Just like termites, and a minority of bee and wasp species, ants are social insects that live in colonies composed of numerous individuals that carry out a variety of duties. More than 14,000 ant species have been documented worldwide, and only 40 to 50 are categorized as urban pests. In the northeast US, the most common indoor ant pest species include odorous house ants (Tapinoma sessile), ghost ants, (Tapinoma melanocephalum), Pharaoh ants, (Monomorium pharaonis), longhorned crazy ants, (Paratrechina longicornis), black carpenter ants (Camponotus pennsylvanicus), pavement ants (Tetramorium caespitum), and several ant species in the Lasius genus. With the exception of native carpenter ants, all of the above ant pests are “tramp ants,” which are species that have flourished in a variety of urban environments worldwide, making them exceptionally difficult to control

Black carpenter ants and odorous house ants are particularly prevalent in Massachusetts due to their preference for the state’s expansive forest landscapes, making these pest species particularly problematic in suburban areas located near wooded areas. Although largely unheard of for nearly a century following the species’ discovery in the northeast US, the European fire ant (Myrica rubra) is now considered a serious urban pest in upper New England. While not as dangerous to humans as the red-imported fire ants, European fire ants have been known to inflict stings that result in serious allergic reactions, including anaphylactic shock. However, a recently introduced ant species with a menacing name, the Asian needle ant (Brachyponera chinensis), has established invasive populations throughout the eastern seaboard, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. These ant pests are continuing to migrate north, making their eventual arrival in Massachusetts inevitable.

Asian needle ants inflict painful stings that often require medical treatment, and during this species’ short time in the US, it has been responsible for several envenomation incidents that resulted in potentially fatal anaphylactic episodes, one of which occurred indoors without provocation. According to an analysis of documented Asian needle ant sting incidents among a population living in the species’ native habitat, 2.1 of victims experienced anaphylactic shock from the stings. This makes the public health threat posed by Asian needle ants comparable that of red-imported fire ants.

Have you ever sustained ant stings in Massachusetts?