Tiny but tough pavement ants are everywhere

There’s a plague in our garden this year — little black ants everywhere.

Lift anything and ants are running crazy underneath.

My father called these teeny critters sugar ants, but I think that’s a reflection on his own food preferences.

The sources I’ve found call them pavement ants (Tetramorium caepitum).

They’ll eat sugar, nectar and other sweets like honeydew from aphids, but they’re especially happy to feast on grease.

Insects, alive and dead, and small seeds are also on their menu.

Pavement ants are another invasive species introduced to North America from Europe, probably in soil used for ship’s ballast in the 18th century.

They’re naturalized from New England to the Middle West as far south as Tennessee, as well as in California and Washington state.

Pavement ants are now the most common ant in the United States.

Nests can be under foundations, concrete, rocks, stones, in piles of leaves and in rotting wood.

Winged male and female ants usually leave the mother nest when the shrubs and trees start to bud.

It takes about eight to 10 weeks for the new colonies to really get going, which is probably why I’m finding so many of them now.

Most years I only see the little ants when I edge the grass on the public parkway.

Just about every inch of the way I’m shaking them off my gardening gloves or brushing them off my clothes.

Some manage to bite me, which seems fair since I’m disturbing their nests, but their nips don’t hurt much.

The worker ants are only about one-sixth of an inch long, and without venom, they don’t cause many problems for humans.

My biggest issue is psychological since I imagine I feel them crawling all over me.

This year, however, it must be an ideal time to be a pavement ant.

Every time I’ve lifted a container, ants start running around trying to rescue their exposed eggs.

Get a brick to hold down a tarp in the wind — ants. Weed around a stepping stone — more pavement ants.

Pavement ants even set up housekeeping in the hayrick where I grow my herbs and in the concrete pot we use as a fountain.

That’s never happened before, but this year it’s par for the course.

So far we haven’t found them inside, although I have to admit we’ve had incursions once or twice in the past when some found a gap under a basement window sill.

The only way the ants were banished was to use poison bait.

I assume some industrious worker took the poison home and fed it to the queen ant.

That kills the colony, which isn’t something I like doing.

But I have to draw the line somewhere, and ants inside the house is way over the line.

The ants ignore humans unless we’re destroying their colonies.

Other pavement ants are what really riles them up. If colonies run into one another’s territories, wars will break out.

Against other ants, their pincers are deadly and thousands of worker ants can die in territorial skirmishes.

I still have to edge the sidewalk, so I’ll be seeing the ants again, and itching all the while.

They may be tiny, but pavement ants are tough customers, even for humans when we intrude on their turf.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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