Results matching “Ant mimic”

When comparing human infrastructure and ants what would you say is their most common behaviors? Do you think there is anything humans could learn from ant behavior?

Dear Jacqueline,

When human designers, architects, engineers, and computer scientists turn to other organisms for inspiration, it is often referred to as "biomimicry." In recent years, more and more people have turned to the other species on Earth for inspiration. Recent and ongoing work in Biomimicry is highlighted in this TED talk (by the main popularizer of the term "Biomimicry").

However, the speaker doesn't mention much about ants (and neither have I, so far...). One of the reasons ants are so interesting is that they display a wide variety of life-styles, from farming fungi, to raiding termite nests, to foraging in the shifting sands of the desert. And they're able to do all this with very little of what I would call "individual-level intelligence." Ants, like other social insects, function without central control, using what has been referred to as "swarm intelligence." (for more of my ramblings on swarm intelligence, see a previous post here, and also this more coherent article from National Geographic).

So, by studying ants and other social insects (like bees, termites, and certain wasps), we can learn more about true, blind democracies, and how to get things done without central control. For example, by studying processes different kinds of ants (and other social insects) use to find food and tell each other about it, computer scientists and engineers have been inspired to think of new ways to route traffic, solve resource distribution problems, and perhaps even program robots. The tricky thing about biomimicry right now is that many of these are still just potential lessons we could learn from ants - they haven't yet changed the way we get things done in our own lives.

The other tricky thing about biomimicry is that, like things you read in a blog post, sometimes what seem to be cogent lessons need to be evaluated and taken with a grain of salt. For example, in this article, the author uses the example of fungus-growing ants as a system of agriculture that we should learn from (perhaps just because of that charismatic image), but in the same paragraph alludes to the dangers of monoculture, which is exactly what fungus-growing ants (and termites) do: they cultivate a single species of fungus. They can get away with it, because they've evolved the ability to secrete antibiotics and fungicides from glands in their bodies, and they have the labor power to strip acres of vegetation around their nest and bring it back to fertilize their gardens (the most charismatic ants that farm fungi are the leaf cutter ants; other types of fungus-farming ants and termites use some combination of things like soil, partially decayed vegetable matter, the exoskeletons of dead insects, and caterpillar frass to fertilize their fungal gardens). Worse, there are different kinds of ants that make slaves of other ants, ants that are very lazy (surprise!), and ants that just hang from the ceiling all day collecting sugar water in their abdomens (which I would probably try for a while, but might lead to diabetes after a few weeks). So just like the Japanese scholars studying at the "Institute for the Study of Barbarian Books" in the 1800s did with knowledge from "The West," we should study nature (ants included), but pick and choose which lessons to incorporate into the society we wish to build for ourselves.

Hope this helps!
Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

I found a few if these insects in my yard the other day. At first I thought they were red ants, but in trying to identify them in line, I am now wondering if they are some sort of wingless wasp ant mimic. I have look long and hard to try to identify the type if insect I'm dealing with here and am coming up without any answers. Can you please help me ID this interesting insect for me? There is a black carpenter ant in a few of the photos just for comparison. Thacker you VERY much for your help!!!



Dear Meredith:

Thanks for sending your pictures of this interesting ant to the Ant Blog. These are recently flown queens of one of the citronella ants, Lasius latipes. Your difficulty in tracking them down stems from the fact that most ant pictures online are of worker ants, which in this case look very different from the queens. The unusual morphology of these insects is related to their mode of colony foundation. Rather than raising her first brood of workers alone, a queen of this species barges into a colony of a host species, another member of the same ant genus called Lasius neoniger, kills the host queen, and if all goes well, becomes accepted by the remaining workers, who help her raise her first brood. For a short while a colony containing workers of both species ensues, but eventually a pure colony of the well-armored queen and her pale orange-yellow workers results.

Parasitism of this sort is relatively common among ants, including several other species in New England, in the genus Lasius, and also in Formica, Myrmica, Tapinoma and Nylanderia. It used to be though quite rare in the Tropics, but recent exploration of the ant faunas of tropical areas are revealing many variation on this theme in those regions as well.

James C. Trager & the Ask Ant Team

Territorial battles

Hello from Brookfield, Wisconsin.

It's great to see this service online--yet another wonder of the Web.

My question involves small (not much over a millimeter long), red ants that nest around our home and seem particularly to like areas near our front walk.

More than once I have noticed these guys flowing onto the concrete and forming a large gathering in the open air--see attached photos.

Why do they do this?


Small Red Ants 1.jpg

Small Red Ants 2.jpg

Hi Ted,

These are a species of pavement ant, Tetramorium caespitum. They are common in urban areas, hence their common name. The event pictured is a large territorial battle between colonies. Territoriality is common in ants as a whole, varying by species and colony age. Ants typically protect their territories for access to food or nesting space.

The closely related Japanese pavement ant, Tetramorium tsushimae, is similarly territorial to the pavement ants that you see in Wisconsin. In this species, colonies with larger territories containing larger numbers of seeds and other food resources are able to raise larger numbers of reproductive individuals. However, food is not the only factor determining colony success. The ideal temperatures for raising queens and males are between 27.5 and 30 degrees Celcius (81.5 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit) and colonies also engage in territorial battles to gain access to nesting sites with these temperatures. Therefore, the pavement ants on the sidewalks outside your house are probably fighting for access to both food and optimal nesting sites.

While fights among pavement ants often lead to the deaths of large numbers of workers, this is not a requirement for ants to maintain territories. A species of honeypot ant, Myrmecocystus mimicus, is also highly territorial, but, rather than risk the lives of workers, engages in ritual displays. Hundreds of ants from each competing colony confront each other and stand as tall as they are able while inflating their gasters to appear larger. Eventually, a winner is decided based exclusively on the differences in workers between colonies and territory is ceded to the apparently stronger colony. If colonies are drastically different in size then the smaller colony will be destroyed but otherwise, no physical interactions occur. You should take a look at the papers listed at the end of the post if you want to know more details.

Thanks for your question,
Ben Rubin, James Trager, & the AntAsk Team

Holldobler B. (1981) Foraging and spatiotemporal territories in the honey ant Myrmecocystus mimicus Wheeler (Hymenopera: Formicidae). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 9: 301-314.

Sanada-Morimura S, Satoh T, Obara Y. (2006) Territorial behavior and temperature preference for nesting sites in a pavement ant Tetramorium tsushimae. Insectes Sociaux 53: 141-148.

Hello there,

I have a query about these ants we saw in our local park in Madrid, Spain. The ants themselves seemed fairly standard, with one nest hole, and a long line of foraging ants heading out to a nearby area and coming back with various tasty tidbits. As can be seen from the photo the ants were a number of different sizes.


However, amidst the ants were several white creatures (in the photo centre left, bottom right and the tail of one top left).


These looked nothing like ants, but appeared to be coexisting with them peaceably. They were going in and out of the ant hole, and were ignored by the ants. One or two travelled along the foraging line, but didn't appear to do any actual foraging. They were quite quick too, about as nimble as the ants.

Any information as to what these might be would be gratefully appreciated. My guesses would be a) some precursor ant stage (pupa or some such) b) other insect living symbiotically with the ant or c) I have no more ideas.

Many thanks!



Hi David,

Your second guess is correct! The other insects in your photograph are in fact silverfish, cohabiting with the harvester ant Messor barbarus. There are many species of such myrmecophilous (or "ant-loving") Zygentoma around the world, with 16 occurring in the Iberian Peninsula alone. Unfortunately, without a clearer image, it is difficult to provide you with a more precise ID (several different species have been observed in Messor nests in particular), but based on a superficial diagnosis, they most likely belong to the genus Neoasterolepisma.

Silverfish are among a wide variety of other arthropods (including beetles, crickets, spiders, millipedes, even cockroaches) known to inhabit the nests of ants, either commensally or parasitically, and like other myrmecophiles, silverfish have evolved very successful strategies for avoiding detection by their ant hosts. While looking nothing like the ants, as you say, these scaly symbionts are able to blend in with the rest of the colony by rubbing against "callow" or immature workers and adopting the unique chemical profile that sister ants use to recognize one another. In this way, the silverfish enjoy easy access to shelter and resources within the nest and can intermingle freely with foragers on the outside (no doubt pilfering some of the tasty tidbits you observed being brought back to the harvester's granaries). Of course, this chemical disguise is only temporary, so the silverfish must also rely on another characteristic adaptation--speed--if their cover starts to fade, hence their nimble-footedness around the workers.

While some myrmecophilous silverfish are apparently highly specialized, demonstrating a preference for a single ant species, most are generalist interlopers, using their peculiar knack for chemical mimicry to infiltrate the subterranean strongholds of a variety of different ants. Another widespread Mediterranean silverfish species, Proatelurina pseudolepisma, for example, was found in the nests of a total of 13 different species of ants! Those of Messor barbarus, incidentally (the same species in your photograph) happened to be the most popular.

Hope this helps!

Alexandra Westrich & the AntAsk Team

Identification? (Lena, U.S.A.)


We are trying to determine if this is an ant or a beetle:



Hi Lena,

The insect pictured is in fact a beetle in the family Cerambycidae. It appears to belong to the New World genus Euderces, many members of which are known to mimic ants. This particular species is probably Euderces pini, the double-banded ant-mimicking cerambycid.

You can learn more about ant mimicry by checking out this previous post, and more specific examples of ant mimics here, here, here and here. This last link discusses ant mimicry (or perceived ant mimicry) in two other species of cerambycid beetles found in the U.S.

Thanks for your interest!

Alexandra Westrich & the AntAsk Team

Ant Course 2012 Snapshots

[The following contribution is by Ant Course participant Eunice Soh]


Just taking a break from the ant work now... Anyway, the field site we're at is beautiful and there's a good diversity of animals.

[2].jpgThe place where we stay, at the Makerere University Biological Field Station, at the heart of Kibale Forest, Western Uganda.

[3].jpgHere's the friendly "neighbourhood" monkey that hangs around, the Red-and-White Colobus Monkey!

[4].jpgA very cool blue lizard spotted by one of the participants of the Ant Course.

[5].jpgSnooping around the forest, I found many beetles, especially weevils that come in many different colours and sizes...

[6] moths_combined.jpgThe moth diversity is really amazing as well!

[7] IMG_4988.jpgOne last photo: an ant-mimicking fly, possibly.

So far, the weather, diversity and learning so much about ants has been really amazing and I wouldn't exchange it for anything else!

Ant or Spider? (Toni, Croatia, Europe)

Please help! Do all ants have 6 legs (3x2) and in your opinion is this an ant or spider on this picture?
Thanks a lot.
Toni Mindoljevićspider ant mimic.JPG

Hi Toni,

All ants do have six legs you are correct. However, the attached picture is NOT an ant. On the original website, it is identified correctly as an Ant-mimic spider, although the title of Eight Legged Ant is rather tongue-in-cheek. You can clearly count the legs to see all eight legs of a typical spider. It does appear though that this little mimic is holding one pair of legs out front to imitate ant antenna. The spider is from the family Salticidae, a jumping spider, and can be easily recognized by the large prominent four eyes in front and two smaller pairs along the side of the cephalothorax. This gives them excellent vision, and some species have even been recorded as even being able to see colors and watch TV.

The subject of ant mimics has been addressed in a previous AntBlog post, so take a peek to learn a more.

Best wishes,
Rebekah Baquiran & the AntAsk Team

What are these insects? (Jim, Michigan, USA)

Dear AntAsk:

I have found several of these creatures that sort of look like ants, but I don't believe they are. DSC_0473.jpg
I live in mid Michigan. I do have firewood in the room where they were found. The bugs don't seem to have very big mandibles compared to their size of 1cm. They have distinctive markings on their backs. Do you have any idea what they might be?

Wacousta, Michigan

Hello Jim:

Sorry to take a few days to get back to you on this. I had to consult with a beetle expert colleague to make sure I was giving you the right information in this reply. Here's what he wrote: "They are cerambycid beetles - the first (0472 and 0473) are Cyrtophorus verrucosus, and the last (0474) is Euderces picipes. Yes, they are both ant-mimics (and a nice example of convergence as they are not particularly closely related to each other)." I would add that both of these beetles mature in dead wood, and no doubt were stimulated to emerge by the warmth inside your house.

We get quite a few inquiries about other critters that look more or less like ants. Some of these might be considered true ant mimics (other animals that look more definitely ant-like in appearance and outward behavior than other members of their respective taxonomic families), and others are not especially ant-like, but are perceived as such by folks having little experience with insects, generally. Here are a couple of relevant posts:

James C. Trager of the AntAsk Team

Wheel bug in fireplace (Josh, Ohio, USA)

Random insect found in fireplace
Columbus Ohio
Wings as long as body
Unusual dorsal spike shield like area
Never seen one before


Dear Josh,

Here at AntBlog we get lots of questions about ants (surprise) and sometimes other insects and spiders that mimic ants which we love, but it is nice to get questions about other bugs from time to time. Thanks for sending in the photo of the very cool insect you recently found. This certainly helps with identification.

What you have is a wheel bug (see a beautiful photograph of a wheel bug by Alex Wild here).

Wheel bugs (Arilus cristatus) are predatory insects found in the eastern United States. Since these insects prey on other soft bodied insects including many pest species they are considered beneficial. They are easy to identify from the wheel shaped structure found on their thorax (although I have often thought this structure looks more like a cog from a machine than a wheel).

You can read more about them here and here.

Enjoy your great find!
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

An interesting specimen... (Gian, Chile)

My 3 year old daughter found this insect on her bicycle
from Santa in Chile. I have contacted some local entomologists but this
specimen may be introduced. so, a more experienced entomologist may be
needed. My wife found your website and since you work with such a high
number of species, you may have a better understanding of what this
specimen may be or where to look.

It looks and behaves as an ant, but its head (rostrum) is quite
different as you will see. Any idea?




Dear Gian,

The insect that your daughter found looks a lot like an ant, but as you noticed, its head and mouthparts give it away as another type of insect mimicking an ant. All ants have mandibles that they can use for chewing in one way or another but this insect appears to have piercing mouthparts and is likely a member of a hemipteran group that look a lot like ants. We have several posts on ant mimics here, here, here, and here that you might find interesting.

Thanks for your question,
Ben Rubin & the AntAsk Team



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