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For most people ants only become a problem when they enter buildings in search of food and water or when they build their nests in buildings or gardens.

Ants can be attracted to a wide range of foods with different species having preferences for sugars, proteins, fats and oils. During extended dry periods they will also search for water. In many species once an individual has found a desirable item it will return to the nest and recruit nest mates to help gather the food. This can result in large numbers of ants rapidly appearing around an item, sometimes with long trails of ants between the nest and the item of interest.

Some ants will build nests in walls and foundations, indoor potted plants, and small spaces between fittings and walls. In nearly all cases, the ants are using pre-existing spaces or taking advantage of existing deterioration. Ants generally do not cause structural damage to buildings. A few species will occasionally attack electrical wiring for unknown reasons, and in these situations extensive damage can occur.

Outdoors, nesting can result in soil being deposited on gardens, around pots and between tiles and brickwork resulting in a mess but little damage. However, some species can form nests with large numbers of chambers just below the soil surface causing the soil to become soft and uneven. Undermining of retaining walls and interference with drainage systems is also possible. Some seed harvesting ant species can be a nuisance when attempting to grow plants by direct sowing of seeds.

Ants are sometimes confused with the unrelated Termites (Order Isoptera) partly because the latter have the common name 'white ants'. Termites have the ability to digest cellulose and will eat wood, which sometimes results in damage to wooden structures. Ants that are found in wood do not cause damage but are using pre-existing cavities.