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What are Thief Ants?

By CPW
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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Thief ants, or Solenopsis molesta, are a species of ant found throughout America, but are particularly prevalent in the eastern and central states. Thief ants are very small and can be distinguished from other ant species by the two segments found at the end of the antenna. They get their name from their tendency to steal food from the nests of other ants. They usually make their nests in rocks and logs, but they are also known to make their homes in the interstices of walls, skirting boards, cracks and even cupboards. When they do so they are considered a pest and will have to be exterminated.

The thief ant is a yellow-brownish color ant with a typical worker ant measuring approximately 1/32-inch to 1/16-inch (1-1.5 mm). The thief ant is very similar in color and size to the Pharaoh Ant, therefore attention should be paid to the distinguishing features of the thief ant when considering how to get rid of an infestation. Under a microscope or magnifying glass, the thief ant will reveal an antenna of ten segments, two segments at the end of its antenna, no spines on the thorax, two nodes at the lower end of the thorax, and a small stinger at the very bottom of its body.

A typical thief ant queen is a little bigger than the rest and measures around 1/4 inch(6.35mm). A queen will typically lay an average of 105 eggs at a time. These eggs will usually incubate for two weeks to a month during the summer, but the incubation period can last for many months throughout the winter season. They often propagate themselves by splitting the formicary and spreading to different locations, forming new colonies in different sites around an already established center.

The thief ant’s diet is varied and they will feed on anything from immature forms of ants and insects to high protein and greasy foods. They also feed on honeydew, fruit, bread, oil and dairy products.

Thief ants are known to be a nuisance pest and damage walls and other masonry, and are known to contaminate and spoil food. Extermination is troublesome because of their size and adaptability. An infestation can only be handled by a certified and licensed pest controller, who will usually introduce a liquid or gel bait into the infested area. Once the site of thief ant infestation has been located, extermination by a professional can be carried out quickly and painlessly.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are thief ants, and how do they get their name?

Thief ants, scientifically known as Solenopsis molesta, are tiny insects that earned their name due to their sneaky behavior. They often establish their nests near those of larger ant species and steal food from their neighbors, hence the moniker "thief." These ants are also known for their ability to infiltrate human homes in search of grease and protein-rich foods.

How can you identify thief ants?

Identifying thief ants can be challenging due to their minuscule size, typically around 1.5 to 2.2 mm long. They have a yellowish or light brown color and a two-segmented waist, which distinguishes them from other ant species. Their small stature allows them to access a variety of tiny crevices, making them adept at going unnoticed.

What do thief ants eat?

Thief ants have a diverse diet but are particularly attracted to proteins and greasy foods. In the wild, they consume dead insects, larvae, and even the eggs of other ant species. In human environments, they're drawn to meats, cheese, nuts, and oils, showcasing their opportunistic feeding habits.

Are thief ants harmful to humans or property?

While thief ants are not directly harmful to humans, they can be a nuisance when they invade homes. They do not sting or carry diseases, but their presence can contaminate food supplies. Additionally, because they are so small and can nest within walls, they can be difficult to eradicate once they've established themselves in a residence.

How do you control a thief ant infestation?

Controlling a thief ant infestation requires a combination of sanitation and baiting. Eliminating access to food by storing it in sealed containers and maintaining a clean environment is crucial. Using ant baits specifically designed for protein-seeking ants can effectively target the colony. Professional pest control services may be necessary for severe infestations.

What is the ecological role of thief ants in their natural habitat?

In their natural habitat, thief ants play a role in the ecosystem by scavenging for dead insects and consuming larvae, thus participating in nutrient recycling. They also serve as prey for larger predators. Their thieving behavior can influence the population dynamics of other ant species, showcasing their integral part in maintaining ecological balance.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon32744 — On May 26, 2009

Where does a queen ant live?

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