Army Ants: Army Ants Overview, Facts, & How To Get Rid Of Army Ants

Thanks to movies like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the crystal skull and The Naked Jungle, army ants have been demonized and portrayed as indiscriminate killers, but we think they’re just misunderstood.

Yup, they’re dangerous and can wreak havoc, but as much as they’re feared, they’re also fearless and have an essential part to play in the bigger scheme of things.

What Is An Army Ant?

Before we look at the characteristics and behavior of army ants, it’s important to understand what they are. Army ants are also referred to as legionary ants, driving ants, or visiting ants, but they’re not one and the same thing.

Although we categorize any vicious-looking ant with a ravenous appetite as one, of the 12,000 or so species, only 200 of those are considered army ants

If we break that down a little more, we’ll see there are two different sub-species of army ants. These are known as New World and Old World army ants. New World army ants are less ferocious than their Old World counterparts.

Where Do Army Ants Live?

Bet you’re wondering where they live and whether you need to be considering moving… to a different continent? Well, if you’re in North, South or Central America, you’re fine. These are areas where new world army ants are found. Unfortunately, Africa and Asia are home to Old World army ants.  

Do Army Ants Look Like Other Ants?

Army ants like other ants, have an abdomen, thorax, and head. They also have antennae, a mouth, and two eyes.

But army ants don’t have compound eyes, and they’re blind. Also, they have scissor-like jaws called mandibles. Not only do these pincers give them a formidable appearance, but they’re also used to rip their food apart.

Fact: Army ants don’t chew their food. While they’re cutting it up, they produce an acid that dissolves their prey… while it’s still alive

Are All Army Ants Man-Eating Monsters?

If you’re in North, South, or Central America, you’ll be thrilled to hear that not all army ants are man or livestock eating monsters. While they’re still pretty aggressive, they’re not as dangerous as the Old World ant species found in Asia and Africa.   

Which Are The Most Dangerous Army Ants?

Without a doubt, the Siafu ant, or driver ant, is considered to be one of the most dangerous ant species in the world. They can be found in central and eastern Africa, although we don’t think you really want to go looking for them. For these ants, the world is a drive-thru, and whatever’s in their path, is a take-out.

Army Ants Morphology

There are different castes within the army ant colony. These social roles are as follows:

  • Workers
  • Males
  • Soldiers
  • Queen

Worker Army Ants

Worker ants are, in most cases, sterile females who do pretty much everything for the colony. They take care of the queen, look after the eggs, bring food back to the nest, and, when necessary, protect the nest.  They have a lifespan of approximately a year.

Male Army Ants

Male army ants have distinctive genitalia, and their sole purpose is to mate. As soon as they’re born, males leave the nest in search of a queen. They’re the only ants in the colony that go off on their own.

Fact: Male army ants are also called sausage ants. No, it’s got nothing to do with their genitals. Instead, it’s because of their sizeable cylinder-like abdomen.

Soldier Army Ants

They’re the largest ants in the nest, and their main job is to protect the nest and kill any potential attackers. Their mandibles are their weapons, and are so big they’re unable to eat. The workers help out with feeding them.

The Queen

While other ant species can have more than one queen, army ants only have one. She is the largest of all the ants in the colony and can live for up to 20 years. The queen is the matriarch of the colony and can lay more than 4 million eggs in just one month.

When Do Army Ants Get A New Queen?

As a rule, army ants don’t replace their queen. But when the colony gets too big, every three years or so, it splits up into smaller ones, with their new queens. This is known as colony fission. Should a queen die, the colony can join another one.

Army Ants Behavior

Regardless of the species, army ants have two phases. They’re either staying put or are on the move, and as you might have guessed, it’s not just something they do on the spur of the moment. 

Nomad Phase

Approximately 10 days after the queen has laid her eggs, the ants will move to a new location. They travel with the larvae throughout the day, with workers collecting food for the colony.

At night, they rest until the morning, when it’s time to look for more food. Near the end of this phase, the larvae become pupae and no longer need food, which means the colony can stay in the same place a little longer.

Stationary Phase

During the stationary phase, the colony stays in one place for approximately three weeks. The queen is fed the food the pupae no longer, and it’s around this time that she lays a new batch of eggs. The pupae emerge, ready to get to work, and the nomadic phase starts again.

Army Ants Nesting

Army ants, unlike other species, don’t build nests, which makes sense. With 4 million ants being born every month, the colony multiplies at a rapid rate, and as a result, resources run out. To stay alive, army ants have to keep moving.

What Do Army Ants Use To Build Shelters?

One of the most amazing things about army ants is how they build their shelters or bivouacs. Using their own bodies, they create a temporary structure to protect the queen and larvae. When it’s time to move on, the living nest ‘breaks down’ and off they go.

Do Army Ants Have Scouts That Look For Food?

The majority of ant species have scouts that will go out on their own to find food. When they find it, they let the rest of the colony know, and workers quickly join in to carry their loot back to the nest. Army ants, on the other hand, don’t forage for food alone. There’s strength in numbers, and these ants know it.

How Do Army Ants Raid?

If you’ve ever watched army ants on a raid, you’ll know it’s with military-like precision. Rather than relying solely on their large numbers to ravage and pillage, army ants have a system. And depending on the type of ant, they will either swarm or form columns.

Column Raiders

Column raiders hunt for food in smaller groups or branches. Unbelievably, each trail is made up of ants moving forward, looking for a meal, while others are on their way back to the nest with their prey. Something you might not have known is that they’ll happily invade nests of other insects, but not other army ants.

Swarm Raiders

Swarm raiders are the stuff nightmares, and Hollywood movies are made of. They literally sweep the ground, like a nest, hunting for as much food as they can. These ants have a potent sting and solid bite to take down all sorts of prey, including scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, and spiders.

Fact: Raids consist of anything between 200,000 and 20 million army ants at a time, and it’s not unusual for the trail to measure as long as 100m and spread 20m widthways.

How Much Do Army Ants Eat?

A raid can kill as many as 100,000 animals in just one day. And this well-oiled machine works together to take down snakes, chickens, and pigs. Not even birds are safe, as the ants will climb trees to get at the nest. 

Can Army Ants Eat People?

As far as we know, humans don’t make it onto the menu of the army ant. In reality, the raiding swarm or column doesn’t move very fast, and humans can get away in time. But their bite and sting is incredibly painful, and will definitely be something you remember.

Symbionts: How Do Army Ants Help People?

Some African tribes actually rely on Army Ants to rid their homes and farms of pests. When they spot a swarm, they simply leave their home for a few days and let the ants do a quick extermination of mice, rats, and other household pests. In the fields, the ants kill crop-eating insects for the farmers. It’s a win-win situation. 

How To Get Rid Of Army Ants?

If you have an infestation of army ants, it’s best to get rid of them as quickly as possible. We’ve listed a couple of ways you can remove these invaders from your home or yard.

Soak Cotton Wool Balls in Pesticide

A simple but really effective way to get rid of army ants in your home is with cotton wool balls soaked in a pesticide with some water. Remember, ants can’t see and will mistake the balls for food. These are then carried back to the nest, where it’s eaten by the colony. 

Even if the cotton wool bomb doesn’t make it back to the nest, it’ll kill the ants that carried it, and let the others know they’ve met their match.

Use a Commercial Ant Spray

For a quick fix, that’s easy to use, consider getting a commercial spray to get rid of army ants. There’s a wide range available, and you can choose a spray that kills them on contact or one that has a delayed effect.

We prefer the latter, as the residual will also destroy the ants in the nest. But if you’re worried about being eaten out of house and home and prefer an immediate solution, go for the quick-kill option.  

Remember always to read the instructions and follow them carefully. And don’t use toxic sprays around children, pets, and food. 

Use an Ant Trap

If you prefer a more permanent solution, you could use an ant trap to get rid of army ants. This bait is carried back to the nest, where the rest of the colony, including the queen, eats it and dies. Just like with sprays, there are baits that work quickly, while others have a delayed effect, allowing the ants to transport it back to the nest. 

Pour Apple Cider Directly onto the Nest

A safe and non-toxic way to get rid of army ants is by pouring apple cider directly onto the nest. Simply make a mixture using part water and part apple cider, and spray it onto the ants. This is really easy to use, and you don’t have to worry about children or pets coming into contact with it.

Make a Soapy Solution To Get Rid Of Army Ants

Soap and water work on army ants too. Make your own soapy water solution with one-third liquid soap and two-thirds water. Spray the mixture onto the ants directly for the best results.

Sprinkle Cornmeal 

Cornmeal is like an army ant’s kryptonite. They love the stuff, but can’t digest it. After eating it, they swell up and eventually die from starvation. It’s not a quick solution, but it is effective and entirely safe to use if you have pets or children in the home.

Use Boric Acid and Mint Jelly

Another mixture that does a good job getting rid of army ants is mint jelly with boric acid. Or depending on what the ants prefer, you could try mixing the boric acid with sugar, honey, peanut butter, or just butter.

Like our other homemade remedies, this won’t kill them immediately, but within a few days, you should start noticing a drop in numbers.

Flood the Nests with Water

Another option is to flood the army ants’ nest with water. It’s not a permanent solution and won’t kill the entire colony, but the ants that don’t drown will move on in search of a more ant-friendly home.

Seal Up Entry Points

Sealing up entry points isn’t going to get rid of army ants if they’re already in your home, but it can help prevent future infestations. Look for cracks, crevices, and openings that ants use to get access to your house, and seal them up. We suggest a sealant or caulk of some sort. It’s also a good idea, once you’ve located these security breaches, to place ant traps nearby. 

Keep Your House Clean

Ants thrive in houses that are anything less than spotless. To get rid of them and keep them out, you should keep your home as clean as possible. Remove garbage bags and make sure the lid is always on the dirt bin. Don’t leave dirty dishes lying around, and where possible, store food in airtight containers. Crumbs and spills are considered food too, so clean up any messes you see. 

Use Bleach To Get Rid Of Army Ants

Clean your kitchen with bleach regularly. Army ants have an excellent sense of smell, and particularly dislike the smell of it. This will help get rid of ants already in the house and act as a deterrent for those thinking of moving in.

Keep Your Yard Ant-Free

Once ants are in your yard, it’s only a matter of time before they make their way into your kitchen. You can do a couple of things to keep your outdoor area ant-free. 

  • Piles of wood, bricks, or leaves are the perfect nesting spots for nomadic ants, so to keep them out of your yard, make sure they aren’t to close to your house. Better still, remove them altogether. 
  • Shrubs and long grass are also good spots for them to nest. Trim overgrown shrubs, and keep the lawn mowed. Cut back overhanging branches as these make an easy-to-use bridge for them to get indoors.
  • Make sure there’s no build-up water from leaking taps or sprinklers. Ants love moisture and will make their nest close by. 

Call in the Experts

When all else fails, and you feel like you’re winning the battle but not the war, call in professional exterminators. They’ll be able to locate the nest and get rid of your ant problem once and for all. It’s by no means the cheapest solution, but there’s no point in being a prisoner in your own home.

Final Thoughts On Army Ants

Understanding how army ants operate certainly gives them newfound respect. Even as avid anti-army anters, you’ve got to admit that they’re quite a spectacle to behold. As long as they’re being ‘beholden’ from a distance or on YouTube. Next time you’re invaded by New World army ants, just thank your lucky stars it’s them and not their Old World cousins.

Andrew Cunningham
Andrew Cunningham
Hello, Andrew is the co-founder and lead editor for DailyPest.

More Reading

What Is A Tick?

We’ve all seen them, those disgusting little bugs that often resemble a small rotten white