Learning Center - Summer Pests in Alabama

Argentine Ant
argentine ant
The Argentine ant, Linepithema humile (Mayr)--formerly named Iridomyrmex humilus--is one of the more troublesome ants in Alabama. Argentine ants are mainly a nuisance to people because they are often found indoors, forming wide, noticeable lines or trails of ants into homes.

These ants do not sting or bite. They are 2-3 mm in length and black to brown in color. Argentine ant workers are all about the same size (monomorphic), in contrast to fire ants, where workers can be different sizes (polymorphic). Workers emit a faint musty odor when crushed.

Carpenter Ant
carpenter ant
The carpenter ant, of the genus Camponotus, are known as carpenter ants because they house their colonies in galleries they excavate in wood. Carpenter ants do not eat the wood they remove during their nest-building activities, but deposit it outside entrances to the colony in small piles. The wood is used solely as a nesting site. The galleries of carpenter ants are kept smooth and clean, and are not lined with moist soil as termite galleries are.

Carpenter ants, vary in size and color but are usually large (1/4-1/2 inch) and blackish. Occasionally, swarms of winged carpenter ant reproductives will emerge inside a home. Carpenter ant swarms usually occur in the spring and are a sure sign that a colony is nesting somewhere inside the structure.

Carpenter ants rarely cause structural damage to buildings, although they can cause significant damage over a period of years because nests are so long lived.

Crazy Ant
Crazy ants, Paratrechina longicornis (Latreille), occurs in large numbers in homes or outdoors. They often forage long distances away from their nests, so nests are often difficult to control. The name "crazy ant" arises from its characteristic erratic and rapid movement not following trails as often as other ants.

The crazy ant worker is relatively small (2.3-3 mm). They are dark brown to blackish (Creighton, 1950); the body often has faint bluish iridescence.

Fire Ant
fire ant
Imported fire ants are aggressive, reddish brown to black ants that are 1/8 to 1/4 in long. They construct nests which are often visible as dome-shaped mounds of soil, sometimes as large as 3 feet across and 1 1/2 feet in height. In sandy soils, mounds are flatter and less visible. Fire ants usually build mounds in sunny, open areas such as lawns, pastures, cultivated fields, and meadows, but they are not restricted to these areas. Mounds or nests may be located in rotting logs, around trees and stumps, under pavement and buildings, and occasionally indoors. When their nests are disturbed, numerous fire ants will quickly run out of the mound and attack any intruder. These ants are notorious for their painful, burning sting that results in a pustule and intense itching, which may persist for 10 days. Infections may occur if pustules are broken. Some people have allergic reactions to fire ant stings that range from rashes and swelling to paralysis, or anaphylactic shock. In rare instances, severe allergic reactions cause death.
Pharaoh Ant
pharoah ant
The pharaoh's ant may be the most difficult of all building-invading ants to exterminate. They have large colonies with multiple queens, nest almost anywhere within a structure, and will split large colonies into smaller ones at the slightest sign of stress.

Pharaoh's ants do not cause direct damage to the structures they inhabit, nor are they known to harm humans by biting or are they carriers of disease. They are a nuisance pest.

Pharaoh's ants are very small. They do not exceed 1/12" in length. They are yellowish to reddish brown in color.

Centipedes are reddish-brown, flattened, elongated arthropods with one pair of legs attached on most of their body segments. The first pair of legs is modified into poisonous jaws located below the mouth to kill insects. Their antennae are longer than those of millipedes. Centipedes feed on live insects and other small animals. They do not damage plants.

They are a nuisance in household and basement. They feed on small insects such as cockroaches, clothes moths and house flies; do not damage food supplies or household furnishings. If crushed, they may bite, causing some pain and swelling.

Millipedes are slow-crawling, round-bodied pests which have two sets of legs on each body segment. Millipedes develop best in damp and dark locations with abundant organic matter (food). They often curl up into a tight "C" shape, like a watch spring, and remain motionless when touched. The body is long and cylindrical.

They are from 1-4 inches long and dark brown in color.

American Cockroach
american cockroach
Adult American cockroaches are reddish-brown to dark brown (except for a tan or light yellow band around the shield behind the head), about 1-1/2 to 2-inches long, and have wings capable of flight. Males and females are about the same size.

American cockroaches can be detected by examining the premises after dark with a flashlight. They occur in dark, damp, warm places, often near steam pipes, in sewers, grease traps, damp basements, etc. During the day, probing hiding places with a wire will expose roaches. Household sprays of pyrethrins applied to hiding places will flush out roaches, sometimes killing them if they contact the spray.

German Cockroach
german cockroach
The German cockroach is the cockroach of concern, the species that gives all other cockroaches a bad name. It occurs in structures throughout Alabama, and is the species that typically plagues multifamily dwellings. German cockroaches adulterate food or food products with their feces and defensive secretions, physically transport and often harbor pathogenic organisms and may cause severe allergic responses.

The adult is 10 to 15 mm long, brown to dark brown in color with two distinct parallel bands running the length of the pronotum. The sexes can be distinguished by the following characteristics: male - body thin and slender, posterior abdomen is tapered, terminal segments of abdomen visible, not covered by tegmina (leathery outer wings); female - body stout, posterior abdomen is rounded, entire abdomen just covered by tegmina.

Smoky Brown Cockroach
smokey brown cockroach
Smokey Brown Cockroach, periplaneta fuliginosa, is a relative of the American cockroach and resembles it in shape and size. These cockroaches are more common in the southern United States.

They are a little over 1 inch long, and both sexes have wings that are longer than the abdomen. Their very dark mahogany colour is striking ; no light markings appear on the pronotum or wings.

Smokey brown cockroaches are suceptible to losing moisture through their cuticle, and so are usually found in damp, dark and poorly ventilated environments. They rarely infest the dwelling part of buildings, and are instead found in sheds, wall and roof spaces, sub-floors, mulched areas, and in and around grease traps and drains.

The name originates from the superstition that earwigs crawl into the ears of sleeping persons and bore into the brain. Although earwigs appear somewhat dangerous due to their forceps, they are practically harmless to man.

Earwigs vary in size from 1/2-1" in length, they are brown to black in color. Species may be winged or wingless. Only a few species are good fliers. The body terminates in a pair of forceps. These forceps or pincers are the earwig's most distinctive characteristic. The forceps are used in capturing prey and mating.

Ladybugs, harmonia axyridis, - are usually about 1/4 inch in length and round. The wings are usually red or orange. Spots will vary. Ladybugs are predators of aphids and other plant pests so they may be found on a wide variety of plants outside.

As the weather cools in late summer and early fall, the sun warms the southern and western walls of buildings. The warmth attracts these insects to buildings where they crawl inside cracks and stay there for the winter. This would be fine, but during warm winter days, some insects "wake up" and end up on the inside of the building.

House Mouse
house mouse
The House Mouse, mus musculus, - This familiar small rodent arrived in North America in the baggage and stores of the early settlers. House mice are prolific breeders: they reach sexual maturity at 35 days, and have several 21-day pregnancies per year, producing 4-7 offspring per litter. Chiefly nocturnal in activity, their food consists of grains, fruit and vegetables, stored food, and refuse.
Brown Recluse Spider
brown recluse spider
The brown recluse belongs to a group of spiders that is officially known as the "recluse spiders" in the genus Loxosceles (pronounced lox-sos-a-leez). These spiders are also commonly referred to as "fiddleback" spiders or "violin" spiders because of the violin-shaped marking on the top surface of the cephalothorax (fused head and thorax.

In the mature brown recluse spider as well as some other species of recluse spiders, the dark violin marking is well defined, with the neck of the violin pointing toward the bulbous abdomen. The abdomen is uniformly colored, although the coloration can range from light tan to dark brown, and is covered with numerous fine hairs that provide a velvety appearance. The long, thin, brown legs also are covered with fine hairs, but not spines. Adult brown recluse spiders have a leg span about the size of a quarter. Their body is about 3/8 inches long and about 3/16 inches wide. Males are slightly smaller in body length than females, but males have proportionally longer legs. Both sexes are venomous.

House Spider
house spider
The common house spider, Achaearanea tepidariorum (C.L. Koch), may be the most abundant of the several species of spiders that live in the company of man in the southeastern United States

Carapace and sternum are yellow to brown, legs are yellow to brown with darker rings; the abdomen is higher than long, is gray with black and white pigment, and has a white spot behind the highest point, surrounded anteriorly by black with dark lines running down the sides and black chevrons behind; the venter has two light patches enclosing a darker area; the male is darker and smaller than the female; females range from 5 to 8 mm in length, while males are generally about 4 mm in length

Wolf Spider
wolf spider
Wolf spiders are usually large, hairy spiders that are not associated with webs. They look much worse than they are.

Most homeowners have misconceptions about spiders-they are pictured to be poisonous (even deadly), and likely to attack at any time. Wrong. The only dangerous spiders we have in Alabama are the brown recluse spider and the black widow spider. For the most part, spiders are beneficial, eating insects and other spiders.

Cat Flea
The most common domestic flea is the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis. The adult cat flea, unlike many other fleas, remains on the host. Adults require a fresh blood meal in order to reproduce.

The dog flea, Ctenocephalides canis, appears similar to the cat flea, but is rarely found in the United States. Cat fleas are commonly found on both cats and dogs in North America, while dog fleas are found in Europe.

In order to effectively control an infestation, fleas must be removed from the pet, the home, and the yard. Removal of fleas from the animal alone is futile. Immature fleas which have developed into adults off the animal simply jump on, causing subsequent reinfestation. Flea combs may be used to treat the pet, yet they only remove ten to sixty percent of the fleas. By shampooing the animal, the dried blood and skin flakes which provide food for the larvae are removed.

Bald-faced Hornet
baldface hornet
The bald faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) is actually a large yellow jacket and not a true hornet. Bald faced hornets make those large, pear-shaped nests so often seen in trees after the leaves have fallen in the fall. The paper covering of the nest is made from chewed up wood or paper that the hornets will form into the outside nest covering. They will attach their nests to trees, bushes or sometimes even the side of a structure.

They are 5/8-3/4" (16-20 mm). Head much shorter than wide; neck and "waist" (pedicel) about equally constricted. Black and white patterns on face, thorax, abdomen, and 1st antennal segment. Wings smoky.

Subterranean Termite (swarmer)
suberranean termite swarmer

(worker)subterranean termite worker

(soldier)suberranean termite soldier

(queen)suberranean termite queen

(king)subterranean termite king

Subterranean termites are the most destructive insect pests of wood in the United States. They cause more than $2 billion in damage each year, more property damage than that caused by fire and windstorm combined. In nature, subterranean termites are beneficial. They break down many dead trees and other wood materials that would otherwise accumulate. The biomass of this breakdown process is recycled to the soil as humus. Problems occur when termites attack the wooden elements of human structures -- homes, businesses and warehouses. Their presence is not readily noticed because they hide their activity behind wallboards, siding or wood trim.

Termite workers make up the largest number of individuals within a colony. Workers are wingless, white to creamy white, and 1/4 to 3/8 inch long. They do all of the work of the colony -- feeding the other castes, grooming the queen, excavating the nest and making tunnels. In working, they chew and eat wood, causing the destruction that makes termites economically important.

It is important to be able to distinguish between swarming termites and ants. They often swarm around the same time of year, but control measures for each differ greatly.

Yellow Jacket
Yellow jacket wasps live in nests. Problems usually occur when the wasp or its nest is disturbed. They have the ability to sting as a means of ensuring survival. A hollow stinger is located at the rear of the yellow jacket's body. Upon penetrating the skin, a venom is injected through the stinger. These stings can be quite painful. They can also be very dangerous to people who have developed an allergy to the stings. Unlike the bee, a yellow jacket can sting more than once. Wasps can also damage fruit when they create holes by eating the flesh.

People often mistake bees for yellow jackets because of their colouring, however they are very different. Bees sting once and then die, but wasps can sting repeatedly. Yellow jackets have a shiny black and yellow body and measure 2 to 3/4 inch (12-18 mm) in length. These social insects live in large caste-divided colonies.