-carrying mosquito pests congregate around and breed within standing water sources. There also does not exist any reliable remedies for keeping chiggers out of lawns, but wearing pants and long sleeves can go a long way at preventing bites. Chiggers release digestive enzymes into skin in order to feed on tissue, and while some people may have a serious allergy to chigger bites, these mites can simply be brushed off of skin once they are found. Fleas routinely establish indoor infestations where they burrow into carpeting, upholstery and curtains. In order to avoid flea infestations, dogs should be treated for fleas and humans should perform yard work in pants. There does not exist in home remedies or over-the-counter products that can reliably eradicate flea infestations, so professional pest controllers must be contacted for flea treatments.
Have you ever experienced a flea infestation?
When it comes to insect pests, ants are generally recognized as being one of the most difficult insect groups to eradicate from infested houses. This is largely due to their highly evolved social behaviors, as well as their relatively small body sizes, which allows them to exploit numerous entry points that lead into homes. Invasive ant species are even more difficult to eradicate from infested homes, as any insect species that can thrive in a non-native habitat must be well adapted to survive environmental threats, including pest control professionals.
For those who do not already know, “invasive species,” are organisms that establish ecologically damaging habitats in regions where they are not native. The most well known invasive ant species in the United States is the red-imported fire ant, which can be found in most areas of Texas, including Waco. However, more than 75 invasive ant species have become established in the southern half of the US, and most of these exotic species have become particularly problematic within Texas.
One of the most recent non-native ant species to establish an invasive habitat in the US is the Argentine ant. These ants are largely a nuisance within homes in southeastern and Central Texas, but their large indoor congregations make these pests overwhelming to residents and extremely difficult to eradicate for pest control professionals. Argentine ants are difficult to control due to their habit of establishing multiple nesting sites within hard-to-access enclosed areas within homes. These areas include wall voids, under baseboards and storage areas. Argentine ants often establish nests near pipes and within bathroom wall voids in order to retain needed moisture.
Ant infestations can only be eradicated provided that the reproductive queen of a colony is killed or removed from a home, but this is hard to do when it comes to Argentine ants since they dwell within colonies that contain multiple queens. Argentine ants are also able to establish new satellite nests rapidly, and it only takes 10 workers and one queen to establish an entirely new parent colony, so removing one or several nests from a home hardly means that an infestation has been eliminated. Luckily, pest control professionals can effectively eliminate Argentine ant infestations by injecting aerosol dusts into wall voids where nests are usually located, and outdoor nests can be treated with a number of insecticide solutions.
Have you, or one of your neighbors ever fallen victim to an Argentine ant infestation?
Since termites are among the most ancient of insect groups, these small, but hardy insects have evolved many adaptations that have allowed them to survive even the harshest of environmental conditions. Subterranean, drywood and dampwood termites live in colonies that produce groups of swarming reproductive termites known as “alates.” Alates emerge from existing mature colonies during a specific time frame each year, but this time frame varies by species. The continued existence of termites on this planet depends on the ability of reproductive alates to find a mate and start a new colony as queen and king, but a typical termite swarm is comprised of thousands of alates, and only a few, or possibly none at all, will survive long enough to start a new colony. When a large number of alates, workers and soldiers from a mature colony die off, queens can produce an alternate class of reproductives in order to restore a colony’s strength and ensure its continued survival.
Generally, a subterranean termite colony contains workers, soldiers and the royal pair (queen and king). Workers are responsible for locating food sources, building nests, and grooming offspring. Soldiers exist to defend their colony, particularly the royal pair, from predatory attacks. The queen and king constantly reproduce in order to build a mature and self-sufficient colony. Queens lay around 1,000 eggs per day, and they release pheromones that determine whether larvae will mature into workers or soldiers. After a period of time lasting anywhere from one to ten years, depending on the species and the external conditions around a nest, a colony will mature to the point where queens must produce reproductive alates.
When a colony nest becomes damaged due to a predatory attack, an environmental event, or from construction projects, a large proportion of a colony’s inhabitants may die. When such events occur, a colony may not be able to survive, so in order to rapidly repopulate a nest with more workers and soldiers, queens release pheromones that prompt asexual workers and nymphs to develop into secondary and tertiary reproductives. These backup reproductives are capable of producing more workers and soldiers for a colony in need, but unlike reproductive alates, secondary and tertiary reproductives do not have wings, and therefore, cannot swarm. This makes sense, as backup reproductives are not produced for the purpose of establishing additional colonies as future queens and kings, but rather to provide much needed labor when the number of workers or soldiers within a colony becomes dangerously low. No matter how many termites are killed within an indoor colony, pest control professionals must always destroy the queen in order to fully eliminate an infestation.
Have you ever examined structural lumber that had been infested with termites?
Carpenter ants are well known for nesting within both natural and structural wood sources. Unlike termites, carpenter ants do not consume wood; instead, they weaken structures by excavating nesting galleries within a home’s lumber components. Carpenter ants are not considered serious pests in yards, as they do not damage lawn grass, plants or create unsightly nesting mounds. In some cases, carpenter ants nest within dead trees in residential areas, sometimes causing tree branches to fall into yards. Carpenter ants will only nest within natural and finished woods that have become saturated with high amounts of moisture, and decaying wood sources are particularly attractive nesting sites to the ant pests.
In many parts of the country, especially in the east where the destructive black carpenter ant can be found, carpenter ants inflict a fair amount of damage to structural and/or cosmetic wood sources, but this is not necessarily the case in Texas. Although several carpenter ant species inhabit Texas, these species rarely infest the structural wood within homes, and when they do, the damage that they inflict is minimal. This is not to say that Texas carpenter ant species are not pests, as large numbers of carpenter ants enter Texas homes often in order to feed on human food sources, and these infestations start when ants in one large colony move into a house where they may establish a nest within an obscured location. Although carpenter ants do not infest structural wood often in Texas, homes with a history of infestations can be hard to sell due to the reputation these ants have for damaging indoor wood sources.
Carpenter ant colonies remain small for the first two to three years after a nest is established, but colonies begin to grow rapidly after three years. Within four to six years, nests can contain more than 3,000 ants, and these nests may be interconnected with other satellite nests, depending on the species. Carpenter ants enter homes through narrow foundation cracks, beneath doors, through windows, air conditioning ducts, and attic vents. In many cases, carpenter ants will establish a nest within moist wall voids or beneath baseboards located near tubs, sinks and any other dark area where moisture content is high. Carpenter ants may also nest within damp cosmetic or structural wood that makes contact with soil, and nests are often found within wall insulation, including foam board insulation.
Were you under the impression that carpenter ant infestations always see the pests nest within structural wood?
Termite damage repairs and control costs in the United States exceeds five billion dollars per year, and subterranean termites are responsible for inflicting the greatest amount of property damage within the United States. The most damaging subterranean termite species in the country include eastern subterranean termites, dark southern subterranean termites, and light southern subterranean termites. The most voracious subterranean termite species in the country may be the non-native Formosan subterranean termite, which established an invasive population in southeast Texas and other areas along the Gulf Coast several decades ago. These termites consume wood at a much faster rate than native subterranean termite species, but this is due to the larger size of Formosan colonies, and not necessarily because Formosans are faster eaters. While drywood termite species cannot be found, or do not pose a significant economic threat in most areas of the US, they are tremendously destructive insect pests to structures in Texas. Multiple drywood termite species infest structures in Texas, but the western drywood termite species is by far the most damaging of all.
Unlike subterranean termites, which infest homes from the ground up, drywood termites do not make contact with the ground soil, and they dwell entirely within natural and finished wood sources. Drywood termite infestations are less common than subterranean infestations, as drywood termite colonies do not contain workers that forage away from their nests; instead, drywood termites infest homes as swarming alates. These reproductive swarmers emerge from nests each year during the spring or summer, which does not give these termites many opportunities to locate houses to infest. Indoor swarms indicate that a colony must be present within the structure, and these swarms are often the first sign of an active infestation. Since drywood termite colonies require a few years of maturation before reproductive swarming alates can be produced, indoor swarms indicate that the infestation has been active for quite some time. Swarming alates are poor flyers and many are not able to fly as far as ten feet upon emerging from a nest, but mediocre flyers can travel as far as 75 to 100 feet, and the strongest flyers can travel as far as 250 feet. If a male and female pair of reproductive alates land on a home’s roof, siding or on an indoor structural wood source, they will mate and start a new colony as queen and king.
Have you ever witnessed a termite swarm?
More than 200 ant species have been documented in Texas, and some of these species are categorized as pests. Most of the ant pests that inhabit Texas are native, but a small number are non-native species that have established in invasive habitat in the state. These invasive species tend to be the most troublesome ant pest species in Texas and other southern states. Some of these invasive species include the red-imported fire ant, the Argentine ant, and the longhorned crazy ant. The red imported fire ant’s expansion in the US is held in check by state and federal area-wide pest management programs in the southern states, but this species has become abundant in eastern and southeastern Texas, and it can be found in the west as well. Government programs are being developed to halt the expansion of Argentine ant and longhorned crazy ant habitats, but both of these species are continuing to spread rapidly throughout much of southern and central Texas. Some of the most pestiferous ant species are native and can be found in all regions of the state.
Several species of acrobat ants are categorized as house pests, and they invade homes throughout the state. These ants can be found under stones and in tree stumps, but they often invade homes where they seek out sweet-tasting human food sources. These ants can be recognized for their heart-shaped abdomen which they often raise above their heads, especially when they become disturbed. Argentine worker ants are light to dark brown and they typically nest outdoors, but they can become abundant on residential lawns where they may inflict damage to yard-grass. These ants are drawn to moisture, making them particularly abundant on irrigated lawns. Big-headed ants are aptly named for having visibly larger than usual heads and they feed naturally on honeydew but they often invade homes in search of sweet foods. Crazy ants are notable for their fast movements and they generally nest outdoors, but they are known for foraging indoors in large numbers. These ants are able to travel rapidly due to their long legs and they can be recognized for their greyish-black exterior.
Have you ever found more than one species of ant in your home?
It is hard to accurately estimate the number of termites currently existing on the planet, but experts claim that there exists 1,000 pounds of termites for every one person on the planet. Considering how much a tiny termite must weigh, this comes out to be a massive number of individual termites. In fact, the total number of individual termites in the world far exceeds the total number of individual ants. So how is it that ants are encountered everywhere outdoors while the vast majority of people have never seen a single termite?
Most people are aware that subterranean termites dwell below the ground, just as their name suggests. Drywood and dampwood termites dwell solely within single items of natural and finished wood sources, with the exception of reproductive termites (alates) that swarm from their enclosed colonies each year. Given their cryptic habitat, termites are one of the most difficult insect pests to detect within infested homes, as well as within the natural environment. Rather than stumbling across individual termites within a home, subterranean termite infestations become apparent when their mud tubes are found along a home’s foundation. Drywood termite infestations are more difficult to notice, as these termites do not leave a mud trail in their wake. Many drywood termite infestations first become apparent after small “exit holes” are found on the surface of wood.
Once a colony of drywood termites become mature enough to produce swarming alates, which can take years, the destructive insects create holes on the surface of lumber in order to allow swarming alates to exit the colony. These swarming alates then fly to a new territory where males and females establish a new colony as king and queen. Exit holes are also used to discard feces that would otherwise collect within the internal wood cavities where colonies are located. Therefore, drywood termite infestations are noticed either by the presence of termite feces that collect on the ground beneath infested wood items or by the presence of exit holes, or both. Unfortunately, these signs are hard to notice, as termite fecal pellets, known as “frass,” are often mistaken for sawdust piles, and termite exit holes are smaller than ⅛ of an inch. Upon closer inspection, however, frass takes the form of hexagonal shapes. Just be sure to where gloves before thoroughly examining any material suspected of being frass.
Have you ever found exit holes in wood or termite frass within your home?
Texas is home to numerous arthropod pest species that damage vegetation in residential yards. Some of these pests include chinch bugs, spider mites, fleas and many grub and caterpillar species. Some insect pests of this sort also inflict unsightly and economically significant damage to lawn grass, such as the red-imported fire ant. However, very few insect pests in the state are capable of damaging trees and houses in addition to lawns and garden plants, but leafcutter ants happen to fit the bill. During the mid 2000s, leaf cutter damage to properties in east, south and central Texas became a serious issue. During this time, the rate of leaf cutter ant infestations on residential properties began to skyrocket, and many infestations became extensive enough to damage the foundation of homes. The reason for the sudden increase in this species’ pest activity was largely due to the discontinuation of over-the-counter insecticides that homeowners had come to rely on to combat infestations. Today, leaf cutter ants have spread to most areas of Texas where they continue to stubbornly maintain infestations despite efforts to eradicate the pests from properties.
Leaf cutter ants cause more lawn damage than any other native ant pest in the US, and this is partly due to the massive size of their colonies, which can grow to contain 2 million individual specimens. These ants inhabit colonies that span great distances below the ground in urban, suburban and rural areas, and they strip the leaves off of countless plant species, including trees. Leaf cutter ants transport the foliage they collect to their subterranean colonies where they use the plant matter to cultivate fungus gardens. This fungus is fed to larval specimens and it is the only form of food that these ant pests eat. This makes leaf cutter ants difficult to eradicate from properties, as they tend to ignore baits, even sugar baits, and unfortunately, baits are the only way to control subterranean pests that build extensive colony tunnels over large areas of land deep below the ground. Leaf cutter ants also excavate sizable open ditches on properties, and when these dithces are excavated below homes, the foundation can crack due to the uneven weight distribution.
Have you ever had an ant infestation in your yard?