Facts About Sugar Ants: Identification and Control

Facts About Sugar Ants: Identification and Control
Picture of Israel Alvarez
Israel Alvarez

Owner @ Insight Pest Management

Table of Contents

While a trail of ants toward a picnic may have been cute in cartoons, no one wants to find a trail of sugar ants across their countertops. The name “sugar ant,” however, does not refer to one specific ant species but is rather a general term that refers to any small, indoor ant species that prefers to feed on sweet treats. Learning how to identify different sugar ant species and what attracts them to your home can help you eliminate these pests and prevent them from ever returning to your home or business.

Key takeaways

  • Sugar ants are not a specific species of ants but rather an umbrella term that refers to any indoor ant pest that seeks out sweet foods to eat. In California, this can include pharaoh ants, Argentine ants, thief ants, and odorous house ants.
  • While sugar ants often look for sweet treats to feed on, the fact is these nuisance ants will eat just about anything, and their food cravings can change daily. While today they may be seeking a sweet treat, tomorrow they could venture out to look for greasy food and proteins or gather around a water source in your home, such as the bathroom sink.
  • Unlike other ant species, sugar ant colonies have multiple queens, meaning they can grow much quicker than other ant pests. Between this and the fact they will eat just about anything, a sugar ant infestation can be difficult to eradicate.

What are sugar ants?

Sugar ants are not a single species of ants but rather an umbrella term used to describe a variety of small, indoor ant species that feed on foods and water inside your home. Sugar ants can refer to Argentine ants, pharaoh ants, thief ants, and odorous house ants. All of these ant species inhabit your home or business, creating large colonies within the walls and feeding on sugary and greasy foods within your home. They are most commonly found in pantries and kitchens.

What is the difference between sugar ants and regular ants?

Unlike other ant species, sugar ants do not require a lot of water. While many ant species enter into homes and businesses for a source of water, sugar ants instead look for a source of food and build their colony near that source. When they make their way into your kitchen and discover food, they are likely to find spaces in the walls and around pipes where they have easy access to food and water.

Other ant species, such as fire ants, build a colony around one queen and when that queen dies, the colony often falls apart or dies. Sugar ant species are different. One colony can have multiple queens, with each one able to produce around 60 new ants a day. A sugar ant colony is always growing, and this can make it more difficult to eradicate sugar ants from your home.

Types of sugar ants

The term “sugar ant” is an umbrella term that refers to many different small, indoor ant species that build colonies inside homes and businesses close to a source of food. Some of these common ant species include:

  • Pharaoh ants
  • Argentine ants
  • Thief ants
  • Odorous house ants
  • Ghost ants
  • Pavement ants
  • Acrobat ants
  • Cornfield ants

Identifying sugar ants

Because sugar ants represent a number of different species, identifying them depends on which ant species you really have. In general, sugar ants are dark in appearance and small in size and are usually found near sources of food.

What do they look like?

More specific identifiers depend on the species and include:

  • Argentine ants: brown in color and drawn to moisture over food. These ants emit a foul odor when crushed.
  • Odorous house ants are dark brown to shiny black in color and, as their name says, produce a strong odor when crushed.
  • Pharaoh ants are light yellow to red in color, with red or black abdomens. Queens are often darker in color. These ants do not routinely create trails when looking for food and you are more likely to see these ants scattered in a location. They may create trails when an established food source is discovered.
  • Thief ants are pale yellow to dark brown in color and tend to follow trails when searching for food.

Where do they live?

Unlike other ant species that create mounds or underground colonies, sugar ants prefer to live indoors near a food and water source. They are most often found inside walls and around pipes. If they do nest outside, it is often under vegetation or rocks.

Do they really eat sugar?

While sugar ants do eat sugar, they will also eat just about anything else. They will go after sugary foods, greasy foods, fatty foods, and even protein. Whatever they have easy access to, they will eat. Because they will easily adapt and make any food their main food source, they are more difficult to eradicate when a colony is established.

What attracts sugar ants?

As the name says, sugar ants are attracted to sugar, and they will make their way into your kitchen or pantry, looking for sweet food sources. They are very small in size and can often make their way into what appears to be sealed packagings, such as bags of sugar or open boxes of cereal in the pantry. If sugar is not readily available, they will turn to fatty or greasy foods as well. In addition to your pantry, sugar ants can often be attracted to houseplants. This is because houseplants often attract aphids. Sugar ants follow aphids as they leave behind a sugary substance called honeydew that the ants will feed on.

How do you get rid of sugar ants?

While you may be tempted to pull out the can of ant spray to eliminate sugar ants in the home, this treatment method will actually make your infestation larger. Sugar ant colonies are made up of forager ants that come out to gather food and bring it back to the colony of other ants. If you spray these forager ants with ant killer and they do not return to the ant nest, the colony senses a problem. When these ants feel threatened, they boost reproduction in an effort to rapidly grow the existing colony.

The best way to get rid of sugar ants is through the use of ant bait traps and professional pest control services. With bait traps, the forager ants collect the bait and bring it back to ants in the colony, eventually eliminating them all.

Sugar ant prevention

The best way to prevent a sugar ant infestation is to prevent access to any food and water source and reduce potential attractants. Some tips to do this include:

  • Keep all pantry food in sealed containers. Transfer cereals out of boxes and into sealed containers. Open up bags of sugar and seal them shut in a container.
  • Keep your counters and food prep surfaces clean of any food crumbs or debris. Wipe down all surfaces on a regular basis.
  • Run your dishwasher on a regular basis and keep it closed at all times.
  • If you put food in your garbage disposal, run it immediately and do not leave food in the sink.
  • Take out the trash on a regular basis. Use a sealed trash container if possible.
  • Do not leave pet foods out as these will attract sugar ants

Frequently asked questions

Here we answer some common questions regarding sugar ants and infestations.

Can sugar ants hurt you?

Sugar ants do not bite and are not harmful to humans or pets.

Are sugar ants hard to get rid of?

While sugar ants do prefer sugar, the fact that they will adapt to whatever local food source is available makes them more difficult to get rid of. In addition, because their colonies have multiple queens, they can quickly grow a small colony into a much larger infestation. Treatment with a pest control company is often recommended.

How did I get a sugar ant infestation?

Sugar ants send out foragers to look for sources of food. When a forager ant finds its way into your home, through even the tiniest of cracks or crevices, it will then leave a pheromone trail for the other ants to follow. Once a food source is discovered, the ant colony quickly moves in.

Can sugar ants damage my home?

Sugar ants may invade and contaminate all the food in your pantry, but they will not cause structural damage to the home like other ant species, such as carpenter ants.

Identifying the presence of sugar ants in your home or business

If you see a trail or cluster of tiny ants in your kitchen, pantry, or bathroom, chances are you have a sugar ant problem. These pests can locate a food source and quickly set up residence, eventually taking over your food storage area. Unfortunately, these pests can be difficult to eradicate and many forms of traditional ant treatments can actually make the problem worse. If you experience regular sugar ant infestations, it is time to call in professional pest and ant control to eliminate the problem once and for all.

Keeping your home or business ant-free

At Insight Pest Management, our technicians understand sugar ant behavior and what works to eliminate them from your home. Our team will conduct a thorough inspection that includes ant identification, points of entry, and other troublesome pest problems and work to eliminate all troublesome pest concerns.

To eliminate your current ant infestation and learn how you can keep your home pest-free, request a free quote today.

Serving all of Ventura County

Locally owned and family operated, we are a top-rated pest and bug control company that uses state-of-the-art equipment to help ensure that pests are located and eliminated. But it doesn’t stop there! Pest prevention is one of the most important parts of pest and bug control. 

Our expert technicians work to ensure that all potential pest entry points are sealed and offer routine treatment options to help ensure your home or business stays protected from future infestations. You don’t have to share your home or business with pests any longer! If you live in the Ventura County area, let the team at Insight Pest Management help you say goodbye to pests once and for all!

Contact us today to schedule a FREE evaluation!

Ventura County California Map