Big-headed Ants

Big Headed Ants

Scientific Name of Big Headed Ants – Pheidole megacephala

All about the Big Headed Ant

Ever had a conversation with someone who just seemed to think they were the most important person on the planet? We like to refer to that as being “Big Headed.” Those people are, well, pests. While the Big Headed ant does seem to do whatever it wants and is considered by some to be one of the world’s most invasive species, it gets its common name from the actual – not figurative – size of its head.

What does a Big Headed Ant look like?

Colonies of Big Headed Ants are made up of both minor and major workers, differentiated primarily by size. Minor workers are smaller than major workers, only 2mm in length, and much more common. Major workers may be up to 4mm in length. The Big Headed Ant is light to reddish brown or nearly black and dull-colored. The front half of the head is sculptured while the back of the head is smooth and shiny. Worker ants have curved antennae separated in twelve segments with clubs at the end and their bodies are covered in long, sparse hairs. They also have a pair of short spines on their waists that face almost directly upward. And of course, most evident in the major worker ants, the head is disproportionately larger than its body. Queen ants have wings.

Big Headed Ant Next to Smaller Ant

Big Headed Ant Next to Smaller Ant

Where does the Big Headed Ant live, and what does it eat?

The Big Headed ant is found anywhere with a tropical to subtropical climate. It is most common in Australia and Florida and Hawaii in the U.S. but has been found in various other regions of the Gulf Coast, U.S.

These ants nest in the soil usually under logs, stones, or timber but may also be found in the soil of potted plants, beneath slab foundations, and inside rotted wood. The Big Headed Ant often leaves foraging trails of soil-covered debris that may resemble termite shelter tubes. Many Big Headed ant nests have  a mound entrance. These trails commonly connect colonies, forming megacolonies. Within the nest of the Big Headed ant, colonies form that may have several queens.

Big Headed ants eat both living and dead insects, small invertebrates, as well as the honeydew produced by aphids, soft scale insects, mealybugs, whiteflies, and planthoppers. These ants may forage for sweets, fats, and proteins inside homes.

How long will the typical Big Headed Ant live?

The Big Headed Ant undergoes complete metamorphosis with large numbers of fertile queens and a year-round brood due to the tropical climates in which they live. Each queen in a colony of Big Headed ants will lay nearly 300 eggs every month. After two to four weeks the eggs hatch and the larvae, after being fed by the worker ants, pupate about one month later. After pupating new adult worker ants emerge from the colony between ten and 20 days after that, usually in June and July. Worker ants have a lifespan between 38 and 78 days.

Big Headed Ants and Humans

The Big Headed Ant earns its title as a “pest” for two main reasons:  First, these ants are vigilant foragers. They will forage for food both inside and outside the home. Second, the ants leave piles of sand and other debris inside homes and in trails leading to and from their colonies. The foraging trails can be seen along tree trunks, sometimes climbing up the sides of trees. If ants have ventured indoors for food, trails may also be seen along the exteriors of homes.

The Big Headed Ant does not sting or cause any significant structural damage. The Big Headed ant usually does not bite unless the nest is disturbed.

Big Headed Ant

Big Headed Ant

How to get rid of Big Headed Ants

All control of the Big Headed ant must begin with the elimination of nesting sites around the home. Most colonies are established outdoors, and will not interfere with human activity, but mounds can be obtrusive and ants may wander indoors if their nests are close to a food source (a.k.a. homes).

Professional Big Headed Ant Control

The Big Headed ant will often establish a series of nests, known as supercolonies or megacolonies, that are easily seen due to the large amount of displaced foraging debris. These large colonies most likely will require professional pest control.

  1. Drown the Nest:  Drenching of the nest of the Big Headed ant with insecticides must be done to ensure that all individuals are eliminated. Demon, Cypermethrin, or Cynoff are brands commonly used by professionals.
  2. Bait:  If nests cannot be located but ants are present indoors or outdoors baits can be used to round up the ants. Baits can also help professionals locate nesting sites. Protein and Grease baits work best for Big Headed ants.
  3. Use Dusts:  Dust pesticides are used to penetrate difficult to reach spaces such as wall voids and tight cracks.

DIY and Green Solutions for Big Headed Ant Control

While megacoloines of the Big Headed Ant can be extremely difficult to treat on your own, most Big Headed Ant colonies are small and easy to treat. Many ant infestations can be controlled without the use of a professional pest control company—and even without using toxic insecticides—by eliminating potential nesting sites from your landscape.

  1. Clean House!: Big Headed ants may come indoors in search of a food source (especially foods that are greasy or high in protein), so keep food in airtight containers and clean up any spills immediately. Do not throw food waste directly into the garbage.
  2. Keep them out:  While other ant species are more likely to venture inside for food, the Big Headed ant has been known to forage indoors as well. Eliminating any entry points such as cracks or crevices in the foundation, exterior walls, doors, or windows will ensure that these ants cannot get in. Caulking or urethane foam will do the trick.
  3. Make your landscape unfriendly:  Not to your neighbors necessarily, but definitely to the Big Headed ant. Move material like lumber, firewood, loose soil, mulch, and garbage away from the exterior walls and foundation of your home. Doing this will make your landscape a much less desirable location for the Big Headed ant to make its home.
  4. Baits can be helpful if the nest of the Big Headed ant cannot be located. Homemade baits can be made that do not require the use of harmful chemicals. A mixture of peanut butter, honey, and boric acid is likely to attract this protein-loving insect. Commercial baits like DRAX may also be used.
  5. Aerosol or Liquid Insecticides may be used if you know the insecticides are labeled specifically for the Big Headed ant, but keep in mind that chemical application is most accurately and safely done by a pest control professional.  If you choose to use insecticides as a do-it-yourself method, be sure to completely drench any nesting sites once they’ve all been located. Application may need to be repeated. If you are concerned about using chemicals around kids or pets, consider employing a “green” pest control company that is “Green Shield Certified” to use organic and other natural compounds.

The Big Headed Ant is not aggressive, but can create an ant problem in your lawn or garden and will forage indoors for food sources. Get rid of any nests or tunnels in your lawn immediately and if you believe you have a serious infestation of the Big Headed Ant, call a pest control professional right away.