I have a colony of miniscule black ants living in a large potted Jade plant which I keep on my kitchen counter in the winter and outside in the summer. I let them live inside for the last 2 winters because they’re miniscule, and aren’t at all invasive in terms of getting into food and were contained to a small area. Recently they’re just starting to get out of hand, traveling further along the counters than before and they’ve expanded to a second, small potted plant on the window sill. I realized this when I picked up the pot one day and there were several bigger ants (queens?) under there and some eggs which the tiny ants quickly started moving about. They settled down after I replaced the pot.
My main question is about something going on this morning. There was a huge highway of ants going from one pot to the other, appearing to be ushering along one of these queen ants, and also some were carrying eggs. I cruelly killed the queen and some of the surrounding ants. Ok, well I figured I was either doing crowd control or helping them get rid of an invader ant. My main objective was to clear away the majority of ants before my monthly house cleaners arrived, and would surely kill the whole highway if they saw them (normally I try to clean the counters really well before the cleaners arrive, so minimal ants will be out and about). But a half hour later, the highway was still in full force, ushering another one of these big ants. I ended up putting up a sign asking the cleaners not to kill them. But do you have any idea what was going on in this scenario?
Any info or guesses would be very appreciated!
First of all, I am impressed that you have been so tolerant of these little creatures. That's wonderful! Also, I am sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you. The consult-ant e-mails got eaten in a computer snafu.
If you are still curious about your ants, I am going to go out on a limb and guess they might be rover ants. Some of the clues are your use of the term "miniscule," because these ants definitely seem like walking dust specks. Also, the fact they are living in a potted plant is a tipoff, because that is a common behavior of rover ants. The third clue is that they were tolerable, for the most part, because they don't really get into stuff in an aggressive way.
What probably caused them to tip towards nuisance status is that the new queens and males were getting ready to swarm. The new queens were the bigger ants you noticed. Simplifying a bit, swarming is when the queens and males fly up into the air, mate, and then the queens fly off to find a place to start a new colony.
The colony often gets super active around the time of swarming. Because they are indoors, they are likely to parade around and then go back into the flower pot, because they can't get away to fly. This might go on for a couple of weeks, until the ants find a way out.
The good news is that swarming is temporary. Once the queens and males have flown away, the colony should return to its usual docile behavior.
If you click on the tags rover ants or Brachymyrmex in the sidebar of the blog, you can see several other posts I have written about these ants.
I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any other questions, or if you think you have a different kind of ant. Good luck with your ant watching!
Rover ants (Brachymyrmex sp.)
Rover ant reproductives milling about on a windowsill, getting ready to swarm.
Rover ant reproductive (virgin queen)
A tiny male rover ant trying to launch himself from my keyboard.
(Note: As I mentioned previously, I have been the “Consult-Ant” on the Leaping from the Box website. I answer questions about ants and ant farms. From now on I will post the answers here, and when Karen has time she will also post the answers on her site.)