What Does Ant Poop Look Like? (Identifying Ant Frass)

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Updated on January 11, 2023

There are a lot of fun questions that come up in the pest control world. Some sound like no-brainers, yet result in some very interesting facts, such as when we examined the relationship between cockroaches and shrimp. Others seek to debunk home remedies or verify their effectiveness scientifically. 

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Here at RMC, we take all questions seriously in the hopes of learning something new that we can pass on. More often than not, we discover some fascinating facts we can not only share with our readers but apply in our own lives when pests appear.

Here is one such question that turned out a lot more complicated than we could have expected:

See Also: What Do Flea Droppings Look Like?

Do Ants Poop?

Japanese author Taro Gomi wrote a famous book entitled “Everybody Poops”, but what happens when you never see the poop?

This is one of the two reasons people have for questioning whether or not ants actually poop. The other reason is that they’ve found unidentified poop and want to know if ants may be the source.

Of course, production of waste is one of the seven requirements for classifying life, and ants do, indeed poop just like spiders, bed bugs, and other tiny critters do. How exactly this process takes place is unknown, since ants have two stomachs and no scientific study has been made to actually observe an ant defecating (it’s rather rude to watch, after all).

What we do know is that ant poop (properly called frass) can help identify certain kinds of ants and can often be an early warning sign of an infestation.

Did You Know?
While there’s no definite scientific proof, many scientists believe that ants also fart. Heightened levels of methane and nitrous oxide gas have been measured near leafcutter ant nests, lending some possible evidence to support this theory.

Identifying Ant Poop

ant droppings

So now that we know that ants poop, how do you know that you’ve found their frass?

There’s a lot of variation from one species to another, but a few common elements do exist. For this reason, we need to look at where ants poop before describing what that poop looks like.

Ant Frass (Most Species)

Ants are far more intelligent than we like to give them credit for. They can have highly complex societies, and some species are even known to bathe when entering the nest to ensure they don’t spread germs.

But what might be even more fascinating is that ants invented the bathroom long before humans!

Most ant species are fully potty trained. They hold their poop until they get back to the nest, then go to special galleries within the nest designated as the colony restrooms. One there, the ants will defecate and then go back to their duties.

When these galleries fill up, the ants seal the tunnel leading into the gallery to prevent contamination of the colony.

This behavior is rather similar to human outhouses, which were built above a hole in the ground. Once the hole reaches capacity, the outhouse structure is moved to a new location and the old hole is completely buried.

This is also why it’s very rare to see any frass – unless someone has an accident, they wait until they reach a restroom to poop.

Carpenter Ant Frass

carpenter ant poop

Carpenter ants handle their bathroom arrangements a little differently than most other ants, and they also have a more distinct type of frass.

Since the carpenter ants live inside wood, they often have limited space. In addition, they don’t actually eat wood, but rather the cellulose that holds wood together.

Carpenter ant frass contains wood fragments, bits of insects that were consumed, particles of soil, and other bits of undigested waste. The resulting frass looks like sawdust the same color as the wood that was chewed, with the individual pieces looking more like wood shavings and not fully solid.

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But again, carpenter ants have found a form of waste management that humans later inadvertently copied. In this case, the carpenter ants create small openings in the side or bottom of the wood (known as kick holes) through which the frass is ejected out of the colony to land on the surface below the hole.

This form of lavatory setup was also once commonly used by humans, most notably in the form of castle garderobes, a small alcove or rectangular outcropping in the outer wall with an opening through which the poop would fall to the ground below. Humans also used a similar setup on wooden sailing ships.

Carpenter Ant Frass vs Termite Frass

termite droppings
Termite frass

While both carpenter ants and termites live in wood, they have very different diets and thus their frass looks different. Here’s a quick breakdown of the key differences:

  • Carpenter frass is semisolid and a bit larger, while termite frass is smaller and has a solid consistency.
  • Carpenter frass looks more like wood shavings, whereas termite frass is firm and oval-shaped.
  • Termite frass can be found under the nest or any infested wood as well as nearby, while carpenter frass is always found right under the kick holes.
Did You Know?
While termites may look a lot like ants, they’re actually related to roaches.

The Dangers of Ant Frass

Ant frass is nasty stuff, even for ants. In fact, the excrement is so toxic to ants that they had to invent waste management procedures long before humans even existed! So if the frass is that bad for ants, you can imagine it’s not all that great for humans either.

One of the main problems is the risk of contamination. It may be true that ants are very good at hygiene, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still carry bacteria or other pathogens. The ants themselves can contaminate food or surfaces, but what happens if one has an accident?

This can result in all of those toxins getting into your food or surfaces in a far more concentrated manner.

Another huge problem is that the frass can be a major allergen and also trigger asthma attacks. They contaminate the air around them as well as the surfaces they’re resting on and thus need to be dealt with promptly.

This risk can also extend to your pets, who may pick up parasites or some ailments by accidentally ingesting or coming into contact with the frass.

Dealing with Ant Poop

But wait, didn’t we say that ants usually bury their frass in special galleries? If so, how does one fight off the effects of frass in the home?

This is actually a complicated matter and the reason why most pest control sites out there won’t even touch the topic of ant frass outside of carpenter ants. But then again, we’re not most sites.

Carpenter Ant Frass

Let’s begin with the easy one – carpenter ants. You can handle carpenter ant frass in much the same way you can roach frass. Begin by taking pictures of the frass (you can then pass this on to an exterminator). Vacuum up the frass to remove all the visible debris. After that, the real work begins.

You’re going to need to sterilize the area where you found the frass, including the wall between the frass pile and the kick hole. Choose a product that will disinfect the surfaces without damaging them.

For carpets, you can use a quality carpet shampoo. Witch hazel is also an option, as this alternative to rubbing alcohol can remove blood and other stains without discoloring the carpet or other fabrics.

In most cases, if you’ve hired an exterminator, they’ll clear up the frass as part of their service. The reason for this extra step is partially so they can keep an eye out for signs of survivors of a new colony during follow-up visits.

By personally cleaning the frass, they can document the step was completed so there are no false flags on the next visit.

Other Types of Ant Frass

But what about all those other ants? Let’s say you have an infestation of ghost ants or (if you’re very unlucky) Argentine ants. Their frass will be located in the nest, so how do you get to it?

Unfortunately, there’s a very good chance you won’t be able to. The frass will simply remain in your walls or under the floor until it decomposes. The bacteria contained within will likely die out over time due to a lack of any host.

However, some methods used to treat outdoor ant nests can have some effect on the frass as well. The most notable of these methods are boiling water or aluminum. As it soaks into the nest layer by layer, it will cook the bacteria in ant frass, rendering it sterile.

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It’s also possible that the carbonated water method will also sterilize at least some of the poop, as this method displaces oxygen. However, there aren’t any studies to show just how effective this method is against frass (if at all).

A final method will help kill some bacteria, although not all. This method involves pouring hot, soapy water over the colony. Be warned, this may any harm nearby plants.

Morgan
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