Results matching “camponotus”

Ant mating

Dear AntAsk Team,
Honey bee queens mate something like twenty times over a few days. That sperm then lasts for say 3 or 4 years. In the long lived queen ants how many times do the queens mate? And does that mating period last for their twenty odd year lifespan?

- Geoff

Figure 1. Copulating pair of Dorymyrmex bureni. The male is the small individual attached at the end of the large queen. Note that both individuals have wings. The queen of this species will probably only mate once.

Figure 2. Queen of Dorylus nigricans molestus. The highly specialized queens of Dorylus are wingless and must mate with multiple males before founding a colony, which they do by taking a proportion of the standing worker population with them.

Figure 3. Male Dorylus nigricans molestus. Males of Dorylus are massive and distinctive animals which probably only mate once in their life, unlike the queens, and which have bizarrely modified genitalia.

cardiocondyla obscurior males fighting_sylvia cremer photo.jpg
Figure 4. Male Cardiocondyla obscurior engaged in mortal combat to mate with their sisters inside the nest. Photo by Sylvia Cremer.

Dear Geoff,

This is a great question which has several facets to it. In general, queen ants mate only during a very short period of time, such as a few hours during a nuptial (mating) flight (Fig 1.) or for a few seconds to several hours by calling males to her with chemical pheromones or with other signals (Figs. 2, 3). Regardless of how the queen is able to obtain sperm, she is stuck with this for the duration of her life. To the best of our knowledge, queen ants never re-mate, even in lineages which have extraordinarily long life-spans. There are several intriguing aspects to the reproductive biology of ants, but one which relates to your question is the number of males a queen mates with. In that single short period of time in which a queen will mate, she may mate with one or up to a dozen males. Usually queens will mate with one or a few males, but in some cases queens seem to never mate more than once, such as in the Carpenter ants (Camponotus) which have been studied and in ponerine army ants (Simopelta). In other lineages queens will always mate with several males. These lineages usually have massive colonies with complex social organization. Examples are the leaf cutter ants in the genus Atta, and in the New and Old World army ants Eciton and Dorylus (Figs. 2, 3), respectively. Because matings occur only once in a queen's and male's lifetime males only produce enough sperm for that single event. A remarkable exception to this is the genus Cardiocondyla (Fig. 4), where some males fly from the nest to mate and die, and other, wingless males remain in the nest and copulate with their sisters after killing their brothers. These wingless and incestuous males are able to continuously produce sperm so that they may monopolize the virgin queens eclosing from their pupal cocoons. Despite the detail I've provided in this email, much remains to be learned about the reproductive biology of ants---from both the queen's and the male's perspective.

All the best,
-Brendon Boudinot & the AntAsk Team

Brown ants moving in mass along sidewalks

Hello, I am in Toronto and have located a colony of small reddish/brown ants living under the 6x6 wooden ties surrounding my lawn. My question is: are these ants beneficial to the eco-system and should therefore be simply left alone? I have a wooden porch: should I be concerned about 'an invasion'?
Secondly, I have occasionally seen the same type of ants moving in mass across sidewalks - thousands of them - so many that it looks like a brown stain on the sidewalk. Can you tell me what causes this phenomenon?
Thanks for your help,


Dear Mary,

Thanks for writing to the AntBlog! It was a pleasure to answer to your interesting questions.

Ants play a huge role in an ecosystem: they are diverse (we estimate 30,000 ant species living on Earth), and are in great numbers everywhere (all the ants weigh almost the same as the 7 billion human beings). Along their evolution, ants established ecological relationships with a large array of plants and animals. They are prey, predators, symbionts, parasites (there are even slave maker ant species!), seed dispersers, pollinators, and so on. Ants move more soil than earthworms. They impact and are impacted by almost everything surrounding them. More, they have a short lifespan, and that means their nest population is constantly being replace by new generations of ants. So, if something happens with an environment you will notice the effects faster and with more details if you look at the ants, and it will be much more effective than looking at birds or mammals, for example.

Just for curiosity, ants are important for other aspects of human societies. Their behavior is used as model to create smarter traffic lights, or to develop software that will evaluate the response of our bodies to the effect of new drugs (see here, here, and here). Anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, and even drugs to fight against cancer were/are being developed with substances ants secrete (here, here, here, here, and here). Finally, have you ever thought of including ants in your menu? Many human cultures around the world did! See here.

Salad of Oecophylla smaragdina queen brood mixed with some worker ants, mint leaves, spring onion, chili, and fish sauce. Popular in Thailand and Laos. Image by Joost Van Itterbeeck/

Based on the behavior you described, I believe you found pavement ants (genus Tetramorium). Unlike carpenter ants (genus Camponotus), pavement ants don't cause any structural damage to your house (and just to take Camponotus out of the fire, those ants nest in decayed wood; so, if the wood in your house is in a good shape, carpenter ants will not be a problem).

Pavement ants get their name because they nest usually underneath or at the edge of sidewalks, and other hard surfaces. They are an introduced species from Europe; and in your garden they will: harvest seeds -- some of which will eventually grow around their nests; tend insects on plants, collecting sugary dropping they produce (A.K.A honeydew), and protecting them from predators; and predate other insects.

The pavement ant workers are dark reddish-black, about 2.5-4 mm long; the petiole, which connects the mesosoma (i.e., the modified thorax of ants) and gaster (modified abdomen), has two segments. The posterior part of the mesosoma has two spines that project upward, and they have a stinger in the last abdominal segment.

Lateral view of Tetramorium caespitum. Image by Will Ericson/

When two pavement ant colonies overlap, worker ants leave the nest to establish their territory boundaries before ants from the other nest push them out of there. Then, ants coming from each nest collide in a massive battle. The combats are sometimes ritualized: they will just size each other strength, and produce very few casualties. In another occasions, they will ripe one another apart, and thousands of corpses will be left on the sidewalk afterwards.

Sidewalk ant war. Image by the fabulous Alex Wild (


Flavia Esteves and the AntAsk Team

I saw quite a few of these ants on Capers buds this morning. They are quite large -- around 10 mm.
Location is Jerusalem, Israel.
Can you help in identifying them?
-- Dror


Dear Dror:

The ants are one of the 30 or so species of the genus Camponotus that occur in Israel, possibly C. alii. The flower buds of capers (and many other plants) have tiny nectar glands on the outside that attract ants. The ants themselves do no damage, and indeed, the ants' presence deters flies, weevils and such from landing on the buds and laying eggs. These insects' larvae could do real damage to the reproductive structures.
Beautiful, clear pictures, by the way.

Regards, James C. Trager of the AskAnt Team

Hi guys,

Im from Hamilton Ontario in Canada. My cat found this ant walking up the wall in my kitchen. I apologise for the goopy mess but when she caught it I smucked it afraid with the chompers on that thing that she'd get bit!!! Ive never seen an ant this big and at first thought it was a wasp without wings albeit a bit smaller than a wasp. Can you tell me a bit about it please?? Thanks

Dear Rogers:

This is a recently mated female (would have gone on to become the queen/mother/reproductive center of a new colony) of what we in the ant biz call Camponotus pennsylvanicus, a.k.a. Eastern Black Carpenter Ant.

This is a very common ant in the deciduous forests of eastern North America, and also well adapted to the human habitat of parks, yards, and urban green spaces. Occasionally, they inhabit the wood of buildings that has been damaged by water and begun to soften, but their preferred nesting space is in a stump or in dead limbs or trunk of a living tree. They are generalist feeders, preying on other insects, and eating naturally occurring sweets such as fallen fruit, nectar from glands or secreted by glands on other parts of plants, or honeydew, a sweet waste product of sap-sucking insects. In the human habitat, they have the additional resources of picnic scraps, candy wrappers, and such. Though they forage around the clock, their peak activity is in the warmer, early night hours.

Most ants start new colonies by means of a queen such as this one raising her first brood of a few, small worker ants, unaided and often without eating, while feeding the larvae a glandular secretion (analogous to the milk of mammals, but produced by salivary glands). During this period of weeks to months of single motherhood, the young queen lives off the abundant body fat (the whitish goo of your squished individual) and the re-absorbed wing muscles that she would never use for flight, following breaking off the wings after her mating flight.

Thanks for writing to the AntBlog,
James C. Trager & the AntAsk Team

Hi guys,

Im from Hamilton Ontario in Canada. My cat found this ant walking up the wall in my kitchen. I apologise for the goopy mess but when she caught it I smucked it afraid with the chompers on that thing that she'd get bit!!! Ive never seen an ant this big and at first thought it was a wasp without wings albeit a bit smaller than a wasp. Can you tell me a bit about it please?? Thanks

Dear Rogers:

This is a recently mated female (would have gone on to become the queen/mother/reproductive center of a new colony) of what we in the ant biz call Camponotus pennsylvanicus, a.k.a. Eastern Black Carpenter Ant.

This is a very common ant in the deciduous forests of eastern North America, and also well adapted to the human habitat of parks, yards, and urban green spaces. Occasionally, they inhabit the wood of buildings that has been damaged by water and begun to soften, but their preferred nesting space is in a stump or in dead limbs or trunk of a living tree. They are generalist feeders, preying on other insects, and eating naturally occurring sweets such as fallen fruit, nectar from glands or secreted by glands on other parts of plants, or honeydew, a sweet waste product of sap-sucking insects. In the human habitat, they have the additional resources of picnic scraps, candy wrappers, and such. Though they forage around the clock, their peak activity is in the warmer, early night hours. 

Most ants start new colonies by means of a queen such as this one raising her first brood of a few, small worker ants, unaided and often without eating, while feeding the larvae a glandular secretion (analogous to the milk of mammals, but produced by salivary glands). During this period of weeks to months of single motherhood, the young queen lives off the abundant body fat (the whitish goo of your squished individual) and the re-absorbed wing muscles that she would never use for flight, following breaking off the wings after her mating flight.

Thanks for writing to the AntBlog,
James C. Trager & the AntAsk Team

Hi guys,

Im from Hamilton Ontario in Canada. My cat found this ant walking up the wall in my kitchen. I apologise for the goopy mess but when she caught it I smucked it afraid with the chompers on that thing that she'd get bit!!! Ive never seen an ant this big and at first thought it was a wasp without wings albeit a bit smaller than a wasp. Can you tell me a bit about it please?? Thanks

Dear Rogers:

This is a recently mated female (would have gone on to become the queen/mother/reproductive center of a new colony) of what we in the ant biz call Camponotus pennsylvanicus, a.k.a. Eastern Black Carpenter Ant.

This is a very common ant in the deciduous forests of eastern North America, and also well adapted to the human habitat of parks, yards, and urban green spaces. Occasionally, they inhabit the wood of buildings that has been damaged by water and begun to soften, but their preferred nesting space is in a stump or in dead limbs or trunk of a living tree. They are generalist feeders, preying on other insects, and eating naturally occurring sweets such as fallen fruit, nectar from glands or secreted by glands on other parts of plants, or honeydew, a sweet waste product of sap-sucking insects. In the human habitat, they have the additional resources of picnic scraps, candy wrappers, and such. Though they forage around the clock, their peak activity is in the warmer, early night hours. 

Most ants start new colonies by means of a queen such as this one raising her first brood of a few, small worker ants, unaided and often without eating, while feeding the larvae a glandular secretion (analogous to the milk of mammals, but produced by salivary glands). During this period of weeks to months of single motherhood, the young queen lives off the abundant body fat (the whitish goo of your squished individual) and the re-absorbed wing muscles that she would never use for flight, following breaking off the wings after her mating flight.

Thanks for writing to the AntBlog,
James C. Trager & the AntAsk Team

Can I train ants? (Ryan)

Hello Antblog,

I am interested in conducting some experiments with ants and I had a few questions I'd like to ask before I get started and I thought your site would be a good place to start.

1) Can queens of different varieties be trained(forced) to co-exist in one colony if an abundance source of food is present?

2) What is the smartest breed of ants?

3) Could ants in an ant farm learn to farm aphids? How might I go about doing this?

4) Could ants survive on honey alone?

5) Could ants be trained to use little man made tools for things such as cutting or digging through rock?

6) Can ants smell and identify different metals such as iron, nickel, gold, etc.?

I understand these questions are very vague and I do not expect a direct answer for all of them, but any information is appreciated. I'd even like additional links I could go explore myself.
I am only a grade 12 student but I am very interested in ants. My ultimate goal is to create a super ant farm to test the capabilities of ants as well as teach them to advance as a species.

Hi Ryan,

I apologize in advance: this post is probably too long and too speculative. The answers to a few of your questions are simple: (6) I don't think so; (4) some ants can; (3) it's thought that this is not a learned behavior, but some ants do facultatively tend aphids; (1) no, unless they are social parasites (for more stuff on social parasites, click here, here, and here).

Questions #2 and #5 are pretty complicated, philosophically and biologically, so I'm going to spend most of the rest of this post talking about them.

But real quick, before I dive into a heady diatribe about the philosophy of psychometry: ants and honey:

Could ants survive on honey alone? Adult ants don't need very many nutrients, and can survive for at least a week or two (often more) on just sugar water or diluted honey. It is the egg-laying ability of the queen, and the growth of the larva that depends on more protein-rich food sources, like (depending on the ants) seeds or insects. Several groups of ants seem to have bacteria living in their guts that can help them make nitrogen (one of the important building blocks of life that we need to synthesize proteins), but I'm not sure if anyone has quantified how only raising these ants on carbohydrates influences how many eggs the queen can lay, and how fast the larvae can grow. For many ants, we don't know their exact dietary requirements, but by and large, the ants that are most likely to be able to get by on a sugar-water or honey-only diet are arboreal (spend most of their time in trees). Carpenter ants (genus Camponotus) and Acrobat ants (genus Crematogaster) are among the most likely candidates that you'd run into outside of the tropics. Similarly, with respect to your question (3), many of the same ants that are largely herbivorous will occasionally tend aphids or other related phloem-sucking insects. But I'm not aware of a learning component to this behavior: I think it's hard-wired.

Okay. Onwards and upwards.
You know, when I tell people that I study ants, I am often asked (by males especially) if I am working on weaponizing them or figuring out how to harness them for industry. Ants are, after all, famously industrious. There is even an ancient Greek/Indian/Russian legend about ants that mine gold (sort of). I read about it in the book "Shalimar the Clown" by Salman Rushdie (which is a great novel if you're interested in 20th century geopolitics, but doesn't have much useful information about ants).

In general, the major hurdle to training ants for any specific anthropocentric end is the way in which they actually get things done. Deborah Gordon has a really nice book about ant behavior called "Ant Encounters" that I highly recommend. One of the key aspects of ant behavior she does a really good job explaining (not least because she pioneered this research) is "emergence." Her research, and the research of other people who study social insects, is much of the inspiration towards work in "Swarm intelligence" in robotics and computer science. Basically, the problem-solving ability of the colony, or "intelligence" does not arise from the leadership or intelligence of a few ants, but emerges from the trial and error of many non-intelligent individuals. Thus, to train a swarm, you'd really need to understand how voting works in these true, blind democracies. Here are a few links you can check out if you want to learn more. Deb Gordon and Tom Seeley are some of the most eloquent speakers and important researchers on the biological side of swarm intelligence (read/listen/watch more here, here, and here).

The most compelling examples of humans modifying ant behavior are not the results of training, but of trickery. It's easy to get ants to walk where you want them to walk, think a given nestmate is dead, and become alarmed by isolating one of the pheromones they use to communicate, and applying it in the right way. However, I can't think of a way in which you could use pheromones to trick ants into picking up tools, or finding gold, unless you could splice the gene for pheromone production into a bacteria that preferentially grew and expressed that gene in the presence of that metal. This is not completely implausible, and as we learn more about the genomic architecture of ants, and the metabolic pathways involved in pheromone production, using a genetically-modified bacteria-ant system could potentially become economically viable (and probably less ecologically destructive than most current mining techniques). One could aerially spray genetically-modified bacteria over an area that already has high ant densities, using the bacteria to trick the ants into collecting soil particles with high concentrations of metal oxides. Then, a few months later, when the ants have collected the clumps of soil with the most metal oxides, one could find large ant colonies and spray another strain of genetically-modified bacteria directly into the nests, that would make the "dead ant" pheromone in the presence of high concentrations of the metal oxide. After a few days, one could go around collecting the midden piles at the surface of the nest, which would be enriched in the target metal oxide. This sort of strategy would probably work best in desert or grassland environments, where a few species of ants build conspicuous nest mounds, like Pogonomyrmex in the American Southwest. It's possible one might be able to do this chemically, without genetically modified organisms of some sort, but if there was a much simpler way of using ants to work for us, someone (especially in Greece, Russia, or India) probably would have figured it out.

Beyond pheromonal trickery, it is possible that we'll be able to eventually trick ants electrochemically, as you can "currently" (get it? like, electrical current?) do with cockroaches:
It's possible that, by controlling one ant with electrical impulses, you could convince the rest of the colony to do your bidding. However, as Tom Seeley found with bees, nestmates might need to be convinces themselves of the validity of the scouts choice, in which case you'd need to coordinate quite a few ants to agree that, for example, a vein of gold is a food source. The trickery arguments above apply primarily to ants that often recruit to a food source; however, there are ants that primarily hunt alone.

As you may have figured out by now, your question "which ant is most intelligent?" depends on what kind of intelligence you're talking about. The types of ants most likely to exhibit high degrees of swarm intelligence are the ants that form the biggest colonies, and need to forage collectively. Leaf cutter ants (especially Atta and Acromyrmex) and army ants (especially Eciton and Dorylus) form colonies of hundreds of thousands of individuals in the wild, and many types of invasive ants (such as the Red Imported Fire Ant, Solenopsis invicta) form sprawling super-colonies that can cover acres in their introduced ranges. I'm not aware of a "swarm intelligence" test (but see Seeley's work on, for example, nest-finding abilities of honey bees in Maine), but the number of worker ants involved, the foraging range of the colony, and the complexity of the environment would all likely factor in. It would be interesting to compare how quickly swarms of different sizes and species could solve a maze, for example. I'm not aware of a study like this: perhaps you could set something up!

Observations of ants in the wild can allow one to make at least cursory qualitative statements about swarm intelligence in ants. The complexity and scale of leaf cutter ant nest architecture, the many tasks involved in maintaining a fungal monoculture, and the hazards of foraging in tropical savannas and forests leads me to suggest that the attines may exhibit the highest degrees of emergent, swarm intelligence, perhaps surpassed only by the fungus-growing termites of the African and Australian tropics. A foraging swath of army or driver ants (Eciton or Dorylus) may be collectively be processing millions of environmental signals per second: scent and vibrational cues about proximity of prey and colony members, light ant dark cues, etc., which is similarly impressive.

Basically everything listed in the paragraph about ants here (and the suspiciously similar list here) is a result of "swarm intelligence," and not at all related to the individual intelligence of any of the colony members. Personally, I don't think there is a clear winner between ants and termites in terms of the complexity that emerges from the swarm intelligence of their respective superorganisms. And I'm somewhat tempted to write a whole 'nuthur blog post on what is wrong with these two articles... perhaps some other time.

So far as individual, organism-level intelligence goes: again, I can only speculate. I am tempted to guess that the ants that have small colonies and have large workers that forage by themselves are most likely be more individually intelligent, because colony fitness will depend to a greater extent on the problem-solving ability of ants acting individually, rather than the emergence of intelligence from trial-and-error and blind democracy. Conversely, I would expect very small ants that live in very large colonies to be the least intelligent, individually, because, as a colony, they can rely on swarm intelligence to effect reproduction. In primates, the "social brain hypothesis" (also, see here) suggests that group size should be positively correlated with brain (neocortex) size. An assumption this hypothesis makes is that intelligence is necessary to maintain group cohesion through diplomacy, strategy, and individual recognition. In most social insects, group cohesion is pheromonally-mediated, so intelligence need not scale with group size. However, in some groups of ants and wasps, there is a shifting dominance hierarchy, which might mean individuals have to remember each other and behave according to past experiences. Elizabeth Tibbetts, to the astonishment of the behavioral and entomological communities, demonstrated face recognition in certain wasps with changing social hierarchies that are reinforced by in-fighting, rather than solitary wasps or eusocial wasps with hormonally-mediated social hierarchies. Thus, the ants that are most individually intelligent (e.g., the most train-able) may be ants that have shifting social hierarchies, and/or spend much of their time hunting by themselves. We're still learning more about the social lives of different species of ants: if you include species that haven't been described or discovered, there are probably more than 20,000 ant species in the world, and many of them have remarkably divergent ways of life. Several species I can think of which have to contend with a reality of changing dominance hierarchies (often due to unconventional reproductive strategies) throughout the lifetimes of individual workers, include ants in the genera Pristomyrmex, Platythyrea, Myrmecia, and Cerapachys. Myrmecia include some of the largest and most visually-oriented ants (two factors often correlated with increased brain size). They are also among the largest of ants, and very effective solitary hunters. So I would guess that some member of the genus Myrmecia might be the smartest ant, on an individual basis. Other strong contenders include ants that forage alone and use visual cues to navigate back to their nests, such as Gigantiops destructor, Cataglyphis, and Melophorus.

"Tandem running," a behavior in which one ant basically takes another ant by the hand and leads them to a food source (actually, they just tap each other's antennae pretty much the whole time) has been proposed as the first example of "teaching" in insects (by their definition, the "waggle dance" of bees is simply "broadcasting").
However, a critique of this article by some of the leading non-human intelligence researchers takes issue with this definition of learning, with implications for how intelligence might be defined (not to mention an implicit critique of the education system). Definitely check out the Lars Chittka's publications page for a veritable treasure trove of readings on insect intelligence.

Not to end on too preachy a note, but your statement "help them advance as a species" is problematic on two counts: (1) ants are a family, the Formicidae, which is comprised of more than 14,000 described species, and (2) "advance" has very strong teleological overtones. Teleology is an understandable (Nietzche was all about it, and would have been really happy with you for using that sort of reasoning). But it's not the way I think biology works. Saying you would like to domesticate ants, or modify them behaviorally or biologically so that they are more useful to humans is one thing, but the advancement of a species is an empty concept. Evolution is change, not change towards a goal.

To wrap it all up: swarm intelligence has many advantages at the colony level, but should not be confused with the individual intelligence of organisms. Without broad, cross-species comparisons of either kinds of intelligence, I can only speculate (perhaps beyond the limits of my own intelligence) about which ant is the smartest. Both types of intelligence would require different approaches to training or other types of behavioral manipulation. If there were an easy way to train ants for industry, someone would have probably figured it out by now. Emerging biotechnologies may make the use of ants (and/or ant cyborgs... cy-ants?) possible, but assembling little robots (equipped with both swarm and individual intelligence) from scratch might be prove to be easier, at least in the short run.

Whew! Was that enough to get you started? :)
Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

Dear askantweb,

I found what seems to be an undocumented army ant while camping in San Diego County.

Doing my best to remember, I recall these characteristics of the species:


  • Completely black
  • Worker, major worker, and soldier classes
  • 5 cm to 10 cm long
  • Soldier mandibles appear to be able to make an audible snapping sound

  • Behavior:

    • Forms columns at night moving in one direction
    • What seems to be scattered scouts mostly of the worker class preceding the main column mainly observed just after sunset
    • Invades the local termite colonies
    • A number of ants were found to be dedicated to what appears to be guarding an entrance of apparently a subterranean nest at the base of a tree. This was observed during the day and the only instance of observing this specie during the day except when excavating a known local termite colony which was being attacked or occupied by these ants.

    Though it could simply be a carpenter ant, please advise or forward to anyone who may be interested. Thank you.

    Dear Spencer,

    If the insects in question are really 5-10cm long, it's pretty unlikely that they're ants. We have a blog post on how big ants tend to get, and California I can't think of any ants that would be much bigger than 2cm, even if they were a queen.

    There are actually quite a few documented species of army ants from California. The genus Neivamyrmex has workers of different sizes, but they're kind of continuously polymorphic, so you'd be unlikely to think of them as "worker" "major worker" and "soldier." I have a little bit of experience with army ants from the tropics, and I've never heard them really snap.

    The only genus I've heard make an audible snapping noise is Odontomachus, seen here closing its jaws. This genus hasn't been recorded from California as far as I know, but it's possible that the species found in Arizona could make it in SoCal. However, these ants are all the same size as each other, so you wouldn't have noticed distinct castes.

    Carpenter ants, (genus Camponotus) are also large and polymorphic. If you were close to a lot of them, you might have noticed a vinegary smell (formic acid). None of the other ants I've just mentioned would have made that smell.

    Ultimately, I guess I'm stumped. If you go camping again, be sure to take some pictures!

    Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

    I'm sure you get a lot of questions phrased like my subject heading. But I'm stumped here! I've linked to two pictures I took in the woods in Atlanta, GA.

    From the far shot, it looks like the ants are "herding" the insects into a big clump. in the closer shot, you can see that some ants have actually dived into the fray.

    Were these ants really herding the other insects or had the insects been swarming beforehand and the ants are just there to pick some off as food?

    Also, I can't seem to identify the insects in the pictures that the ants are interacting with. They look like some kind of insect in the nymph stage.

    If it matters, the tree in the picture is a beech, I think.

    Thanks for your help! I'm so glad I found this blog!


    Dear Becky,

    Thanks for the great pictures! Yes! Many ant species have facultative mutualisms with aphids (seen here) and other herbivorous insects. The ants guard the aphids from predators, and, in exchange, the aphids essentially poop sugar water into the ants mouths. This "honeydew" as it is euphemistically called, has to be voided from the aphids, because they have to go through a lot of plant sap to get enough minerals and amino acids. To the ants, it's gatorade.

    The ants are most likely the common carpenter ant, Camponotus pennsylvanicus. I don't know much about aphids, but those are really big, and they seem to be on the bark of a deciduous tree, so they might be the giant bark aphids, Longistigma caryae. There're probably some other big aphids out there, but this seems to be a pretty widespread, conspicuous species, and they have been reported to associate with C. pennsylvanicus elsewhere in the Southeastern United States.

    There have been a few posts about this relationship in other blogs (such as here and here ) and there's a rich scientific literature of ant-aphid mutualisms you should check out if you'd like to know more! There are also some pretty great photos that have been posted by others!

    Thanks again for your great pictures!

    Ant competition experiment (Alessandro, Italy)


    First of all, many compliments for your blog: it's awesome and full of interesting and useful info. Secondly: I'd like to set up a competition experiment of two ant colonies in a formicarium I'd build myself. I'd like to see how the two different ant species will use and exploit the resources and see how competition happens. Could you help me set up the experiment? For example, what two ant species from Europe should I buy and use in the experiment? Can I set up the formicarium so that the food is in a central chamber? Will the ants find their way to the food anyways? What would other interesting things to observe be? Would the "competitive exclusion principle" work? . I live in italy and a local retailer has Camponotus nylanderi, what could i match with this?

    Thank you so so so much!

    Hi Alessandro,

    Thank you very much for your question!

    Antweb has a site on the Ants of Italy that you can check out to find out which species occur in your area. There are many ant species that you could try for your experiment. I would suggest that you collect a local species. Ant queens often swarm in the summer and you could get your formicarium ready for that and then start out a new colony.
    If you do not want to wait for the queen to establish a new colony, here is a post on how to collect an entire colony. We also have this extensive post on how to make an ant farm with suggestions on how to collect queens and establish a new colony.

    You could set up your formicarium with three chambers, which are connected by tubes. The chamber in the middle would have the food and either chamber on the sides could have one of your ant colonies. However, I would assume that in any case, the two different species will kill each other until one colony has been eliminated. For some ant species, fights are one-on-one usually leading to death of both workers involved in a fight. Thus, the colony with more workers wins. Some ant species, particularly invasive species, are often more aggressive than native species and might outcompete them. Small ants sometimes fight in groups. There are so many different ant species, each with their distinct behavior, that it is really hard to predict the outcome. In any case, I assume that such an experimental set-up will lead to fighting ants.

    I hope this helps,
    Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

    What's up with ant evolution? Zoe, Belgium

    Hi guys,

    First of all: this blog is really helpful, great work!

    So now, while trying to write a report on ants --focusing on aspects of evolution-- I stumble upon many many questions. I'm hoping you can help me out!

    1a. Micro-evolution
    I was thinking about invasive species that are nowadays found in several continents, like for instance the Argentine fire ant.. Do all of their populations still belong to the same species? (no subspecies)
    If so, how come? And would a male and female both from a different continent still recognize each other as potential mating partners or not. (If not, what's the term for that?)

    What are specific factors that trigger origination of (sub)species of ants, or what causes the absence of it.

    1b. Macro-evolution.. Can we speak of macro-evolution within the ant family, since there are so many different varieties. If not, could the relation between wasps and ants be an example of macro-evolution or is macro-evolution really about even bigger events?

    2. Sexual selection
    In the mating of ants, is there any 'conscious' selection going on from either gender. Are there species where an individual for mating is picked over another, based on qualities perceived?

    Thank you!

    Greetings :)

    Dear Zoe,

    Thanks for your questions! You've gotten to some really awesome, fundamental evolutionary biology questions here, and you're asking me to make generalizations across a family of insects with more than 100 million years of evolution and more than 10,000 species, so I'm not sure I can do them justice in a blog post, but I'll try!

    Your sub-question under heading 1a: "what are the factors that trigger origination of (sub)species of ants, or what causes the absence of it," is a question that can only be answered in a very generalizable way: speciation occurs when some factor causes populations of organisms to begin separate evolutionary trajectories. Often, as you suggest with respect to invasive species, this happens because of geographic isolation (allopatric speciation), but there are many theoretical and empirical studies that allude to the possibility of sympatric speciation, which is when speciation happens while populations of organisms are still within "cruising range" of each other. A previous blog post elaborates on speciation in the context of nest parasites.

    Your first question about invasive species is great and very timely! There have been at least two studies in the past few years which demonstrated that Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) from different continents actually recognize each other as nestmates! So I can't imagine there would be any trouble with mating there.

    The authors of both papers suggest that nestmate recognition is maintained across different continents because there is a steady stream of new arrivals, which prevents the populations from drifting apart. However, the question of when exactly a speciation event happens is very difficult to pin down. In a classic paper on the "Evolutionary species concept," the icthyologist EO Wiley states that "A species is a single lineage of ancestral descendant populations of organisms which maintains its identity from other such lineages and which has its own evolutionary tendencies and historical fate."

    By this definition, you would really have to be able to predict the future: how can you know whether a newly isolated population will come into contact with propagules from its ancestral range? The idea that newly isolated populations are incipient species is tempting, but in practice, species can only be delimited if there are morphological and/or molecular differences in them, or, if you subscribe to the biological species concept, things could be argued to be different species if they generally choose not to mate with each other (for more information, you might want to look up pre-zygotic isolation and assortative mating...). In the case of the Argentine ant, I would expect a sudden drop in propagule pressure would result in the actual isolation of the disparate populations, but I would only expect this to happen if humanity drastically changed or ceased its practice of global trade and travel.

    Sexual Selection
    Speaking of pre-zygotic isolation and assortive mating, I think it makes sense to talk about sexual selection in the context of micro-evolution, because that's potentially a pretty important driver of speciation and trait evolution in sexually-reproducing organisms. Stearns and Hoekstra, an often-recommended text in evolutionary biology, defines sexual selection as: "The component of natural selection that is associated with success in mating." While at first somewhat disappointing, I think this definition is useful because it underscores the fact that sexual selection is a component of natural selection. Many ants form mating swarms, or leks, especially in desert and temperate zones. In these cases, there is a certain amount of "scramble competition," and differential levels of mating success have been demonstrated to correlate with individual traits. However, I am not aware of anything approaching the level of mate choice and the resultant secondary sexual ornamentations that has been demonstrated in some butterflies, odonates (dragonflies and damselflies), or other animals.

    For a variety of reasons, the exaggerated secondary sexual traits that seem to emerge in classical examples of sexual selection (i.e., the tail of male peacocks) seem to be less likely to develop in eusocial insects (for a more in-depth perspective on this, check here, here, and here). In lekking species, there is likely to be a very important trade-off between the relative sizes of the flight muscles and the testis and ovaries. Some species of ants do not lek, and either engage in within-nest mating (intranidal mating: for example, some Cardiocondyla exhibit this incestuous behavior), and others engage in "mate-calling," like some moths. For these species, ability to give off (for the females) and recognize mating cues (for the males) is likely to be selected upon, but, to the best of my knowledge, selection on particular traits in these species has not been selected upon. By Stearns and Hoekstra's definition, sexual selection is likely to occur in any sexually-reproducing species, regardless of escalating selection for mate-choice.

    I'll defer to Stearns and Hoekstra again for their definition of macro-evolution: "The pattern of evolution at and above the species level, including most of fossil history and much of systematics." By this definition, macro-evolutionary patterns are evident in any taxon above the species level, for example, the fact that genera such as Pheidole, Strumigenys, and Camponotus have many species, while Paraponera, Tatuidris, and Rostromyrmex have very few species is a macro-evolutionary pattern. More ant genera than usual seem to have arisen when the earths terrestrial vegetation came to be dominated by flowering plants, which is another macro-evolutionary pattern.

    Traits can also exhibit macro-evolutionary patterns: ants are all eusocial - we don't know of any solitary ants. Asexual reproduction has cropped up several times in a variety of ant lineages, but does not seem to have persisted beyond a speciation event. The ability to cultivate fungus has only occurred once in the ants. The processes that gave rise to these patterns are somewhat outside of the realm of macro-evolution, but the justification for using the term "macro-", instead of referring to these patterns as just plain old "evolution," is that they cannot be predicted by an understanding of intra-specific evolution alone. This is analogous to the anti-reductionist argument that cell biology cannot be usefully predicted by chemistry alone--simply understanding osmosis and organic chemistry would not allow us to predict the utility of sexual reproduction, which in some situations can give rise to heterogamy, which in turn drives the emergence of a fertilization envelope, uniparental organelle inheritance, and, in one case, the tail of the peacock. In another case, irreducible patterns and processes random-walked their way to the population of weird little wasps that would become the ancestors of all ants.

    As I said at the outset, one would need quite a bit more time and space to fully answer your questions, but I hope I've at least given you some food for thought.

    Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team


    I'm having some trouble identifying these ants I found in my garden today (in Tangerang, on the western outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia).

    I disturbed a small colony of very beautiful ants.

    At first I thought they were carpenter ants but on closer inspection saw they were a shiny metallic golden colour all over.

    I took some photos (attached), but the resolution is not great (iPhone4), hopefully it is enough for an ID.

    Here are some other details on which may or may not help with an ID...

    Nest location - by accident I left a mat hanging over an unused light post for 3 weeks (while on holiday). The post (1m) is in the center of my yard (sure under by grass), a few meters away from any plants and garden litter.

    It is the monsoon season has been raining almost non-stop while I was away. However the inside of the mat is slightly water proof.

    When I returned today I went outside to retrieve the matt to wash it again & discovered a small colony of golden ants living underneath.

    They had made a small open nest with some dead grass loosely held together.

    I saw a few small white fuzzy balls which I could possibly be eggs - I have only ever seen smooth opaque ant eggs/larvae before.

    However when I disturbed their nest (by picking up the mat) the ants did not grab anything to carry with them (I've seen other ants carry their eggs/larvae when disturbed.

    After googling everything about golden colored ants the 2 species which were the closest match are:

    Camponotus sericeventris
    Polyrhachis ammon

    But I'm still not sure but have not been able to find any other ants that are shiny metallic gold.

    If you have any insight it would be greatly appreciated.

    Warmest regards,

    photo 3.JPG
    Dear Ilsa,

    Thank you for contacting AntBlog and sending photos! The ant you found is certainly from the genus Polyrhachis, so we called in the world's authority on the genus, Rudy Kohout. Here is what Rudy had to say:

    "It is difficult to say with absolute confidence what species it is, but it is certainly a member of the subgenus Myrmhopla. I also believe that the pics represent Polyrhachis (Myrmhopla) dives Fr. Smith, a very widespread species ranging from south-east Asia south to northern Australia. It is a morphologically stable species with the pubescence ranging from rather abundant and completely hiding underlying sculpturation, to relatively sparse. The colour of the pubescence varies from a rich golden (as on the photos) to rather dull, silvery grey (as in most Australian specimens)."

    Polyrhachis ants have some amazing diversity in spines. Click on the link above for the genus or you can also see some of the diversity here.

    Keep watching ants!
    Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

    Ectoparasitic mites on ants

    Hello AntBlog team,

    I have a few questions and I was wondering if you could help me?

    I recently acquired a small colony of Camponotus morosus, I housed the colony inside an aerated autoclaved concrete nest, however just after the colony had moved in I was taking photos and noticed what appear to be very large (In ant terms) mites, I have only noticed 2 of the mites in the colony so far, the thing is I cannot manually remove the mites unless the workers come out to forage with them on as the nest is affixed to the inside of a glass tank.

    Strangely the mites only seem to attach to the very small minor workers who do not leave the nest to forage, they are mobile and I have seen them moving from one ant to another and they always latch on the underside of the ant, they do seem to bother the worker they latch on to.

    I was wondering if you could give me any information on these mites as they are unlike any ant associated mites I have come across before.

    How can I get rid of them? Are they parasitic or phoretic? Will they hurt my colony?

    And finally if you have any information on C. morosus you could give me I would really appreciate it, I'm afraid I have not been able to find a lot of information out on the internet as of yet!


    Dear Daniel,

    Wow! Those mites are really amazing! We contacted a colleague, Kaitlin U. Campbell, who is an expert in mites found on ants to see what she had to say:

    "Dear Daniel,

    Thanks for sending the great pictures of these exciting mites you found! As you might imagine mites are pretty difficult to identify from images, and the specimens typically must be mounted on microscope slides to get accurate identifications. You are correct about these being very large mites (in terms of ants on mites). There are very few people working on mites associated with South American ants that aren't army ants, and to my knowledge none of them have looked at Camponotus. If this mite is truly associated with Camponotus morosus and not just there by accident, it is likely a new species. The best identification I can give you from these pictures is that it is in the Mesostigmata. Unfortunately this doesn't provide much information in terms of what they are doing. Here is a summary we do know about ant associated mites:

    The majority of ant associated mites typically fall into 3 subgroups of mites: Mesostigmata, Heterostigmata, and Astigmata. All of these groups have members that ride on the ants (phoresy). Astigmata and Heterostigmata are typically smaller in size than the Mesostigmata. The Astigmata and Heterostigmata that I have encountered are generally believed to be fungivores or bacterivores taking advantage of the resources inside the ant nests, and possibly cleaning up when they are not riding on the ants. There are only a few genera of Heterostigmata that are known parasites. Because of their mouth parts and what little we know of their ecology, we believe these two groups are the least likely to cause any harm to the ants. In fact the phoretic Astigmata (their Deutonymph stage) do not even have mouths and only get mouths when they develop to the next stage after the disembark from the host!

    The Mesostigmata, however, are a different story. Many of these have large enough mouth parts that they could actually cause damage to the hosts. The majority of the "mesostigs" are still thought to just use the host to get around (they are probably predators of other mites, Collembola, and nematodes or scavenging in the nests), but a few are known to pierce the hosts' cuticles or feed on brood. As you can image, mite behavior is difficult to study, so few have actually looked into this in detail. The most well studied Mesostigs are either associates of Army ants (many of which have really unusual body shapes), Macrodinychus species parasitizing developing brood, or Antennophorus species a cleptoparasite (steals food) on Lasius ants. What you have is not any of these! Yours looks most similar to the Antennophorus species, and may be in the same Suborder, but without having the specimen on a slide it's not going to be possible to tell.

    Concerning whether they are bad for your colony- As I mentioned before, very few mites are known to actually cause damage to their ant hosts. I am suspicious of your mites, however, because of their orientation on the ants. They seem to be positioned in areas with their heads near soft tissue, and you said they do seem to bother the ants. The ants could just be bothered because the mites are large and cumbersome to be carrying around, though. They could potentially be harming the ants, and you should monitor the mites behavior and the health of your ants. It's very difficult to get rid of mites on the ants without harming the ants with any chemicals. Since you only have a couple it would be best to just remove them individually from the ants if you can ever get the small ants to exit the nest area. If they are seriously harming the colony, your only option may be to open the nest and remove the ants carrying the mites. I would just watch them closely and resort to active removal if they seem to cause a lot of damage.

    If you are able to remove the mites and interested in knowing what they are (I sure am!), please preserve them in ethanol and send them to me and/or take individual pictures of the dorsal and ventral sides of the mites.

    This is a cool find, and I'll be interested to hear more! I hope this helped!"

    Best regards,
    Kaitlin U. Campbell (guest expert), Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

    Ant Identification (Brandi, Namibia)

    Wow! I didn't even know your organization existed and happened upon it by accident. Anyway, while in Namibia last spring (2012) I came upon this interesting ant while in the red dunes of Sossussvlei, Namibia. I tried to identify it when I got home, but with no luck. Can you help?

    Thanks very much,


    Attack ants.jpg

    Attack ant.jpg


    Dear Brandi,

    Thanks for your fantastic images!

    The ants pictured are Camponotus detritus, otherwise known as the Namib Desert dune ant. This species is noteworthy not only for its striking appearance, but also its peculiar adaptation to the extreme aridity of the Namib Desert. You can read more about their distribution, behaviour, and unique physiology here.

    Thanks for your interest!

    Alexandra Westrich & the AntAsk Team

    Hi -- I was visiting Guarulhos in Brazil recently, and I found these ants in a tree or bush interacting with other insects. I suppose they are Camponotus atriceps or Camponotus mus and the insects probably a kind of cicada. I have to send the picture to a outdoor photography magazine and I need the Latin name, at least the genus. The picture was taken at the gardens of the Cesar Palace Hotel near to the international airport. One of the photos is of what looks like to be the nest. Can you get to me information about the other insect or the plant?


    Javier Castosa, Madrid, Spain




    Dear Javier:

    First, the bad news. I am sorry to say I cannot identify the plant in the pictures.

    On the other hand, from the perspective of the AskAnt Team, you are really fortunate to have traveled to Brazil, one of the most ant-rich places in the world, where even an urban hotel garden can reveal fascinating aspects of ant behavior. The ants in your pictures are a species common both in the wild savannas and in gardens of that part of Brazil, namely Camponotus rufipes. (C. atriceps is a litttle smaller, and much shinier, and C. mus is considerably smaller with whiter hairs). When their nest is disturbed, C. rufipes can be very aggressive, delivering a strong bite into which they may squirt caustic formic acid. I had one draw blood from my finger one time, when I was doing field work in Brazil! It is one of the few ants that can do this.

    The ants in your lovely pictures are associated with two types of sap-feeding insects, scale insects (round and featureless, Hemiptera: Coccidae) and planthoppers (colorful and cicada-like, Hemiptera: Fulgoroidea). Both of these animals excrete excess sugar and water from their plant sap diet in the form of honeydew (melaza in Spanish). Like many ants, C. rufipes is fond of sugar, and lingers around the honeydew "factory" to gather this waste product as it is produced by the sap-feeding bugs. you could say that one insect's garbage is another insect's treasure! The honeydew bugs in this relationship are sometimes referred to as ant-cattle. The ants also defend the bugs from parasites, predators, and competing ants.

    This ant is known to make a nest of cut grass, a picture of which can be seen at the link in the next paragraph. Out in the savanna, this ant may nest in low, wet areas, and its nests may be suspended among grass stalks above the saturated ground, looking something like birds' nests. As your second picture shows, the ants also use bits of grass to build structures covering their "cattle", an additional way to shelter them from enemies. Partly chewed and glued-together plant fibers used by ants for construction are referred to as carton.

    Here's a post about C. rufipes at one of our favorite blogs: Another post at the myrmecos blog lists this ant as the 48th most published ant species (among over 12,000 species to choose from). Your intention to publish these photos in an outdoor magazine will make them just a little bit more well-published.

    James C. Trager & the AskAnt Team

    Cocoon or not cocoon? That is the question.

    Hi Ant folk:

    I am interested in finding out if ants in the Myrmicinae tribe produce silken cocoons as I am trying to get hold of some samples. Do you know anyone who has Acromyrmex echinator, Atta cephalotes, Pogonomyrmex barbatus or Solenopsis invicta in culture who might have some cocoon samples hanging around (if they exist)?

    Thanks for your help.
    Cheers, Holly


    Hello Holly:

    No ant in the subfamilies Myrmicinae, Pseudomyrmecinae or Dolichoderinae is known to produced larval silk. The adaptive significance of this fact, and the metabolic fate of their silk production genes and anatomy is not well studied (unknown?), though perhaps one of the others on our team may know more.

    Mature larvae of most species in the other subfamilies normally do spin a cocoon before pupating, so those are where you'll have to seek the materials in question, I suppose.

    Just wondering, how did you arrive at this particular list of species?

    Best regards, James C. Trager of the AskAnt Team.


    Hi James,

    Very interesting. I came across the list of ants as I have been looking for the silks genes from the genome projects. Our lab has done a bit of work on silks from Formicinae and Myrmeciomorphs in the past and I am looking to add to the dataset.

    It's interesting that you say Dolichoderinae also don't produce silk as Argentine ants have also been sequenced. Do Myrmicinae, Pseudomyrmecinae or Dolichoderinae have unique domiciles? Are they weaker than other subfamilies?

    Thank you for your response and I look forward to having a few more ant conversations.

    Cheers, Holly


    Hello Holly:

    Myrmicinae and Dolichoderinae are diverse taxonomically and ecologically, with a wide range of nesting habitats, about which no generalizations may be made. Pseudomyrmecinae are almost all inhabitants of cavities in plants, and interestingly, species in the huge genus of Formicinae called Camponotus vary in cocoon production in a way that may be interesting to you. Soil and dead and rotten wood inhabiting ones typically have pupae in cocoons, while many that inhabit the tight confines of plant stems, notably the subgenus Colobopsis, lack cocoons.

    Nonetheless, I rather think that lack of cocoons could be more of a nutritional matter than a matter of where particular ants live. A diet dominated by nectar, honeydew and fruit juice, or by seeds, is low in protein, so perhaps it was adaptive for the mainly nectarivorous or granivorous ancestors of these groups to eliminate silk production in order to conserve amino acids for growth and development. Many Formicinae are evidently more carnivorous than at some of the Dolichoderinae and Myrmicinae, and at least some have nitrogen-fixing, internal bacterial symbionts that could mitigate the nitrogen compound deficiency. I hope that my making this sweeping, and perhaps wrong guess/generalization will stimulate commentary from some others, and perhaps other myrmecologists can be brought into the discussion . . .

    Do let us know if you hear from them.

    Regards, James C. Trager of the AskAnt Team

    I have been building an ant farm with my nine year old grandson (Sam). I am 75 and retired (Dick). We live in Knoxville, TN and have a half acre terraced and partially wooded back yard that is about 1/3 in grass, 1/3 in English garden, with the remaining 1/3 in an upper level mixed hardwood shade garden. The Entomology Lab at UT (Univ. of Tennessee) has identified eight ants that are in different areas of our back yard. One of these is Camponotus americanus, which is a red, ground dwelling, carpenter ant of fairly large size. About ten days ago, Sam and I were looking under some of the large stepping stones in the shade garden and we found two active colonies under separate stones and one new queen with some "eggs" under a third stone. There were no other ants with her. We got the queen and the three eggs from under the third stone, and four of the workers from under one of the other stones.
    I am a retired clinical psychologist and Episcopal priest, so I sang "God Save the Queen" over her, but I am not sure that did much good. Actually, she seems to be in pretty good shape. She stays under the little rocks and if you move one she goes under another one. She seems to be eating from the honey and water mixture and getting water from the test tube, but I cannot be sure. I keep all of that changed and fresh. I don't think the queen can live long without some "workers" to take care of her.

    So, here are my questions:

    1. What should I do to give the queen a chance to make it?

    2. What would likely happen if I put the other four "guys" together with the queen to try to give her a chance to start a new colony?

    3. Should I try to get the rest of the colony under the large stone the four "guys" came from, and if I do that successfully, should I put the "four" with them in the newly prepared ant farm?

    4. If I do number 3 above, what do I then do with the queen, since I don't think I can introduce her to a large active colony that I can't be sure she came from.

    As you can probably tell, I have bought all kinds of ant support stuff and read extensively on the web, as well as from the book Journey to the Ants, but at this point I feel in over by head and don't want this to end in disaster for the ants I have collected. I feel very responsible for them and wish now that I had not taken them from their places without being more prepared to take care of them. Also, I want this to be a positive learning experience for Sam. He has already learned a great deal, but is worried about the ants, as am I.

    I appreciate any help you can give me.

    Thanks, Dick Brown

    Hello Dick (and Sam), and welcome to the Antblog! What a wonderful project for you two to work on! I hope you'll pardon my editing your message to save some space here.

    Now to your observations and questions:

    Regarding the species of ants. You might want to check up on the UT identification, by looking at the Camponotus species on the Missouri or Mississippi ants pages at Ant Web. The UT folks may have it right, but there are two closely related species that are commonly confused by non-experts. An all-red carpenter ant species is more likely to be Camponotus castaneus. C. americanus is more yellow or reddish brown and has a very dark, nearly black head.

    1. The lone queen and brood you found is probably one that flew and mated earlier this summer, and is currently in the colony-founding stage of her life. Queens do this alone, and though it is a dangerous time of life for them, not nearly so much so as the earlier mating/dispersal flight, when birds, dragonflies and other flying and ground predators eat a lot (probably most) of those that leave their parent colonies to found new ones. Some ant keepers like to "boost" such queens with cocoons from an established colony of the same species, but if kept warm and properly hydrated (including a fairly humid nest chamber), she will likley raise her own workers in a few weeks, before winter. Feeding her honey, as you have been, plus giving her a tiny dead insect or spider (the little red-eyed flies found on rotting fruit are perfect) every few days will help nourish her through this period, especialy since she has probably expended much of her internal food stores while raising the brood that you mentioned was lost in the transfers. Singing "God save the Queen" to her probably can't hurt, also.

    2. It is best simply to release the other workers you caught where they came from. They might fight with and injure the queen, since they are not her own workers.

    3. It is highly unlikely you'll be able even to find the queen of the mature colony, so I think it better to watch your queen's "baby" colony grow, though this will be slower. As mentioned above, you can speed up the colony growth process by taking some pupae (in cocoons, tan-colored, about the size of the workers, with a small black dot at one end) from the established colony. Putting in eggs (tiny, ovoid) or larvae (narrower at one end, curved, segmented, and a bit hairy) would require your queen to feed them, further depleting her resources, so best to use only pupae. It is also best to start with a few pupae, say 10-20, rather than a larger number, and smaller pupae rather than larger ones.

    4. As you have seen, I'm recommending keeping the young queen and her brood, which will adapt better to captivity, rather than attempting to capture a mature colony and force them to adapt, which is technically, and for the ants and possibly for you and Sam, psychologically more difficult.

    One more thing. After Thanksgiving rolls around, your queen and her first workers will do best in the future if you rest them in a cool, dark place until spring. They can be warmed up and fed some honey water one day per month during this period, but should otherwise be kept cool (even refrigerator temperature, but not frozen) until late March or so.

    James C. Trager of the Ask Ant Team

    An enthusiast attends the Ant Course

    [The following contribution is by Ant Course participant 'Harpegnathos']

    I am not a professional myrmecologist and have had no formal education in entomology, but after I obtained a copy of Hölldobler and Wilson's The Ants in 1994, an abiding interest in ants turned into a passion. Over the years I acquired a microscope, a camera for photographing ants, every ant book Amazon sells, a better microscope, better camera gear. I became a participant and eventually a moderator in the American ant enthusiast internet site, The Ant Farm and Myrmecology Forum ( I studied ants in the field while living in Europe and several American States, with further travel to Africa and the Middle East. I learned how to collect and preserve specimens, some of which found their way to university collections. But my skills are self-taught, and with no face-to-face interaction with real myrmecologists, I missed the benefit of professional feedback, advice, and direction. Reading books and papers has its limits.

    Of course when I heard about Ant Course, I had to apply. Of course seats are limited and priority goes to university students and researchers who need the course for their work, so I didn't get in. So I applied again. And again. And again. After applying five times (or six?), I finally was accepted to attend this year's iteration in Kibale Forest, Uganda. So now I'm here, surrounded by real myrmecologists and students of myrmecology, with an opportunity to learn all the things that I could never learn from books, like how to actually pronounce all those crazy Latin and Greek names, such as clypeus, pygidium, Pachycondyla, Odontomachus, and Dolichoderinae!

    Except it turns out no two myrmecologists pronounce these words the same way. O-dont-o-MOCK-us, o-dont-o-MAKE-us, to-MAH-to, to-MAY-to. Still, I am learning plenty of other skills I would never have figured out on my own, and I'm meeting some great people. Plus the ants here in Kibale Forest are amazingly diverse and endlessly fascinating. Here are a couple of photographs from the first few days in Uganda:

    king3.jpgCamponotus tending scale insects, Entebbe Botanical Garden.

    king2.jpgStrumigenys rescuing brood from intrusive myrmecologists.

    king1.jpgA new species of Tetramorium, nicknamed the "Teddy Bear Ant," carrying a termite.

    - Harpegnathos@antfarm

    [update 8/10: ant expert Barry Bolton emails in identifications for the species pictured above as Camponotus probably brutus, Strumigenys probably lujae, and Tetramorium pulcherrimum.]


    We are the Dolphin Class. Teacher Chelsea is here with Felix, Daniel, Sean, Andrew, Wayne, Evelyn, Kate, Ginny, Ethan and Aaron. We really like ants.

    Here are some of our questions:

    We want to know, how many different kinds ants are there? Why do ants line up when they walk? Why are ants small? What is the difference between red and black ants? What color of ants are there? Why are ants bugs? Why do ants like to eat what people eat?

    The Dolphin Class


    Hi Teacher Chelsea, Felix, Daniel, Sean, Andrew, Wayne, Evelyn, Kate, Ginny, Ethan and Aaron (the Dolphin Class),

    According to the AntWeb homepage, one of the most up to date and accurate resources for ant taxonomy, there are currently 14,891 ant species known to science. (We have a previous post on ant species diversity here.) These species have been described in detail by expert ant researchers around the world. However, there are likely several thousand more species that have not yet been found or researched so if you start collecting ants now, you could very well find a species that no one has seen before.

    Ants leave scent trails on the ground when they want other members of their colony to be able to follow the same trail. This behavior often results in ants moving in a line down the narrow path laid by ants that have gone before. They lead each other around in order to share the location of high quality food resources, move to a new nest site, or even raid other ant colonies. Take a look at this post for a little more information. And speaking of food resources, ants like the same food that people like because they are rich in nutrients that the ants can use to grow and feed their larvae. The very same reasons that we like them!

    Ants come in a wide range of sizes and colors. This post gives some details on the largest and smallest species and explains that the largest ants are 3 cm long! Not very small at all. As for colors, you already know that ants can be pure black or bright red but they can also be anything from brown to yellow. Colors often tell little about the differences between ants as they can be quite variable even within species. As you can see in these pictures taken by Alex Wild, there are even bright, golden and green ants.

    Above: Camponotus seriveiventris. Below: Oecophylla smaragdina. Photos from


    We are very glad to hear that you like ants so much! Keep thinking about them and ask your teacher as many questions as you can!

    Ben Rubin & the AntAsk Team

    While hiking in a remote and Primitive forest in Lassen County of northern California I came across one very large ant.

    All of the ants I had seen earlier that day were large and black. They were approximately 1/2 inch long and very stout. I hiked several more miles into a truly primitive and rustic area and found a black ant that was at least one inch long. I thought it must be some sort of queen but it was all alone. Any idea what it could be be. Could it be a carpenter ant? The trail is not far from the Pacific Rim trail which starts in San Diego and maybe this ant hitched a ride. I have looked everywhere and it seems that most ants in north America are under 1/2 inch.

    I wish I had taken the poor fellow home. If the ant is unique then I will go back this summer and try and locate him and bring him back for research. If there is one, there is likely more ants.

    Your advise is greatly appreciated,



    Thank you for contacting AntBlog.

    Unfortunately without a photograph it is difficult to say what ant species you observed, but from your description it is not out of the realm of possibilities that you found a queen of the larger ants (likely carpenter ants from the genus Camponotus) you saw earlier on your walk. Queens are often larger than workers and new founding queens can be exploring the local environment to find a suitable new home to start a colony.

    You can see a list and photographs of the ants of California here.

    Best regards,
    Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team



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