What Are Piss Ants?

On my first day as a rosy-cheeked intern at the Archbold Biological Station, a gruff local man saw me watching a Monomorium nest and announced, through an impressive moustache, “Them’s piss ants!”

I didn’t agree. I thought they were just Monomorium. Plus, as best as I can tell, “piss ant” is just a catch-all term for any small nuisance ants.

Anyway. The subsequent quest to determine the true identity of the elusive piss ants was greatly enhanced yesterday by biologist Tom Uil, who sent in this photo from the Netherlands, and May Berenbaum, who confirmed the identification:


That’s a piss ant.


19 thoughts on “What Are Piss Ants?”

  1. Julie Stahlhut

    I always thought a “piss-ant” was one of those formicines that readily ejects formic acid when annoyed. (For example, Formica exsectoides.) Love the urinal target, though!

  2. Archbold Biological Station…I’ve been there a few times looking for Latrodectus Bishopi, the Red Widow spider. It’s a great place to explore, if it’s not too hot!

    I really thought you might be on to something when I read the title “What Are Piss Ants?”. I guess the true identity of the piss ant still remains a mystery.

  3. Here in the south there are very clear definitions – just ask a redneck.

    Small in size, but non-stinging, usually dark color. Not a fire ant, red ant, or carpenter ant. Not a termite. May be found in home, yard, fields, or forests and may be fast or slow moving. Occasionally confused with sugar-ants. Dichotomous key for southern ants below:

    Key to the ants of the southern US
    1.a. Did it sting you, your dog, your child, your “woman” or “man,” or any other relative, or crawl on you? Does it have a mound or an obvious “nest”? Is it in your yard or along the side of the road and therefore violating your personal space? Does it anger you for no other obvious reason? Have you shot a gun at it, burned it with gasoline or kerosene, or spread grits on it? Fire ant.
    1.b. Not a fire ant. Go to 2.

    2.a. Is it really big (“Near big as your thumb”)? Has it been found anywhere near wood? Carpenter ant.
    2.b. Not a carpenter ant. Got to 3.

    3.a. Is it red but not a fire ant? Red ant (may still be a fire ant so be careful, and kill it anyway).
    3.b. Not a red ant. Go to 4.

    4.a Is it small, dark colored, and on the sideboard, sink, or table in your kitchen? Sugar ant.
    4.b. Is it any other ant and not a termite, spider, or beetle? Piss ant.

  4. In North Carolina, I thought piss ants were Nylanderia. They dominated the lawns along with Pheidole dentata and sometimes invaded buildings. Now the Asian needle ant has taken over. I wonder what the redneck term for that ant is?

      1. Yes, they do sting! But when I was a student, I could find only one nest of these things, surrounded by concrete, and unable to sneak up on me, so I never got to try out their stinging. :-O

  5. Where I lived in Tennessee, most “piss ants” were Tapinoma sessile. Although some people called T. sessile “sugar ants”. I’m not sure how that works with your key though.

  6. i still don’t know what the difference is. but i have little tiny black ants…they have invaded every room and they get in the food even the dry foods ,such as flour, rice ,noodles , they are in my bed, and the furniture…don’t know what do to get rid of them.. we have lil children and a dog ..want something safe. please help us.. for some reason i cant get my into my email..could you facebook me

  7. piss ants have one very important aspect to them to determine if they are or arent. they look like sugar ants, are very tiny, and the most important part is when you squish them and smell your finger it has a distinct “stink” to it. thats a piss ant. and yes they dont sting they are too small.

  8. I’m a few years late to this party but I figured the name piss ant came from the word pismire which literally is just an ant =}

    1. The ants we called “piss ants” growing up did bite. I always figured that is where the name came from, it pissed you off when they bit

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