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Pharaoh Ants

The pharaoh ant (Monomorium pharaonis) is a small (2 mm) yellow or light brown, almost transparent ant notorious for being a major indoor  nuisance  pest, especially in hospitals. The origin of this “tramp” ant is uncertain, although favoured alternatives include West Africa and Indonesia. The Pharaoh ant has been introduced to virtually every area of the world including Europe, the Americas, Australasia and Southeast Asia. Pharaoh ants are a tropical species but they thrive in buildings anywhere, even in temperate regions provided central heating is present.

Colony behavior

The Pharaoh ant is polygynous, meaning its colonies contain many queens (up to 200). An individual colony normally contains 1,000–2,500 workers but a high density of nests gives the impression of massive colonies. Colonies also lack nestmate recognition so there is no hostility between neighbouring colonies, which is known as unicoloniality. They produce sexually reproductive individuals roughly twice a year in established colonies but in the laboratory colonies can be manipulated to produce sexuals at any time of year. Colonies proliferate by “budding”, where a subset of the colony including queens, workers and brood (eggs, larvae and pupae) leave the main colony for an alternative nest site. Budding is a major factor underlying the invasiveness of Pharaoh ants. A single seed colony can populate a large office block, almost to the exclusion of all other insect pests, in less than six months. Elimination and control are made difficult because multiple colonies can also consolidate into smaller colonies and “weather the storm” of a baiting programme only to repopulate when baiting is withdrawn. Pharaoh ants are a major hazard in hospitals, where their small size means they can access wounds, driplines, and instrumentation, causing the spread of infection and electrical interference.

Pharaoh ants have become a serious pest in hospitals, rest homes, apartment dwellings, hotels, grocery stores, food establishments and other buildings. They feed on a wide variety of foods including jellies, honey, shortening, peanut butter, corn syrup, fruit juices, baked goods, soft drinks, greases, dead insects and even shoe polish. They can also gnaw holes in silk, rayon and rubber goods.

Identification

Pharaoh workers are about 1/16-inch long, or 2.0 millimeters in length. They are light yellow to reddish brown in color with a darker abdomen (hind portion of body). There is a stinger. The petiole (narrow waist between the thorax and abdomen) has two nodes and the thorax has no spines. Eyes are poor and possess on average 32 ommatidia. The antennal segments end in a distinct club with three progressively longer segments.

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