Acrobat Ant

Need to know 

  • Acrobat ants are yellowish-brown to dark brown and are named as such for carrying their abdomens above the rest of their body, like a balancing act.
  • They nest outdoors, often in dead and decaying wood, and indoors inside moist wood or foam insulating board or sheathing. 
  • Acrobat ants feed on a variety of foods, including insects and sweets. 
  • Management can be obtained by sealing exterior cracks, eliminating moisture within walls or using an insecticide, always while following directions on the label. 
Adult actobat ant tending to aphids. Photo by David Cappaert,  

Description of acrobat ants

Several species of small to medium-sized ants are occasional pests in and around the home. One of these is named the acrobat ant. This is because of the way the worker ants carry their abdomens above the rest of the body as if they were performing a balancing act. Acrobat ants are slightly longer than 1/8th inch. They vary in color from yellowish-brown to dark brown, and the heart-shaped abdomen is usually darker than the rest of the body. Magnification is required to see a pair of spines on the back edge of the middle section of the body that helps identify this ant from other species. The habit of the workers to carry their abdomens in the air when they are disturbed is probably the best way to identify this species.

Life cycle of acrobat ants

Acrobat ants may nest both outdoors and indoors. Outdoor nests are most often in dead and decaying wood such as logs, stumps, dead trees limbs, firewood and hollow tree cavities. They may nest in the damp soil beneath leaf litter or rocks. The small worker ants readily enter buildings through cracks around windows and doors and other openings. Trails of workers may be seen moving between the nest and a food source. Acrobat ants feed on a variety of foods, including other insects and sweets.

Damage caused by acrobat ants

When acrobat ants nest indoors, they are usually inside wood or cavities kept moist with water from leaks. They may also nest in foam insulating board or sheathing. As they excavate the large galleries used as nest sites, sawdust may be deposited near the nest area.

Like all ants, the acrobat ants may produce winged, reproductive individuals (males and females) called swarmers. These sexually developed adults emerge from an established colony, usually in the fall, to disperse and start new colonies. The swarmers are harmless, but they may be the first indication of an infestation. Special treatment of swarmers beyond vacuuming or sweeping them up is not required.

Management of acrobat ants

Acrobat ants entering from outdoors can be managed by sealing the exterior cracks through which they enter, using a residual insecticide barrier along the foundation, or by treating the ant nest if the location can be determined through careful inspection and observation. Ant colonies living within the walls should be treated by eliminating any moisture problems (if present) and by injecting household insecticide spray or dust into infested wall voids. It may be necessary to drill small holes to accomplish this treatment. Insecticides containing pyrethroids are available to homeowners for outdoor use. Always follow labeled directions. Insecticides for use indoors are in ready-to-use formulations. Visit your local retailer to find a ready-to-use insecticide labeled for ants. Read and follow the directions on the label. For more information on household insecticides please consult this article.

Do you live in Iowa and have an insect you would like identified?

The Iowa State University Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic will identify your insect, provide information on what it eats, life cycle, and if it is a pest the best ways to manage them.  Please see our website for current forms, fees, and instructions on preserving and mailing insects.   

Contact information for each state’s diagnostic laboratory for U.S. residents.  If you live outside of Iowa please do not submit a sample without contacting the Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic.  

Last reviewed:
November 2022

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Yard and Garden, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on September 12, 2016. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.