Types Of Ants UK

Close up of a black ant

Image by: Nikolaj Kuebler / License: CC BY SA 2.0

There are more than 13 000 ant species around the world. Ants love warm environment and for that reason there are only 50 types of species in the UK.

In this article we will take a close look at the most common types of ants in the UK, their appearance, behaviour ant nesting habits.

Common Black Garden Ant (Lasius Niger)

The black garden ant is common for all European countries and the UK is not an exception. The colony of this species may become as large as 40 000 workers but the number rarely exceeds 7000.

Lasius niger does not transmit any health-threatening diseases but UK citizens feel disturbed when their homes are infested with this pest and prefer to exterminate them completely.

Workers may live up to 4 years but the queen inside the nest can easily stay alive for 15 years or even more. Some speculate that a 30-year lifespan of the queen is possible.

Size

On average, a common black garden ant is anywhere between 3 and 5mm in length. Adult ants become brownish or black. The black ant’s abdomen is well developed while their thorax and waist are slim with a much smaller diameter.

A queen is 2-3 times larger than the average worker and can get up to 12mm long. After she mates, she removes her wings and consumes them as a food resource during the winter.

Growth

The common black ant, similar to other ant species has 4 stages of growth:

  1. Egg
  2. Larvae
  3. Pupa
  4. Adult

This ant species lays small, white eggs that easily stick to one another which simplifies the egg transportation and dissemination.

The larvae look very similar to maggots and are usually fed by their queen. When a colony of black ants is well established, the workers may feed the larvae instead of the queen.

The larvae has multiple stages of molting until it grows big enough to spin a cocoon around itself and begins a process of metamorphosis. Often, the workers or the queen help for this by burying the larvae so it can begin metamorphosis easier.

Once the metamorphosis is over, an ant breaks out from the cocoon. At first, it’s white-coloured but during growth it turns brown to black.

Behaviour

The common black ant is often seen in kitchens, scavenging for food inside cupboards and in the corners of the kitchen floor. The pest also gets inside rubbish bags and bins where leftovers are often thrown out.

If you have a pet, mind that their excrements might also attract black ants into your home if you don’t take proper care to remove it on time and effectively.

No matter what measures you take, the most effective way to deal with a colony of black ants is to order a professional ant treatment and have the pest exterminated all at once.

Yellow Meadow Ant (Lasius Flavus)

Also known as yellow meadow ant, Lasis Flavus is among the most common ant species in the UK. However, the yellow ants in North America are a bit different species.

Appearance

Brownish yellow or just yellow, Lasius Flavus is very distinctive, compared to other species. Queen is usually dark orange or brown. Bottom part of its body is orange, as well as the legs.

Small ants of the species that have just finished metamorphosis are light yellow in colour completely.

Size

Workers of the Lasius Flavus species are 2-5mm in size while a queen is about double the size of the worker starting at 7mm and reaching a length of up to 9mm.

Yellow meadow ants have a monogyne queen. This means that in their nest there is only one queen.

The species is a good fit for people who want to try ant keeping as a hobby as they require low maintenance efforts. Yellow ants of this species cannot bite or sting a person so they are safe in every aspect of ant keeping.

Growth and development

The growth process of the yellow ant is very similar to the one of the black ant. It takes about 9 weeks for a worker to emerge and to become part of the colony. In the same way as the black ant, the yellow one spins a cocoon to make a transition from the pupa to its final stage of a developed ant.

Behaviour

Lasiuv Flavus are underground creatures and beneath the surface is where you are most likely to find them. They live in lawns, meadows and gardens.

This ant species usually nest in grassy areas where their nest is later covered in grass completely which adds protection to the nest from predators and natural elements. You can easily spot a yellow ants nest in your garden by the clear spots of grass in the lawn, with a closer inspection it’s easy to confirm the presence of the species.

When a colony of this ant species reaches a size of more than 250 000 workers, it’s common to observe the presence of multiple queen ants inside a nest.

Red Wood Ant(Formica Rufa)

The red wood ant, known as Formica Rufa is typical for the region of Anatolia but is also common across all European countries. It can also be found in the UK. Its most common habitat are parklands and woodlands afforested with broadleaf weeds.

Size and appearance

Red wood ant workers are red but also have brown and black-coloured parts like the head and the rear part of their body.

The average size of the red wood ant worker is 4.5 to 9mm in length. Queens are only a little bit bigger, reaching up to 12mm. You can easily distinguish a queen from a worker by the absence of hair on the queen’s abdomen.

Feeding habits

Red wood ants feed mostly on the honeydew, emitted by aphids but they also consume arachnids and insects. Formica rufa is a good natural scavenger and will collect and transport food to the nest where the whole colony will use it for sustenance.

The trails that red wood ants leave when scavenging food may be up to 100m long but older workers may get to even more distant areas from the nest.

Nesting habits

Formica rufa build large nests with the shape of a dome. The nests are usually made of twigs, grass or from the needles of conifer plants. The red wood ants build their nest on spots where sun rays can easily penetrate as they need the heat from the sun.

In contrast to other ant species, Formica Rufa has multiple queens in a nest. Largest nests may have up to 400 000 workers and as near as 100 queens in the same nest.

The nests, built by Formica Rufa are associated with tectonic faults. They also often reach a big size in height and diameter and may become as high as an average adult human.

Black Ant (Formica fusca)

Formica fusca is black ant species that is typical in the UK but differs from the Common Black Ant.

You’re most likely to spot a Formica fusca species in the South Midlands and lowland Britain. They are also common in the northern parts of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Size and appearance

The length of the average Formica fusca worker is 4-7mm. They are easily distinguished by their yellowish legs. The underside of the ants’ heads don’t have any erect hairs.

A queen from the Formica fusca species is a bit larger than the workers and reaches up to 12mm in length. It’s primary colour is shiny black.

Nesting habits

The black ants from the Formica fusca family build their nest most often inside rotten trees or beneath boulders and rocks. Hedgerows are also attractive to this ant species and its common to spot a nest made in proximity to a line of closely spaced shrubs.

Nests of the Formica fusca are smaller than the average ant nest. There are about 500 - 2000 workers in a nest. Worker policing is typical behaviour of formica fusca from a single nest, which guarantees that non-nest mate eggs don’t get reared.

European Fire Ant (Myrmica Rubra)

The European fire ant is of the Myrmica genus and may be found across all European countries, as well as in some parts of England.

Its head is dark-coloured but the rest of its body is red, which makes the species easy to identify. This ant species lives under large stones and boulders, it also seeks shelter under fallen trees or even inside specific types of soil that provides the needed nutrients for sustenance.

Appearance

Myrmica Rubra has a distinctive thorax abdomen and three pairs of legs as well as antennae which are similar to those of other ant species from the Solenopsis family.

The abdomen is darker and the head of the Myrmica Rubra has a unique head colour, resembling copper.

Size

The size of the Myrmica Rubra is typical for most ants. Workers vary in length from 2 to 6mm. The Queen isn’t any bigger than the largest workers. However, it’s minimum size starts from 5 - 5.5mm which means that any other smaller insects from the species are unlikely to be a queen.

Behaviour

Myrmica Rubra’s colony is of the polygyne type which means they can have multiple queens, up to 100 in a nest but exceptions of more are also possible.

A single colony may also have multiple sites where they make nests which means the species is polydomous. The queens of this ant species have a long life span of up to 15 years.

The mating season starts at the middle of the year when the ants initiate nuptial flights and start mating in the air but males die at the end of this process. The queens, similar to other ant types, shed their wings and use it for sustenance at the beginning of the colony formation process.

Myrmica Rubra living in the UK, however, hasn’t been noticed to perform any nuptial flights when mating. These ants typically inspect the surrounding area around their nest very well in search for animals, plants and natural materials that they may use for food.

The Myrmica Rubra has methodological behaviour when it comes to treating the dead in the colony. There are workers who serve as undertakers and take the dead bodies away from the nest at a distance of up to 10ft.

Sugar Ant (Tetramorium caespitum)

Also known as the “sugar ant” or “pavement ant”, the Tetramorium Caespitum ant species is most common in native to Europe and can be found in the UK as well.

Sugar ants are likely to attack other ant nests in the late spring when they’re exploring new territories to expand their population. These wars between ants often happen in public places because Tetramorium Caespitum is known to nest under pavements on the streets. In some areas, it’s common to observe thousands of dead ants while walking out because of this.

Appearance

Tetramorium Caespitum is 2.5 to 4mm in length and is usually black or dark brown in cases of lighter pigmentation. Workers may sting a person but cannot cause anything serious except minor pain at the moment of the sting.

Newly morphed workers and queens are called alates and can fly. They are easy to recognise by their double size, compared to the workers of the same ant species.

Behaviour

The sugar ant’s nuptial flight begins in the end of the spring and in the beginning of the summer. It’s the time when queens and workers start flying for the purpose of mating.

All queens which mate successfully, shed their wings and start looking for a proper place to make a nest. They lay eggs there after digging a clausteral chamber.

Before the first generation reaches maturity, the queen takes complete care of the whole first offspring on her own. Later, the colony becomes autonomous.

During the hot months, pavement ants need more fresh air and to provide such, they have to make ventilation for the nest. They do so by digging in the sand between pavements, creating tiny holes for air to flow through.

Hairy Wood Ant (Formica lugubris)

Formica lugubris, also known as the hairy wood ant is common in the forests of the United Kingdom. It is easy to identify when you take a closer look at its hairs that go down in direction to their eyes. Their size is also bigger than the average, where workers can reach up to 12mm of length.

The hairy wood ant lives in big colonies with multiple queens. All ants in the colony are carnivores which means they feed on other animals as part of their eating habits.

Behaviour

The colony of the Formica lugubris is much bigger than average, it can contain up to half a million workers which results in enormous dome-shaped nests being formed in their natural habitat.

These ants are unique in the way they emit a specific odour which is very distinctive for every member of the colony. When an organism without this odour appears in the nest, it’s being identified by the hairy wood ant instantly.

Scottish Wood Ant (Formica aquilonia)

The Scottish wood ant is from the Formica genus, which is seen across most European and in the United Kingdom in particular. Forest areas are a good environment for the Formica aquilonia but the species may also be seen in woodlands.

Appearance

Its reddish-brown head is a typical feature, so is the dark black abdomen structure. Compared to other ant species in the UK, the hairs of the formica aquilonia are shorter.

Their widest part of the body is the head which grows up to 2mm in width while the body extends to its maximum length of up to 8.5mm, starting at about 4mm minimum.

Behaviour

The Scottish wood ants make huge nests by linking their nests in proximity. The workers constantly search for honeydew from other insects and take it back to the nest to enhance the colony.

A parent nest may have a number of queens before it gets fused with other adjacent nests. Winged workers usually get out of the nest in the summer and continue to do nest expansion efforts.

Carpenter Ants (Formica ligniperda)

Known as carpenter ants, this species builds their nests inside woods but does not consume any wooden material during the process.

In the UK, these ants are seen inside properties where wood has been used during the building and renovation process for both - the exterior and interior of the building. Formica ligniperda also collects honeydew from aphids by stroking them with their antennae.

Behaviour

Because of their affinity for living inside wooden structures, the Formica ligniperda workers can cause terrible structural damage to buildings. On the other side, the fact that these ants successfully excavate wood helps greatly for the decomposition of forests around the world.

The black carpenter ant is the most popular species from the whole Camponotus genus, which includes over 1000 different species.

Nesting

High levels of humidity is necessary for the carpenter ants to build and maintain their primary nests in good condition as they are very sensitive to humidity in general.

Satellite nests are built later when the workers in the primary nest become mature enough. The resident nests are home to life forms at earlier stages of the development of the species such as larvae and pupae.

In the primary nests live the workers, their queen, recently hatched larvae and eggs that have just been laid. Satellite nests do not require the same requirements for humidity such as the primary nests and can be built in places that are somewhat dry such as inside fallen woods.

Feeding habits

Formica ligniperda is a carnivorous species but also scavenges food different from animals. Dead insects are in the menu of the carpenter ant quite frequently but they also consume honeydew from aphids and nectar from plants.

Carpenter ants eat any sugary source of food such as honey and fruit juices, that’s why it’s important to always take care of proper food storage in your home so you don’t attract these insects with your negligence in the kitchen.

You are most likely to spot carpenter ants in your home during the night as they are more active then. Take a good care of any other dead insects in the premises in order to avoid attracting carpenter ants which would feed on these deceased insects for sure.

Can Ants Cause Structural Damage in the UK?

As mentioned above, carpenter ants are among the most destructive ant species of all. The can damage wooden elements of a structure so bad so the integrity of the building is no longer reliable. This is why we recommend hiring professional ant exterminators in the beginning when you notice signs of ant infestation.

Pharaoh ants, on the other hand, cannot cause structural damage but they are known for transmitting some diseases such as staphylococcus, salmonella, and clostridium, which may even lead to the development of botulism.

In conclusion

Ants are very tiny crawling insects that are unique workers and great example of perfect organisation. There are thousands of species across the world but there are less than hundred types of ants in the UK. Most of them are harmless. Anyway, some species can possess threat to your health. Most commonly, ants are annoying and difficult to be exterminated. For that reason, a professional help is recommended before the infestation exceeds.

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Disclaimer

Bear in mind that we only aim to provide some useful information about the types of ants in the UK, what are the possible health risks and dangers to you and your family. We cannot guarantee that you will experience the above - mentioned concerns. We don't provide professional medical advice.

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