NC State Extension Publications

Description and Biology

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Worker pavement ants, Tetramorium caespitum, are small (about 1/8 to 3/16 inch long), dark brown to nearly black, wingless, insects with prominent, elbowed antennae. On very close inspection, the surface is corrugated with tiny, parallel ridges. This ant has two, distinct, bead-like segments (nodes) between what appears to be the thorax and abdomen. All ants are social insects, but the pavement ant is extremely so. Colonies often have more than 10,000 workers. Workers rear reproductive, winged females and males that leave the colony to form mating swarms in June. These nuptial flights hang in the air in a small cloud. After mating, females alight, shed their wings, and find a suitable nook or cranny in which to found a new colony. She lays eggs that hatch and develop into a first generation of workers about two months later. This "queen" is usually the only ant in a colony that lays eggs although in extremely large colonies two or perhaps more ants become reproductive. Pavement ants are territorial, and may fight neighboring pavement ant colonies to establish a territory about 18 to 20 feet in diameter. Aphids, springtails, mites, and even small butterfly caterpillars sometimes live in pavement ant nests. These ants nest in various microclimates, but they usually prefer open habitats and thrive in human-modified environments.

pavement ant worker

A pavement ant worker. Note its corrugated surface and the two nodes.

Pavement ant worker eating

Top view of a pavement ant worker. These ants feed on greasy and sweet foods.

new queen pavement

A new queen pavement ant will soon shed her wings and found a new colony.

Pavement ant larvae

Pavement ant workers raise thousands of sisters shown here as mature larvae.

Pavement ant colonies  10,000 workers!

Pavement ant colonies may have over 10,000 workers!

Food Sources

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Pavement ants are general feeders and forage for small arthropods, seeds, pollen, and honeydew excreted by aphids, soft scale insects, and other insects. They sometimes protect aphids and soft scales from parasites and predators and thus contribute to plant damage by these sucking insects.

Residential Recommendations

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Pavement ant workers can be nuisance pests when they enter homes and recruit colony members to accessible food or remnants. The best way to prevent ants from entering homes is to locate and block potential entryways and not leave food and crumbs out to attract foraging workers. Ant baits readily attract pavement ants although it may take patience to eliminate a colony this way. Ants indoors may be sponged up with soapy water.

References

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For assistance with a specific problem, contact your local Cooperative Extension Center.

This Factsheet has not been peer reviewed.

Author

Professor Emeritus
Entomology and Plant Pathology

Publication date: Feb. 15, 2018
Revised: Oct. 9, 2019

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