Types of Ants in California

California provides suitable living conditions to a lot of pests, including ants, as its weather favors their growth, multiplication, and survival.

Types of ants in California include Southern fire ants, harvester ants, thief ants, odorous house ants, carpenter ants, argentine ants, pyramid ants, pavement ants, pharaoh ants, red imported fire ants, little black ants, small honey ants, velvety tree ants, and thatching ants. 

A wide variety of ants are native to California and need to be controlled to avoid the undesired increase in the population of poisonous insects or nuisance pests.

Ants in California Body color Food source Queens in colony
Southern fire ants Amber color Sugary food, honeydew Multiple
Harvester ants Yellow, brown, black Fruits, vegetables, seeds 1
Thief ants Brown, yellowish Dead insects, cheese, nuts Multiple
Odorous house ants Black or dark brown Nectar, honeydew Multiple
Carpenter ants Black Nectar, honey, dead insects 1
Argentine ants Dark or light brown Pet food, meat, sweet food Multiple
Pyramid ants Yellow, brown, red Honeydew, sugar 1
Pavement ants Black, brown Meat, insects, honeydew 1
Pharaoh ants Brown, yellow Sugar  syrup, butter, snacks 150 to 200
Red imported fire ants Dark red, red brown fruits, saps, honey, insects Single or multiple
Little black ants Black, dark brown Fruit, vegetables, greasy food, honeydew 2 to 35
Small honey ants Dark brown Nectar, honeydew, fruits 1 to 8
Velvety tree ants Brown, red, black


Sugars, honey, protein based food 1
Western thatching ants Black, red Nectar, sugar, insects Single or multiple

Southern fire ants

The Solenopsis xyloni, or a stinging ant, is known for its poisonous stings and bites and is distributed widely in California.

It has an amber-colored appearance and darker abdominal regions. In addition, its body size is almost 1.5 to 5mm, making it easier for these insects to hide under soil patches.

They have multiple queens in a single colony based on nearly 200,000 to 250,000 workers.

Moreover, it prefers eating dead insects, animals, worms, and other vertebrates. Sugary food or honeydew produced by aphids can provide nutrition and attract these insects.

It is one of the most dangerous ants because its stings can leave an affected organism in severe pain and cause redness or itching.

Harvester ants

Different species of harvester ants live in California and build their nests in coastal areas and sandy terrains, but they can also come indoors in search of food.

These insects are known for their seed harvesting capabilities and storage of seeds within their nests for winter or other unfavorable weather.

Veromessor pergandei, a black harvester species, is highly specific to this region and prefers to create nests in deserted areas. Its size ranges between 3 to 5 mm, while females can reach 10mm.

In addition, Pogonomyrmex rugosus can form colonies based on 12,000 to 15,000 workers and a single queen and are known for rough or specific movement patterns.

The California harvester ants or the Pogonomyrmex californicus can reach the coastal areas and get attracted to warmth. These form bigger colonies based on multiple queens.

Thief ants

They are brownish or pale yellow insects having 1.5 to 2mm longer bodies. These smaller creatures form larger colonies based on 250,000 to 300,000 individual insects and multiple queens.

They are named as a thief due to their nature of building nests close to other species of these insects. It allows them to avail an opportunity of stealing eggs and larvae of other insects.

Moreover, they prefer to eat greasy foods with higher fat content and protein-rich products, like cheese, butter, peanuts, and other nuts.

It is not difficult for these tiny creatures to make their way through food packaging and contaminate the stored food.

These insects can become annoying pests indoors, as they do not pose any danger.

These insects prefer to live outdoors or in open spaces but can move indoors in search of nutrition or by following other ants.

Solenopsis molesta is a common species of these insects commonly found in California and locates dead insects and larger animals for nutrition.

Odorous house ants

Tapinoma sessile or odorous insects are known for their distinctive coconut-like odors and live close to the ground or choose open areas and larger objects to hide beneath them.

These insects have larger colonies based on 2500 to 10,000 individuals that are diurnal and remain busy in their activities all day. As a result, you can find them navigating in the surroundings for 24/7.

Additionally, this species prefers to eat sweet or sugary materials like juicy fruits and vegetables. The rotting fruits and vegetables can also attract them to trash or compost bins.

Carpenter ants

A large number of carpenter ants are present in California that are equally spread in the Northern and Southern regions of California.

The hairy smooth carpenter ant or Camponotus laevissimus can cause structural damage and destroys wooden buildings by chewing wood and making them hollow from the inside.

These insects are diurnal and good scavengers and predate on the other insects for nutrition in addition to consumption of nectar and honey from flowering plants and aphids.

A high population of Camponotus vicinus or bicolored species are present in California, living under the bigger stones and raising the population by adjusting to rotting wooden structures.

These bicolored insects are nocturnal insects having one queen in a colony of 2500 to 3000 workers. It can feed on dead bugs even at night when diurnal species take a rest inside the nest.

Furthermore, Camponotus modoc, or western carpenter ants, have satellite homes based on one queen and 15,000 workers. They are commonly present outdoors and live inside wooden logs.

Argentine ants

Linepithema humile or argentine ants appear in dark brown to light brown color having smaller bodies extending from 2 to 3 mm. These are known for a musty odor and segmented antennae.

Moreover, they create larger colonies based on a hundred thousand members and hundreds of queens, depending on the size.

They have polygynous colonies prevailing in Northern regions of California as every colony contains 10 to 15 queens if the size of the colony is around 1000 members.

Additionally, they can easily sneak through smaller spaces with a diameter of less than 1mm and invade indoor areas when they do not find food and water in open spaces.

Getting rid of these indoor pests is essential as they can kill other insects and disrupt the food webs. Furthermore, it can also cause damage to vegetation or ripe fruit for nutrition.

Pyramid ants

The Dorymyrmex bicolor ants appear in yellow, brown, or reddish color, having 3 to 4mm longer bodies.

Moreover, they have distinctive body shapes that look like a cone or pyramids with segmented bodies. They form smaller colonies having a few thousand members and a single queen.

These insects live in sand-rich areas having no vegetation and build their nests under the ground. They prefer to build nests close to other species and kill them by dropping debris through the hole.

They are not considered harmful or dangerous for humans because they do not bite or sting, but it does not mean that these will let you go without biting if you have disturbed them.

Furthermore, they prefer to eat honeydew and other smaller insects but also need sweet food or carbohydrates to revive their energy. As a result, they have a negative impact on plant germination.

Pavement ants

These insects are named after their location as they prefer to hide within the narrow spaces of the pavement and choose concrete surfaces to get inside and raise the population.

You can find these creatures living in outdoor areas like the curbs of pavement and under the bigger stones in the backyard or sidewalk that are not disturbed for a long time.

Moreover, you can identify them by looking at their shiny gaster, black or brown body color, and striations on the head region. They have stinging abilities but do not prefer to bite until disturbance.

These omnivorous insects have wide preferences for food and consume meat, insects, honeydew, and even manmade products also attract them, particularly if they contain sugar.

Commonly, Tetramorium immigrans have larger colonies based on 8,000 to 10,000 members but possess only one queen that can survive under the concrete slab.

Pharaoh ants

Most probably, a long trail of light brown or yellowish insects around the spilled sugar syrup or rotten fruits is pharaoh ants. They have smaller bodies and a shorter lifespan of 4 to 12 months.

These insects are not dangerous but cause contamination of stored food and create problems for grocery store owners as they have to keep food stored in airtight containers.

These crawling creatures prefer to eat sugary food in addition to fats and proteins, depending on their dietary requirements.

Moreover, their colonies are polygynous, comprising a hundred thousand members and 150 to 200 queens, which can spread to a larger area by budding.

These are destructive indoor pests and create their nests inside drainpipes and electrical outlets in addition to wall boards. Their nests are also found behind refrigerators and bookcases.

Red imported fire ants

Solenopsis invicta are omnivorous insects that can consume a variety of food types to meet their energy and colony requirements, including fruits, saps, honey, and other insects.

Dead worms and vertebrates can also allure these necrophobic insects and make them come to the dead bodies to extract nutrients from their bodies.

Moreover, they can form larger nests to accommodate their colonies based on single or multiple queens and 75,000 to 235,000 workers at maximum.

These are considered dangerous indoor pests having poisonous venom to inject through stingers into prey’s body and causing severe pain that can lead to death.

Furthermore, these insects are known to cause destruction at a large scale by building nests within the foundations of buildings and are a threat to farmers as they can damage crop plants.

Little black ants

They are black or dark brown insects spread in different states of America, including California, living under the bark of trees or creating tunnels under the ground.

Moreover, they are commonly seen around rotting fruit, vegetables, greasy or oily food, and aphids to obtain honeydew from these soft-bodied insects.

These tiny creatures with smaller bodies can build massive colonies based on hundreds of thousands of insects living together within a single nest with multiple queens ranging between 2 and 35.

The colonies consist of workers, winged queens, male drones, and broods consisting of newly produced eggs, mature or immature larvae, and pupae.

Furthermore, they can get inside the wooden cabinets and chew the wood without any intention of eating the shavings and throwing sawdust outside.

Small honey ant

Prenolepsis impairs are 2.5 to 3.5mm long insects having dark brown bodies. They have segmented antennae having no club and a smooth or shiny gaster.

These are also known as false honey or winter ants due to their high tolerance against low temperatures and form smaller colonies based on a few thousand workers.

Commonly, the colonies consist of a single or up to 5 queens and 1000 to 1500 workers, including foragers, non-foragers, or nursing members.

These insects prefer to eat sugary foods, including natural plant or insect secretions like nectar or honeydew, and become replete for a colony.

It attains a resting position and transfers nutrients down the colony until it has passed all the stored food and regains its original body size.

These are one of the common species of ants in California responsible for destroying crops as they can cause damage to fruits like oranges and destroy flower buds for nectar.

Velvety tree ants

Liometopum occidentale have colorful bodies as their heads are brown, while their middle segment appears reddish, unlike the abdominal part having a velvety black appearance.

Their body size is 3 to 6mm, which means a large number of insects can accommodate in a nest, forming bigger colonies based on 45,000 to 60,000 workers and one queen.

They prefer to eat honeydew secreted by aphids or even the producers also, but they can shift their diet to other food types like sugary or protein-based foods and get inside the kitchen.

It is better not to interfere with their colonies and call professional exterminators to deal with their mounds in timber or trees to avoid the risk of bites, as they can pinch your skin hard.

Western thatching ants

These insects are also known as mound ants for their behavior as they like to construct impressive dome-shaped mounds from vegetation like leaves, stems, and pine needles.

Moreover, they prefer to eat a variety of insects, including pillbugs, grasshoppers, and other species of the same insect, in addition to sugars.

Their colonies are based on thousands of workers working collectively to ensure survival by bringing food inside the nest to feed the non-foraging members.

You can not estimate the number of queens as some can have only one reproductive female, while others need multiple queens for a quick increase in population.

Furthermore, their mounds are almost 7 to 8 inches tall but are around 4 to 5 feet deep inside to support multiple chambers for the survival of many insects.

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