Could you help identify these ants? (Efren, Palmdale, California, USA)

Dear ant experts,
I found these large ants yesterday in my backyard. I have never seen them before.

No one I know has been able to identify them.
I was hoping you could identify them and tell me a little about them.
Through observation these are some details I can tell you about them.

Their color appeared to be a pearlescent orange red color in sunlight.
They were about an inch in length.
The appeared to be rather thick for an ant.
Some were winged and others not winged.
I tried to capture one and they were quick and evasive.
I live in Palmdale, California which is located in Mojave desert, high desert area.

I have uploaded the pictures on photobucket. Here are the links:

Thank you in advance,
Palmdale, California

Dear Efren,

Thank you for contacting AntAsk and including photos of your mystery ants! Not only do the photos really help us with identifications, but also knowing where you live really helps us narrow the list of possible ant species.

From the photos and description you sent of the ants you are finding in your backyard, it looks to me like you are seeing species of harvester ants from the genus Pogonomyrmex. Although it is difficult to tell exactly which species you are observing, it seems you are likely finding either P. californicus or P. rugosus, but you can see a list of all the species of Pogonomyrmex found in California on AntWeb here.

You can also see additional photos of each Pogonomyrmex species and distribution maps here.

Pogonomyrmex ants are called "harvester" ants because they collect seeds to feed on (called granivory). You can often find them carrying seeds back to their nests and ant photographer, Alex Wild, has some great photos of this behavior on his website here.

You mentioned that you saw both winged and non-winged individuals. The winged ants are the female and male sexuals getting ready to go on their nuptial mating flight. You can read more about this on a previous AntBlog post here.

On a last note, I should mention that harvester ants are often known for their painful stings, so be careful when trying to collect them. Remember that ants, like most animals, usually only hurt humans when they feel threatened. So as long as you are not trying to pick them up or dig into their nest, you are not likely to be stung. Enjoy their beauty and remember that they are part of the native habitat and serve many useful services in the ecosystem (including dispersing seeds).

Thanks for sharing your ant photos!
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

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