Floridian Nature

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Florida Nature: Florida Ants
Ants are a common part of Floridian nature and almost every homeowner in the state has had to deal with annoying red ant mounds. Besides red ants, there are several species of ants are found in or around houses in Florida. Ants can be recognized from other insects because they have a narrow waist with one or two joints (nodes) between the thorax and abdomen. Also, ants have elbowed antennae. Winged reproductive ants have four wings with the first pair being much larger in size than the hind pair.

Ants are social insects. Two castes-workers and reproductive's can be found in most colonies. Worker ants, which are sterile females, are seldom winged. Worker ants are often extremely variable in size and appearance within a given species. The function of the worker ant is to construct, repair, and defend the nest; and feed the immature and adult ants of the colony, including the queen. Reproductive females normally have wings but lose them after mating, so queens do not have wings. The primary function of the queen is reproduction; however, in some of the more highly specialized ants the queen cares for and feeds the first brood of workers on her salivary secretions. The queen may live for many years and in some species is replaced by a daughter queen. Depending on the species, ants can have one or more queens. The male ant is usually winged and retains its wings until death. The sole function of the male ant is to mate with  unfertilized female reproductive ants. After mating occurs, the male dies. Males are produced in old or very large colonies where there is an abundance of food. After reaching maturity, the male usually doesn't remain in the colony very long.

pharaoh ant in FloridaPharaoh Ants- These small red-to-yellowish ants can be found trailing anywhere within a structure. They can nest in wall voids, cabinets, boxes of food and any other accessible crevices and spaces. Pharaoh ants are known to invade sick rooms and feed on blood plasma and wound dressings. Their colonies have multiple queens and can split into small groups, spreading very rapidly. In subtropical areas, Pharaoh Ants readily nest outside in leaf debris found on or near structures.

South Florida ghost antGhost Ants- Ghost ants look like tiny, white apparitions who suddenly appear and seem to disappear just as quickly. Workers are are 1/16 of an inch in length. The legs, pedicel, gaster, and antennae are pale, almost translucent, in color and the head and thorax are darker. For this reason, the ghost ant is also known in some areas as the black-headed ant. Colonies of ghost ants tend to be moderate to large in size and multiple queens are present. New colonies are started by "budding" where one or more reproductive females, several workers, and possibly some brood(larvae and pupae) migrate to a new nesting site. Ghost ants are common in south Florida, and can be found as far north as Gainesville, within the state.

Florida imported red fire antFire Ants- Two species of fire ants are found in Florida, the notorious  red imported fire ant (RIFA), followed by the much less common tropical or native fire ant. The red imported fire ant  is a small reddish brown ant from South America that found their way to Florida. Thriving on sunshine and dug-up soil, the imported Fire Ant is now found in every Florida county. Fire Ants are one of the most aggressive ants that we have in the United States. When a fire ant mound is disturbed, workers boil to the surface, run up any legs or arms in the vicinity, grab the victim's skin in their mandibles and sting in response to the slightest movement. The attacks are coordinated and dozens or even hundreds of workers sting in unison. The sting of the RIFA possesses venom of an alkaloid nature, which exhibits potent necrotoxic activity. Approximately 95% of the venom is composed of these alkaloids, which are responsible for both the pain and white pustule that appears approximately one day after the sting occurs. The remainder of the venom contains an aqueous solution of proteins, peptides, and other small molecules that produce the allergic reaction in hypersensitive individuals. Fire ants live in colonies that may have 100,000 to 500,000 ants. The queen of the colony can lay from 1500 to 5000 eggs per day, never leaves the nest and can live for many years. Worker ants take care of the queen and her eggs, build the nest, defend the colony, and find food. Preferred food of fire ants consists of protein-rich sources such as insects and seeds. Winged male and female ants fly from the colony in the spring and summer to mate in the air. The males die and the females become queens that start new colonies.

Florida carpenter antCarpenter Ants- The largest of the ant family, the carpenter ant ranges from 1/4 to 3/4 inches (3/5-2 cm), has a constricted waist, bent antennae and is black, reddish-black or brownish black in color. Carpenter ants feed on sources of protein and sugar. Outdoors, carpenter ants feed on living and dead insects. They are also very attracted to honeydew, a sweet liquid produced by aphids and scale insects. Aphids and scales feed on trees, shrubs, and other plants. Indoors, carpenter ants feed on meats, as well as syrup, honey, sugar, jelly, and other sweets. Carpenter ants do not eat wood, as many people imagine. They remove wood as they create galleries and tunnels. Carpenter ants nest in moist wood including rotting trees, tree roots, tree stumps, and logs or boards lying on the ground. Carpenter ants can also nest in moist or decayed wood inside buildings. Wood decay may be caused by exposure to leaks, condensation, or poor air circulation. Nests have been found behind bathroom tiles; around tubs, sinks, showers, and dishwashers; under roofing, in attic beams, and under subfloor insulation; and in hollow spaces such as doors, curtain rods, and wall voids. Carpenter ants may also nest in foam insulation.

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