Ants: identification and control

Page last updated: Tuesday, 21 July 2020 - 3:33pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Early identification of important invasive and native problematic ants within Western Australia is critical to achieving successful control and preventing invasive ant species from gaining a foothold in Western Australia. 

Any suspected exotic ant species or problematic ants should be reported to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development's Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS).

Public participation is crucial in protecting Western Australia's agricultural industry, biodiverse environment and our outdoor lifestyle.

Reporting native problematic ants allows for early identification and improved control, due to ant treatment options being dependent on the ant species, and varying for homes, gardens and businesses. 

Additionally, identification and proper control of ants not usually found in Western Australia will help to contain and eradicate pest ants, such as the devastating 'tramp' ant species found in other parts of Australia and the world.

Instructions for reporting and sending specimens to the Department's Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS) are provided below. Once an ant species is identified by PaDIS, advice on treatments and control will be provided. 

Impact of ants on agriculture, horticulture, environment and lifestyle

Argentine ants, electric ants and the red imported fire ant are examples of tramp ants that destroy and replace Australian native species of ants and other insects, disrupting or destroying the natural ecological balance.

The aggressive nature of tramp ants impacts on our outdoor lifestyle, cultural activities and ecology. Their aggressive biting, stinging or other attacking behaviour can hurt people and animals, some species even causing lethal anaphylactic shock in some people.

The red imported fire ant poses a serious threat to crops, animals, agricultural machinery, irrigation and electrical equipment. It causes US$1.2 billion damage annually in the state of Texas alone. They kill poultry, lizards, snakes and ground-nesting birds (Vinson, 1994). The Queensland Government predicts southeast Queensland would face a cost of about $43 billion over 30 years if fire ants were left uncontrolled.

DAFWA works with primary industries to safeguard our agricultural resources from biological threats such as tramp ants and to maintain our export opportunities. Agricultural workers can be seriously injured from multiple stings. Farm animals can be blinded by stings to the eyes, or suffocated by swelling after stings to the nostrils. 

Tramp ants are a significant horticultural pest because they 'farm' or promote populations of aphids, mealy bugs and scale insects to their own advantage. Tramp ants eat fruit and seed, destroy seedlings and reduce plant pollination by eating or displacing pollinating insects. They also attack beehives.

Tramp ants in Western Australia

Tramp ants are a diverse group of invasive ant species which have become established widely across the globe by 'hitchhiking' in household goods, plant pots, garbage, sea containers and machinery. 

The Argentine ant and coastal brown ant (big-headed ant) are tramp ants which are already established in WA as serious urban pests. The public can help prevent the spread of pest ants by ensuring plant pots sourced from nurseries and friends are free from ants. 

There are others such as red imported fire ant, browsing ant and electric ant that threaten WA from interstate and overseas, mainly via ports of entry (air and sea). Tramp ant species currently of greatest concern for Australia and WA are outlined in Table 1 below.

Members of the public who suspect the presence of any tramp ant species should contact PaDIS on (08) 9368 3080 or email padis@dpird.wa.gov.au. Ants listed in Table 1 that have not established in WA are declared pests and under the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007 must be reported.

Invasive (tramp) ant species of concern

Table 1. Tramp ant species of concern for Western Australia and other Australian states and territories.

Common name

Scientific name

Origin

Western Australian (and legal) status

Australian status

Bites or stings?

Red imported fire ant

Solenopsis invicta

Red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta)

Pantanal region of Brazil

Not present Prohibited entry into WA

Localised incursions (Qld)

Painful sting and stings relentlessly when disturbed

(Anaphylactic shock in some people)

Electric ant (little fire ant)

Wasmannia auropunctata

null

Central and South America

Not present Prohibited entry into WA

Localised incursions (Qld)

Painful sting

Yellow crazy ants

Anoplolepis gracilipes

Image of Yellow crazy ants  (Anoplolepis gracilipes)

South East Asia

Not present Prohibited entry into WA

Localised incursions (Qld, NT, Cocos Island and Christmas Island)

Sprays a formic acid that is painful to eyes

Tropical fire ant
Solenopsis geminata

Tropical fire ant (Solenopsis geminata) photo courtesy of PaDIL
Tropical fire ant (Solenopsis geminata) photo courtesy of PaDIL

Mexico, Central/South America

Not present Prohibited entry into WA

Localised incursions (NT, Tiwi Islands, Christmas Island, Cocos Island, Ashmore Reef)

Powerful sting (Anaphylactic shock rare but has been reported)

Browsing ant

Lepisiota frauenfeldi

null

Southern Europe

Eradication program ongoing Prohibited entry into WA

Localised incursions (NT, WA, Qld)

Bites, but not painful to people

Argentine ant

Linepithema humile
Argentine ants

Argentina and South America

Established in WA

Widely established (WA, SA, Vic, NSW, Tas, ACT)

Bites, but not painful to people

Coastal brown ant

(Big-headed ants)

Pheidole megacephala

Coastal brown ants image

Southern and Northern Africa

Established in WA

Widely established (WA, NT, VIC, Qld, NSW)

Stings, but not painful to people

Pennant ant

Tetramorium bicarinatum

(exotic species)

Exotic Tetramorium species (Tetramorium bicarinatum)

Africa

Established in WA

Established in WA and other states

Painful sting

Singapore ant

Trichomyrmex destructor

null

North Africa

Established in WA

Established in WA, NT, NSW, QLD, VIC

Painful sting

Other ant species found in Western Australia

Described below are a number of native and introduced ant species which can be problematic for householders, businesses and farming properties alike. This species list is based on the ant samples submitted to PaDIS for identification. It is not a comprehensive list of all ant species in WA. Click the 'hyperlinked' common name of each ant within the table to access our available ant fact sheets or web pages. Refer also to links on the right hand side of this webpage.

Table 2. Species of Western Australian ants most commonly reported to PaDIS as pests and or causing harm.

Common Name

Scientific name

Native or introduced

Common locations

Bites or stings?

Black house ants

Ochetellus glaber (native to Australia)

Black house ant (Ochetellus glaber)

 

Native House-infesting and attracted to sweet liquids and foods

Does not bite or sting

Bull ants (Bull dog or inch ants)

Myrmecia species

null

Native Natural and urban areas. Underground nests Painful sting

Cocktail ants (Valentine ants)

Crematogaster species

Cocktail ants (Crematogaster species)

Native

Bush land and residential blocks within bush land

Do not bite but can sting

Green headed ants

Rhytidoponera metallica

Green headed ants (Rhytidoponera metallica)

Native Natural and urban areas. Underground nests Painful sting

Meat ants

Iridomyrmex purpureus

Meat ants (Iridomyrmex purpureus)

Native Large mounds in open sunny areas Bites aggressively with jaws

Night or Nocturnal ants

Camponotus species

(native species only, not Carpenter ants)

Native Camponotus species

Native Nest in old trees, woodpiles and in the ground Some species will bite

Nylanderia species

Nylanderia species

Both native and non-native species

Nest in the ground outside. Excavate sand in gardens, lawns and pathways

Harmless and do not sting

Odorous garden ants

Iridomyrmex chasei spp. (native to WA)

Odorous garden ants (Iridomyrmex chasei spp.)

Native Nest in the ground, disturb sand in gardens and pathways

Does not sting, but will swarm and bite

White footed house ants

Technomyrmex species

White footed house ants (Technomyrmex jocosus) with food

 

Native and introduced species Nest in roof and wall spaces, electrical equipment, electrical kitchen appliances etc.

 

Does not bite or sting

Tables 1 and 2 were modified from an Australian Government table.

Reporting and sending specimens for identification

Pest ant identification services are provided to the West Australian public for suspect exotic species and problematic ants. Ants can be easily collected using the sticky side of transparent (clear) sticky tape then gently adhering the tape to white paper. Try not to crush the ants. If the ants are too quick for you to catch on the sticky tape, try using fly spray first. Alternatively, brush ants into a labelled container and seal. Place the ant sample in the freezer for 2 hours.

Detailed instructions for sending a range of insects and plants are available (for WA residents and specimens only) on the sending specimens for identification page. 

Enter your contact details on the paper:

  • Location where the ants were caught.
  • Name and contact details of the collector (telephone number/email address).
  • Description of the situation, nests and any damage noticed.

Important: Specimens can be delivered or posted to:

Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development
Pest and Disease Information Service
3 Baron Hay Court
South Perth, WA 6151

CAUTION: DO NOT SEND LIVE ANTS IN THE POST! If you suspect exotic pests (e.g. red imported fire ants) send photographs and descriptions to padis@dpird.wa.gov.au or call (08) 9368 3080 for guidance as this could potentially spread the suspect pest. 

Book references

Vinson, S.B., 1994. Impact of the invasion of Solenopsis invicta (Buren) on native food webs. In: Williams, D.F. (Ed.), Exotic Ants: Biology, Impact, and Control of Introduced Species. Westview Press, Boulder, CO, pp. 241-258. 

Contact information

Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS)
+61 (0)8 9368 3080