February 2011 Archives

Recently, I was bitten by this particular ant on one of my toes and I found the pain was extremely excruciating. The pain was not the typical type of ant bite and my toe did bleed because of the bite. The characteristic was when I brushed off the ant from my feet, the head of the ant was still sticking to my toe while it has been separated from the body. I would like to know what is the exact scientific name for this ant. This ant is found in West Malaysia when i was in region of Seremban. Hopefully you would be able to shed some light on this ant. Thank you

Regards, Azman

Malaysian termite.jpg

Soldiers of the termite Macrotermes carbonarius in Malaysia.

Dear Azman,

Thank you very much for contacting us at AntAsk and for providing this great picture! From the picture, it becomes clear that you actually got bitten by a termite, not an ant. Many different types of organisms mimic ants and we have a post on ant mimics here. A particular post that helps to tell apart ants from termites (termites are sometimes confused with ants) is found here.

To tell which species of termite bit you, we contacted a termite expert, Brian Forschler. Here is what he had to say:

"That 'ant' is most likely the termite Macrotermes carbonarius. The big-headed ones are the soldiers that would have been responsible for the bite. They are a species that builds mounds for their nest site and they can, not too often, forage above ground (they usually tunnel through the soil in search of food). The above ground foraging is a bit of an odd phenomenon that is part of a study being conducted at Universiti Sains Malaysia under Dr. Chow-Yang Lee. You might ask Azam to contact him for more details."

Brian Forschler (Guest Expert), Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

I live in Ipswich, Queensland, Australia and have black with white stripe ants all over my verandah. I have never ever seen one of this type until about 6 months ago at my home. Visitors to my home are always suprised as they have never seen that type before either. They are larger then a green ant, but not as big as a bull ant. They walk side by side with the common black ant and are not agressive to my family or to other ants. I do not know what their nest looks like as I have never found it. I have looked at many other web sites in my quest to identify them, but with no success. I am hoping you can help me identify them please. Thanking you.

Dear Pamula,

Unfortunately without a image of the mystery ants it is very difficult to identify them. I am glad to hear that they are not aggressive to you or your family. Here are a couple of websites that may help with identification:

Ants Down Under
Ants of Brisbane

If you are not able to figure out what they are from the websites, you may want to contact an entomologist at a nearby natural history museum.

Best of luck,
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

Dear AntAsk,

I am in my final year of Dutch Preparotory University Edication and I am writing a script about the senses of the Lasius niger. I am not able to find the answer to the following question: What kind of chemical receptors does the Lasius niger have in his antennae? What kind of chemical substances can they smell?

Laura Carrière

Dear Laura,
Very little is known about the chemical receptors of Lasius in particular, but more is known about ants in general (most of the research has been done in carpenter ants (Camponotus) and wood ants (Formica), more recently also in leafcutting ants (Atta). It is likely that Lasius species are similar to Camponotus or Formica species regarding their chemosensory receptors. I would assume that they differ more in the number of sensilla than in the actual chemical compounds that they can perceive.

Ants have many receptors for different odorants (scents) in their antennae, but they also have receptors for sugar and other substances that you would call tastants in humans (substances that elicit a taste feeling, like sweet, sour, bitter or salty). In addition, ants can perceive carbon dioxide, humidity, temperature as well as touch with their antennae.

The majority of receptors on an ant antenna are odor receptors, ant ants have very high numbers of different odor receptors, so they can discriminate many different odors, perhaps more than any other insect that has been studied in this respect. So you could say that ants are the smell experts among the insects.

The biological reason for this is that ant workers mainly live on the ground and rely heavily on their sense of smell, whereas most other insects can fly and depend more on vision. You might say that ants sniff their way around and their 'view' of the world is probably mainly based on smells (unlike humans - we are mostly visual).

Another reason is that ants use many different kinds of pheromones - many more than other insects (you may consider reading more about pheromones). These pheromones are also perceived by odor receptors on the ants' antennae, just like 'ordinary' odors. Other pheromones sit directly on the cuticle of ants and they "taste" them when they touch each other with their antennae. While you know other people mainly by the way they look, ants know how their nest-mates 'taste' or smell. Ant brains are well equipped to process all this chemosensory information, but they do not process much visual information (except in some species with particularly large eyes).

Good luck with your essay on Lasius niger!

Wulfila Gronenberg (Guest Expert) & the AntAsk Team

Dear AntAsk
It seems like ants would be a great model organism for the study of the genetics of social behavior. Are there any efforts in this field, and if so what species of the ones currently being sequenced are regarded as the most likely to be used for these purposes?

Dear Mikel,

You are correct that ants are certainly a good group to study questions regarding the genetics of social behavior (among many other questions). There is an effort to sequence ant genomes and as of today (February 2011) there are six ant genomes available (with several others in the pipeline). The six ant genomes that have been sequenced to date are:

- Atta cephalotes
- Camponotus floridanus
- Harpegnathos saltator
- Linepithema humile
- Pogonomyrmex barbatus
- Solenopsis invitca

For more information and links to the genomic sequences, please visit www.antgenomics.org.

Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

Dear AntAsk:

My sister lives in St. Thomas, USVI. She writes the following:
"I have ants sometimes walking across my sofa. Have you ever heard of two different sizes of ants working together? Mostly they are tiny, but there are quite a number, maybe 1 in 10, which are about 3 times as large. They don't act like they're on different teams, and they seem to lug crumbs along the floor together. Never seen such a thing."
Neither have I. Any thoughts?

Dear Owen (and Owen's sister),

Thanks for your question. What you're seeing is most likely an ant in the genus Pheidole. Pheidole megacephala is probably the most common ant seen in people's houses that has two distinct sizes (such ants are referred to as dimorphic). The larger workers, sometimes called "majors" or "soldiers" have huge heads, and usually stay in the nest, but will come out to help the smaller workers when a particularly delicious (high in protein and/or fat) source of food is discovered.

There are several groups of ants whose workers come in more than one size, or caste. Ants have workers that are continuously variable in size (like carpenter ants, genus Camponotus, and Solenopsis invicta, the Red Imported Fire Ant) , or have more than two castes (like many leaf-cutter ants, especially in the genera Atta and Acromyrmex ). Such ants are referred to as polymorphic.

I hope this helps!
Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

Hi there,
I am in the planning stages of a new ant farm. I will attempt a 2' x 6' x 1" gelatin substrate farm. Similar to the Uncle Milton farm, including the fancy led lights, only larger and wall mounted.
I will also include at least 1 divider in order to sustain 2 colonies simultaneously. My question is; based on the dimensions, I will have a total of 1 cubic foot of substrate. How many ants can a farm of this size sustain?
If I include the divider and thus provide 0.5 cubic feet per colony, how large can these colonies get? Will they be cramped over a short time? Or will I end up with a lot of unused area?

Any insight would be appreciated. Of course any other tips would be great also.

Thank you,


It is always good to hear that people are interested in keeping ants! And you seem to be planning to do it on a very large scale. We have addressed other questions regarding building very large ant farms here and on keeping ants here, here, and here.

As for how many ants your ant farm will hold, that will depend on which ant species you decide to populate your farm with. I did speak with a colleague who has quite a bit of experience with this (thanks Michael!) and he suggested that if you put the standard harvester ants that come with most ant farms "it would seem 600 ants over all would do well or 300 per section".

Good luck with your ant farm!
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team