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Velvety Tree Ants (Facts & Identification)

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Velvety tree ants are small, dark-brown insects that live in trees and shrubs. 

These fascinating creatures have a velvety appearance, hence the name. 

The velvety tree ant originates from Central America but has spread to parts of North America over time. 

They are found throughout Southern California where they typically nest at ground level on trees or bushes near homes or buildings.

Scientific nameLiometopum apiculatum, L. luctuosum and L. occidentale
Life span6-12 months
Length2.5-4.5 mm or 0.098-0.175 inches
ColorRed-Brown/Velvety Black
DietSugary foods, small insects, and similar
Colony sizeSmaller colonies: 40-60.000 members [1]

What Are Velvety Tree Ants?

Velvety tree ants closely resemble other leafcutter or fungus-growing ants in appearance, however, they can be distinguished by their lack of hairs on the thorax and longer antennae. 

These velvety insects have large heads with small eyes which allows them to be good at digging and moving soil.

They like to infest wood, and are therefore categorized as “wood-infesting” organisms along with moisture ants and carpenter ants.

carpenter ants on tree branch

Scientific Classification

SpeciesL. occidentale/apiculatum/luctuosum

Origin of Velvety Tree Ants

The origin of velvety tree ants is in the tropics. They are most commonly encountered in the Southwest U.S. and Mexico.

The Appearance of Velvety Tree Ants

The appearance of velvety tree ants is characterized by their red-brownish/velvety-black color. Their head and body are around the same size, but they do have a larger mandible than other ant species. 

They do so because of their wood-chewing nature.

These ants look very much like carpenter ants, and are often mistaken for this species. 

A way to tell them apart is by the debris they create when chewing through wood. Velvety tree ants produce frass with a finer consistency.

Velvety Tree Ant

Habitat of Velvety Tree Ants

Velvety tree ants are native to the forests of the Southwest U.S.. They build colonies that can number in thousands, and they will take over any space if it provides shelter or access to food sources like aphids.

For more information: Where do ants live?

Nesting Habits of Velvety Tree Ants

Velvety tree ants are known for their nesting habits. They usually nest trees such as rotting logs or tree stumps, but they can also be found under stones and other objects on the ground. 

These ants also like to nest in insulation or in wall voids in homes, much like carpenter ants.

rotten tree infested by ants

Velvety Tree Ant Queen

The velvety tree ant queen can be identified by its large size compared to her worker counterparts. She has an orange coloration to her body and wings.

The velvety tree ant queen lays eggs that will develop into worker ants within an established colony. The workers are responsible for gathering food, expanding the nest, caring for larvae, and protecting the colony from predators.

More about Queen Ant: How to identify a queen ant?

Identification of Velvety Tree Ants

The velvety tree ant is a species of ants in the genus “Liometopum”. It belongs to the family Formicidae under order Hymenoptera which also includes wasps and bees.

They get their name from their velvety-black abdomen.

In the U.S. you will encounter three different species of velvety tree ants. As mentioned, they look very much like carpenter ants. The way to tell these two species apart is by the frass they produce when chewing through wood.

Carpenter ants produce rougher frass, where velvety tree ants will produce frass with a much finer texture.


Velvety Tree Ants Diet

Velvety tree ants are omnivores. They eat other insects, plant material, and sweet substances like nectar or honeydew secretions from aphids. 

This is much like many other ants.

While they nest in trees and chew through this to create their nests, they don’t actually eat the wood, contrary to many people’s beliefs. This goes for the carpenter ant as well.

How to Get Rid of Velvety Tree Ants

Velvety tree ants are not harmful to humans. However, they can be a nuisance because of their tendency to invade and nest in insulation and wall voids in homes and buildings. 

Velvety tree ant removal can be done by hiring a pest control expert or doing it yourself depending on the severity of infestation. 

You should inspect the severity of the problem to determine the extent of invasion before any type of treatment is started.

alone carpenter ant crawling on the woods

Use pesticides

If there are already colonies established within your home, it’s important to act quickly when trying to get rid of them. 

Be thorough when applying pesticides because they will need more than one treatment since they can be persistent little pests if left untreated for too long

If you want to tackle an infestation yourself, here’s what you can do:

  • Use ant bait to lure out the ants and kill them.
  • Use ant spray directly at the entrance points to their nest.
  • Apply ant-killer powder to infested areas and around the base of trees where they nest.

These three items are good at combating velvety tree ants, whether they’re in your home or in trees nearby.

Call an exterminator

If there’s no way you can get rid of an infestation on your own, it might be best to contact professional pest control services. They’ll have experience with exterminating these pests from homes so they will know exactly how to go about doing their job correctly.

How to Prevent Problems With Velvety Tree Ants

Velvety tree ants are very tiny, so they can enter your home without being seen. If you want to prevent an infestation, here are some things you can do.

Seal off any possible points of entrance

A good way to prevent any further infestations of velvety tree ants is by sealing off entryways into your home [3].

carpenter ants on wood

Keep wood away from your house

Velvety ant nests are usually found in the ground under rocks, in rotting woodpiles, tree stumps, or in firewood stacks that haven’t been kept dry enough. 

Make sure you move or store these things away from your house so that velvety tree ants aren’t tempted to infest your house. By separating tempting nesting areas from your house, you’ll divert their attention away from your home.

For more ant prevention tips: How to get rid of ants in your home and garden?


The velvety tree ants are a very interesting species of ant. They get their name from the fact that they have hairs on their bodies which give them a velvet-like texture.

They also get part of their name from the fact that they like to nest in trees. They are very similar to the carpenter ant in terms of behavior and looks.

Read about other ant species.

single ant crawling

Frequently Asked Questions

Where Do Velvety Tree Ants Nest?

Velvety tree ants nest in trees. They can also live under the bark or inside wood and logs as well, but most commonly they are found on trees such as pine, oak, maple, elm, and more.

Are Velvety Tree Ants Dangerous?

Velvety tree ants are very docile and not dangerous to humans. They are more dangerous to trees or to your insulation.

Are Velvety Tree Ants Poisonous?

Velvety tree ants are not toxic or venomous. They can sting, but won’t do so unless forced or threatened. If you just leave them be, they will keep to themselves (most of the time).

About Teodoro Pittman

Teodoro is a nature and animal lover. He specifically focuses on insects, such as ants, bees, and the like. In his free time, he takes care of his own ant farm, where he analyzes their behavior. Teodoro has spent the last 7 years studying the intricate behavior of these small creatures.

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