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Know Your Ant Types: Dangerous or Helpful?

Know Your Ant Types: Dangerous or Helpful?

There are an estimated 20 quadrillion ants on earth, a staggering amount that outnumbers humans by more than 2 million to one. Among this mass of insect life are many different ant types, some beneficial to humans. Others can be destructive and dangerous. That’s why it’s vital to understand these tiny but mighty creatures and know when to worry when you see them around the house or campsite. 

Read on as we explore the different ants you need to know. 

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How Many Different Types of Ants Are There? 

Many ants may look alike, but in reality, there are more varieties than you can imagine! Scientists believe more than 20,000 species exist worldwide, only a little more than half of which they have fully identified and cataloged. Of these, about 1,000 live in the United States. 

Many are pretty similar in other ways as well but are biologically and taxonomically distinct. 

Are Ants Helpful or Harmful?

The answer can be either! Depending on the type of ant, the nature of the situation, and your perspective, ants can be both helpful, harmful, or both. For example, ants can be beneficial in turning and aerating soil. That provides space for plant roots to grow and nutrients to filter down into the ground. In addition, they may move or eat seeds, helping disperse plants through an area. 

On the other hand, some species of ants can attack the wood or insulation in your home. They can even attack you and your family with painful or poisonous bites. This variation is one of the biggest reasons why it’s crucial to know what type of ant you’re dealing with.

Close up of ant on leaf
Ants can be great for the environment, but harmful for your home.

What Kind of Ants Come Into a House, and Why Do They Suddenly Appear? 

Unfortunately, a variety of ants can make their way into your home, from harmful types to simple nuisances. Typically, they’ll be attracted to your home by one of two things – food or shelter. The former is particularly common in spaces like dirty kitchens. Tiny bits of food or other edible products discovered by one ant can draw hundreds more to investigate. Common ant types that come into your home include carpenter ants, pavement ants, pharaoh ants, little black ants, and odorous ants. We’ll dive more into each of these types in a minute.

Some ant types may also nest in your home, mainly if there’s extreme heat, cold, rain, or other weather outside. These ants are also likely to take advantage of any leftover food crumbs they can find, enhancing their choice of a new home. 

Pro Tip: Nobody wants creepy crawlies in their home! Check out our story about when We Had Cockroaches in Our RV and How We Got Rid of Them.

What Are the Hardest Ants to Get Rid Of?

Depending on who you ask, the toughest types of ants to fully eradicate are either carpenter or pharaoh ants. The former are tough to fully eliminate because they like to burrow deep into the wood of your home’s frame and other spaces to make their nests. Without finding this nest (which can be difficult and time-consuming), there’s no way to stop the infestation. 

Pharaoh ants pose a different problem. They frequently split off from the main nest to establish satellite nests, some of which can be in your home. Eradicating this secondary nest won’t stop an infestation if you don’t target the primary source of the ants. 

Close up of ants climbing on plant
If you find ants in your home, you’ll want to identify the type to know how harmful they may be.

A Closer Look at Common Ant Types

Unless you’re planning a career in entomology, you won’t need to know many of the thousands of different species. These 10 are the most common and span both helpful and dangerous ant types. 


Fire ants are one of the better-known ant types, but not for their friendliness, that’s for sure. Their name is a general term for more than 200 species that squarely fall in the harmful category. 

In the United States, it generally refers to an invasive species imported from South America, now most common in the Southeast US and southern California. They’re one of the worst insects in Florida. When disturbed, fire ants can aggressively bite and sting, a painful experience that can lead to days of discomfort. 


Carpenter ants are among the most damaging ant types for your home, making them decisively harmful. They can bore and burrow their way into nearly any type of wood, sometimes excavating massive “galleries” and tunnels. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t eat the wood. They simply remove it. 

Regardless, they can cause significant structural damage to your home over months and years. Worse still, they can be difficult to eliminate without the help of a pest control professional.


Pavement ants take their name from one of the more common locations for their nests – under the pavement. Another invasive species, this ant type has European origins but has adapted and thrived in the Americas over the past several hundred years. 

They’re more of a nuisance than actively harmful, can’t bite or sting, and won’t cause structural damage in most cases. However, they can invade your home via small cracks in the foundation or exterior. It can be difficult to fully eradicate once they nest. 

Little Black 

Little Black ants are one of the more self-explanatory ant types. They live in a variety of places but prefer woody or green areas. While Little Black ants can be annoying if they make incursions into your home, they’re generally harmless to humans and property. 

However, they do provide the benefit of serving as a critical source of food for many species. They can also help disperse seeds. 


As mentioned above, Pharaoh ants are considered one of the most challenging species to eliminate due to their tendency to split off into secondary nests. These small, yellowish ants aren’t harmful individually but can number in the thousands in their colonies and are frequent carriers of bacteria and disease. 

Pro Tip: Identifying different wildlife can be challenging. Find out How to Identify Big Animal Tracks on the Trail.

Close up of invasive ant
There are thousands of types of ants crawling about.


Odorous ants strike back when they’re smushed, emitting a rotten-smelling odor. They’re particularly attracted to moisture and may enter your home or other area seeking water. Odorous ants don’t pose a threat beyond their potential to carry disease or harmful particles. 

However, this ant type isn’t helpful either, meaning it’s safe to contact a professional to eradicate them from your home. 


Like their namesakes, ghost ants are tough to see. This is due to their tiny size and semi-translucent appearance. They’re typically only found in Florida and Hawaii in the United States, as these are the only parts of the country consistently warm enough to support them. 

Ghost ants are harmless to humans (other than their smell when killed, similar to odorous ants) but can be a nuisance if they nest in your home.


Tracing its roots to South America, Argentine ants are a common invasive species in the south, west, and parts of the midwest. These dark brown ants can quickly grow into colonies of thousands. 

While this ant type can bite humans, they rarely do unless provoked or threatened, and bites aren’t any more severe than a typical insect bite. Therefore, you can safely eradicate these semi-harmful insects if they try to colonize your home.


Citronella ants earn their name from the odor they emit when they feel threatened, which is similar to the citrusy Citronella plant. Interestingly, they eat the secretion (known as “honeydew”) of tiny insects called aphids, meaning human food doesn’t attract them the way human food does. This makes them harder to kill with most traditional ant bait and traps. 

These yellowish ants sometimes resemble termites but aren’t harmful to you or your home. However, they can make their way inside on occasion.  


Thief ants are the “bad boys” of the ant world. Their mode of operation is to make their nests within the nests of other ants, stealing their food and preying on their young. They’re also known as grease or sugar ants, as high-calorie foods attract them. 

However, because they’re so small, they can be challenging to track and eradicate. Therefore, the best treatment is to carefully clean up any food crumbs or spills to prevent them from entering your home in the first place.  

Person holding ant on finger.
Rid your home of ants by using natural DIY treatments.

What Is the Best Way to Get Rid of Ants?

Many first opt for commercially available ant traps, pest sprays, or other chemical treatments when they want to target intruding ants quickly. These can be effective, but using them safely is vital to ensure you aren’t overexposed to potentially toxic chemicals. The same goes for family members, children, and pets. Commercial non-toxic varieties are also available, usually based on oils like neem or similar pest-deterring substances. Fortunately, there are plenty of these pet-safe ant killers available.

Those looking for more natural or at-home treatments for ants should try peppermint, vinegar, coffee grounds, or ground pepper, all of which repel insects or destroy the pheromone trail they use to communicate and find their way. 

Cornstarch and water can be used to smother ant swarms, while simple dish soap or spray cleaners can also eliminate pheromone trails. A variety of natural oils are also helpful in deterring and eliminating ants, as is silicon dioxide, commonly known as diatomaceous earth.

Once you’ve gotten rid of ants, it’s vital to keep any affected areas clean and protected going forward, which will help discourage any attempts by other ants to gain a foothold. 

We advise not squishing ants, as this can release dreadful smells. Additionally, it can release pheromones that many suspects attracts more ants to the location rather than alert and repel.

Pro Tip: Fruit flies can multiply quickly! If you have a fruit fly infestation find out How To Get Rid of Fruit Flies in Your Home and Camper.

Get Rid of Ants: Fast, Cheap and Easy

Be Aware of Which Ants are Dangerous or Helpful

Ants can do wonders outdoors, but some can also be a dangerous and harmful presence. This is especially true when these ant types decide to make their home inside yours. With this information, you should know when to let your six-legged neighbors thrive and when to eliminate them immediately.

Have you ever had an ant invasion in your home? Tell us what type of ants you identified in the comments!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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