Red Ants vs Black Ants: 5 Differences to Consider

Written by Rebecca Bales
Updated: October 25, 2023
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Key Points

  • The main difference between red and black ants is that red ants can be aggressive towards humans and animals.
  • Black ants can be a nuisance around the house and some may cause damage to wooden structures.
  • Red ants are seldom found near homes but will bite aggressively if their nest is disturbed.

Ants are a nuisance to many homeowners, and most people don’t hesitate to reach out to their local exterminators to get rid of them. However, when comparing red ants vs black ants, these insects may have more to them than meets the eye. Red ants have a much different disposition than any species of black ant, and both have very different reasons for infiltrating the home, regardless of the time of year. It might appear that the only difference between them is color, but they can vary in size, damage level, and even aggression. Take a look to learn exactly what you’re in for when you see your next red or black ant.

ants

When it comes to their diet, red imported fire ants are known to feed on the buds and fruits of various crops.

©NOTE OMG/Shutterstock.com

Comparing Red Ants vs Black Ants

In this chart, we’ve looked at some of the main differences between the black and red ant. While there is only one variation of red ant – the fire ant – black ants account for 24 different species. Some of the species of black ants include:

  • Black garden ant (or the common black ant). This ant is often a glossy black color, though the queen of the colony will have a slight brown undertone.
  • Carpenter ants. Carpenter ants can come in many color variations but are stick-blackish. They come in swarms during the springtime, and they often nest within the structure that they are found in.
  • Sugar ants. Sugar ants are not entirely black, showing a yellow body in their midsection. They won’t sting, but they’ll bite, and they will seek out sweet foods to eat.
  • Odorous house ants. These ants can be black or brown, and they will typically make their home around houses. They make themselves known during warmer months, infesting homes to eat sugary food sources and dead insects.
DifferencesRed AntBlack Ant
SizeLess than half an inch1.5 mm to 2 inches
Preferred HabitatOpen and sunny areas like meadows, playgrounds, golf courses, and other grassy areas.Under rocks, in homes, under logs and other shelter, cement cracks, gardens, grassy lawns
Lifespan2-6 years for queens, less than six months for workers.5 years or more
TemperamentAggressive towards preyNon-aggressive
StingerYesNo

The 5 Key Differences Between Red Ants vs Black Ants

Ants, as a whole, primarily have the same shape (with some variations), and they all build colonies that are led by a queen. However, different species of ants pose different challenges to humans. These range from harmless nuisance to hazardous if disturbed. Knowing the difference can help you determine the threat level when you encounter them outside or within the home.

Red ants can be found underground and you may even see a large mound of dirt. marking the entrance to their colony. Black ants may bite and even expel a small amount of acid, however, it won’t hurt as badly as a bite from a red ant. Black ants are normally an annoyance rather than a health concern.

Here are a few additionally differences between red ants and black ants:

carpenter ant vs black ant

Boreal Carpenter Ants construct their nests in trees.

©Amelia Martin/Shutterstock.com

1. Red Ants vs Black Ants: Color and Size

The obvious physical difference between black ants and red ants is their color. Red ants, also known as fire ants, are reddish-brown to reddish black, just like the name implies. They can come in a range of sizes, but they are typically between 1/8-inch and 1/4-inch long.

Black ants, because there are about two dozen variations, can range in size. While little black ants may only be 4.5 mm, the world record is two inches long.

2. Red Ants vs Black Ants: Threat to Living Things

Perhaps the most notable behavioral difference between the red ant and the black ant is the way that they interact with people. When a black ant is around people, they mostly leave them alone. They are more concerned with their nest and the task at hand than bothering people.

The red ant, on the other hand, is the only ant that will attack prey by biting them. Furthermore, once they’ve latched on, they release toxins and sting their victim. The only time that you might catch a black ant biting you is if you’ve startled them, but they will sometimes spray acid onto a wound (which is much less painful than a fire ant bite). Red ants are much more likely to bite and will swarm over anything that they see as a threat to their home.

Regardless of color, ants do not seek out trouble. They bite and sting as a defense mechanism when their home is threatened. All ants will attempt to defend their homes, the difference between black and red is in their level of aggression and the severity of their bites.

3. Red Ants vs Black Ants: Threat to Surroundings

While the red ant is clearly more destructive to the humans and prey that it is around, black ants are generally more bothersome than harmful to people. When a red ant invades the home, he’s looking for prey, and he can cause some damage to the humans and people living inside. For the most part, they prefer living outside in the soil.

Black ants account for over 20 different ant species, but the main reason that they enter the home is to seek out food sources. That’s why it is common to find them in the kitchen when crumbs and spills are not cleaned up quickly.

Black carpenter ants are the only ant species that can cause real damage when they build their nests in a building. They may create homes within walls and ceiling voids. When they do this they will carve out tunnels and hollows in the wooden portions of a home which can damage and weaken the structure.

Ant colony

Black ants work and live in large colonies.

©iStock.com/Cabezonication

4. Red Ants vs Black Ants: Species Variations

Currently, there are approximately 24 species of black ants, and none of them have been deemed aggressive or violent. Some of the common ants include carpenter ants, sugar ants, and the common black ant. However, each species is mostly harmless.

There are many species of red ant and most of them are as harmless as their black relatives. However, there are two species of Fire Ant that are very aggressive about defending their homes and they have extremely painful stings. The most common is the Red Imported Fire Ant, which originated in Africa and was accidently introduced to the US. These can be found in the southern states of the US but they cannot survive in cold temperatures. As a result, they have not yet invaded into any states that have freezing temperatures in the winter.

5. Red Ants vs Black Ants: Diet

The different species of black ants vary in their diet, but they are mostly omnivorous. Some of the foods that they’ll go after include vegetables, sweet fruits, cornmeal, plant sap, and even candies. However, they will also go after fleas and other insects to get nourishment.

The red ant, or the fire ant, is also an omnivore, but they prefer to consume spiders, arthropod eggs, earthworms, and other insects. Still, they’ll consume honeydew and other sweet foods, as well as seeds.

Bonus: Fire Ants Have Learned to Make a Bridge With Their Bodies

Fire ants floating on water

Fire ants are able to escape natural disasters by building a bridge with their bodies to cross water.

©Tim Bingham/iStock via Getty Images

Fire ants have their own form of flood insurance – they can build bridges over rising waters with their own bodies! It is an amazing example of a creature adapting a strategy to survive with an execution that defies belief. Each tiny ant has an important role to play with the first wave interlocking their bodies to make a long chain. Next, a team of ants goes on top to assume an arched position – then more ants make the structure stronger. The arched shape of the bridge is crucial for distributing weight and for navigation across the water. The last step – the ants on the bottom kick their hundreds or thousands of tiny legs to propel the ant craft across the water to safety. Can you imagine those little legs paddling together? You can watch an amazing video of red ants building a bridge here! Watch Fire Ants Build A Bridge From Their Bodies To Cross the Water

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©


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About the Author

Rebecca is an experienced Professional Freelancer with nearly a decade of expertise in writing SEO Content, Digital Illustrations, and Graphic Design. When not engrossed in her creative endeavors, Rebecca dedicates her time to cycling and filming her nature adventures. When not focused on her passion for creating and crafting optimized materials, she harbors a deep fascination and love for cats, jumping spiders, and pet rats.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is the difference between black ants and red ants?

The main difference between red ants and black ants is their color. The red ant is just one of a larger genus, while there are 24 black ant species. The red ant is aggressive with prey, releasing a toxin that is quite painful when they bite.

Can a red ant hurt a black ant?

Absolutely. They will attack black ants if they want to use them as food.

Can a black ant hurt a red ant?

Though the black ant doesn’t inject poison, it can destroy a red ant. They will even go after fire ant queens that haven’t laid eggs yet.

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