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Ants - #1 Pest in Schools Webinar Report

Thank you for attending the Stop School Pest and iPestManager webinar broadcast on May 10, 2016, a part of the School IPM Webinar series hosted by EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM. 

On this page:


  • Dawn Gouge, Ph.D., Urban Entomologist, University of Arizona
  • Lawrence 'Fudd' Graham, Ph.D., Entomologist, Auburn University
  • Dan Suiter, Ph.D., Entomologist, University of Georgia
  • Fred Remelius, Director of Operations, Upper Merion County (PA) School District

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Questions and Answers

General Questions

The questions below were posed by the webinar participants. The responses may have been refined by the presenters following the webinar for clarification or to include additional resources.

  1. Will the presentation be available for download? Where?

    A recording of the webinar is available hereExit.

Ant-Specific Questions

  1. Are ants emitters of any substances that affect air quality? If so, will the contents trigger asthma in children?

    (D. Gouge) Many insects produce allergens that can contribute to problems for students. However, I am not aware of any issues with fire ants. Their stings can cause allergic reactions, but I am not aware of any IAQ concerns.

    (F. Graham and D. Suiter) We are not aware of any IAQ issues either. You should be more concerned with the venomous stings of fire ants and angel needle ants.

  2. How big are Carpenter ants and are all the same size?

    (D. Suiter) Carpenter ants are polymorphic, meaning they come in many sizes. A small worker ant is about ¼ inch, while a large worker ant might be ½ inch long.

  3. Can you reliably identify ants from smell?

    (D. Gouge) Yes. Odorous house ants, when crushed, have a delicious coconut smell like a pina colada. That is the one ant that I am personally able to identify. Sometimes I see these ants trailing outside, and from their behavior and their general appearance, I am fairly certain that they are odorous house ants. I crush one with my fingertips and sniff my hand. People may look at you oddly when you do that, but I get a shot to the brain – like I am on a beach drinking a pina colada - for just a moment. Other people can identify some other ants with a citrus-like smell, but this is one most reliable for me.

  4. Do fire ants pose a threat, other than just a painful sting, to students?

    (F. Graham) Yes, some students are highly allergic to fire ant stings. In Corpus Christi TX, there was a football player that knelt down on a fire ant mound during a game and was stung so many times that he went into anaphylactic shock and passed away two days later. That is one reason why we like to keep fire ants off school fields. Also, fire ants are able to deliver multiple stings.

  5. How far can winged fire ants disperse?

    (F. Graham) Fire ants can fly up to 3 or 4 miles, but they are pretty spent by the time they get to their destination. If they get up into the air and get caught up in wind currents, they can go several miles with no problem. So, even if you do a good job keeping ants out of your school yard, you can get infested very quickly with ants from nearby pastures, home lawns, or roadsides.

  6. How do you control those little ants that you find in houses? (Question was from a Kentucky resident)

    (D. Suiter)  Because it depends on which little ants we are talking about, I’d be guessing. I have little rover ants in my home that are associated with sink areas.  I would suggest that they are rover ants which is a tiny (1/16” in long) monomorphic ant (all the workers are the same size). It is an invasive ant that came into the Louisiana area in the 1970’s and has spread throughout most of the southeast. Years ago, we did not have it in Georgia, but it is all over Atlanta now and moving north. It could now be in Kentucky. 

    It could also be the odorous house ant that Dr. Gouge mentioned. It has a real peculiar smell to it. I think it smells like suntan lotion – right up there with a pina colada. I do not think Argentine ants made it that far north.

    A good general control strategy for ants like that are the gel baits, like Combat® Ant Gel, that you can get over-the-counter. Some of the Combat® Bait Stations also work fairly well. A lot of times, these ants nest outside but will forage indoors. If you track them to the outside, you can remove the colony and not have to do a lot inside. There is no need to ever spray (a pesticide) indoors for ants - so put away the spray can. Baits are the way to go.

  7. How did imported fire ants get into the US and how long have they been here?

    (F. Graham) There are two species of imported fire ants in the US - the red imported fire ant and black imported fire ant. The black imported fire ant came to Mobile, Alabama about 1918. The red imported fire ant came to the same port between 1930 and 1940.  We think they came on ships from South America either with fruit they were carrying or ballast in the bottom of the ships. The fire ants were moved ashore as the ships were emptied.

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Upcoming School IPM Webinars

We welcome your participation in our upcoming webinars and ask you to encourage your peers to attend. These presentations are geared specifically to school and school district facility managers, buildings and grounds managers and staff, childcare facility managers, and school IPM practitioners. School nurses, school administrators, health officials, and pest management professionals are welcome to attend.

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