Ants in Kitchen

2023 May 7

As of today (May 7, 2023), these ants have become aware that we have a honey jar in the kitchen, and have come looking for it. I had spilled a drop of honey on the counter while putting it on toast, and there were three medium-sized ants that had come around to lap it up. I didn’t get more than one in frame at time, but they did look pretty much identical, like one would expect.

I thought initially that these were one of the several species of ants in the genus Formica, but most of those have reddish-brown heads and thoraxes with black abdomens. But these had black heads to go with their black abdomens and red thoraxes, which is the color pattern for New York Carpenter Ants, which we have found around the place previously. I didn’t think this was them at first, though, because these are only medium-sized ants and the carpenter ants I have seen previously have been noticeably larger.

But, looking at all the pictures on the Camponotus novaeboracensis pages on BugGuide, I see that New York Carpenter Ants actually vary quite a bit in size. And, the ones that people photograph in spring (which are the ones that overwintered) seem to be significantly smaller than the ones later in the summer (which were raised with plentiful food supplies). So, I’m getting to think that these are in fact New York Carpenter Ants [1]. I’ve been going through looking for physical differences with the ones on BugGuide, and not finding any. We did find out how they are getting into the house by the way, there is a tiny gap in the seal on our back door.

The drop of honey made them easier to photograph, because normally ants are never still. In general, a stationary ant is either eating, or dead. So as long as they were eating, I could line up some good shots. Most of the time, they kept their heads down in the honey drop, but every now and then they would lift their heads to ungum their mandibles. The first picture below had a clear shot of the mandibles. The second had the eye nicely in focus so that we can see that, like other insects, ants have compound eyes.

These are one of the ant species that overwinter as a nest, and so the adult foragers can come out right away. We just had our (probably) last significant snowfall of the season on Monday, and the snow has just finished melting off, so this is about as early in the spring as one is likely to see ants.

[1] Since I originally wrote this, I have found out about AntWiki, and after checking their pages on the New York Carpenter Ants, I see that they can easily be confused with their close relative, Camponotus_herculeanus. These have slightly less red on their thorax and their range extends further north, so there is a good chance that my ants are actually these, and not the C. novaeboracensis.

One Response leave one →
  1. becksnyc permalink
    June 6, 2023

    I love to see the ants in the kitchen in the spring. I leave them an occasional dollop of honey so I can do a portrait session. I never understood why people can’t just let them forage after a long winter. When outside food sources become available, they rarely enter the house. When I have bug-phobic visitors, a line of cinnamon oil over their entry point usually works until it wears off. Love your blog.

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