Dear AntAsk,

Last night my brother was stung by something that looked a lot like the Myrmecia piliventris. I didn't take a picture (I was too busy trying to kill it), but I found Alex Wild's photo on the internet, and the thing that bit my brother looked a lot like it.
I read on Wikipedia that these ants are mostly found in Australia, and since we live in Namibia, I was wondering what it could be? Any idea?


Dear Corien,

Next time, kill the ant more carefully! (or better yet, photograph it alive, like Alex Wild would). Without specific information about which parts of the ant reminded you of Myrmecia, it's hard to say what species it was. One thing I'm fairly certain of is that it is not Myrmecia piliventris. Unless you or one of your neighbors just came back from a trip to Australia, it's pretty unlikely that genus would show up anywhere outside of Australia, or the islands immediately next to it (Myrmecia is also native to New Caledonia). Members that genus have been reported by New Zealand quarantine officers, though, so it's not impossible that commerce will one day introduce a "bulldog" ant to some place beyond the land down under.

I'd say your best bet is to check our Ants of Kenya page. It's still not exactly Namibia, but the genera at least are much more likely to occur in both Kenya and Namibia than Australia and Namibia.

If it was the mouthparts (mandibles) of Myrmecia that reminded you of the ant that stung your brother, then some possibilities that leap to mind are the genera Leptogenys and Plectroctena. Plectroctena can grow quite large (with a headwidth of 4mm). Leptogenys are generally smaller, and look as if they are probably faster. Although they do have pretty noticeable stings, it would have been difficult to see the mandibles on most Leptogenys species I'm aware of without using a microscope, so I doubt it's that one.

Another noteworthy trait that Myrmecia has are their large eyes. In Africa, Asia, and Australia, the ants with some of the largest eyes relative to their head sizes belong to the genus Tetraponera. These ants (and their relatives in the Americas, Pseudomyrmex) have some of the largest eyes in the ant family, and their elongate bodies are similar in shape to the bodies of Myrmecia. While some Tetraponera can grow quite large and be rather aggressive, like the Southeast Asian Tetraponera rufonigra, I can't find evidence that there is a Tetraponera that big in West Africa.

In many parts of the world, especially in the tropics, if a medium-large ant has just painfully stung you, there's a good chance it belongs to the genera Pachycondyla or Odontomachus. These don't bear a specific resemblance to Myrmecia (Odontomachus does have elongate mandibles, but they are attached near the midline of their faces, rather than at the corners as in Myrmecia, Plectroctena, and Leptogenys), but they might be more common in some places than other genera mentioned in this post.

Good luck! Feel free to send us pictures if you see an ant like that again!
Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

Dear Ant Ask,

I am 10 years old and doing a science experiment using ants. I want to find the best repellent that is planet friendly and won't kill the ants. I got some harvester ants that I have set up in a jar with sand, food and water. I got an ant farm but didn't put them in because I would not be able to get them out easily. My idea was to make 6 inch circles on construction paper. On the perimeters of each circle I would try a different kind of natural repellent such as chalk, cinnamon, catnip, mint oil. The first trial, I marked out the circle with just marker. As bait, I placed a drop of jam 3 inches outside the circle. Put 3 ants inside circle and they began to run around freely but had no interest in the jam. Tried a circle with an insecticide repellent. Ants still ran around freely, didn't care about jam. I also tried a ring of chalk, same results. Not the right bait? Bad set up? Ants to nervous? I am thinking I need to set up a habitat that they are comfortable in that I could easily manipulate. Can you help me? Any thoughts? Maybe a maze? How could I set up this experiment to show the best natural repellent without killing the ants? I really want to put them in my ant farm when I am done.

Thanks, Luke

Dear Luke,

Your idea for a science experiment sounds fun and informative!

I agree that getting your ants to feel more "comfortable" before you start the experiments is a great idea. I know you have an ant farm to move them into once you are finished with the experiments, but since you need to be able to observe them and change the repellents I would suggest moving them into a large container with a tight sealing lid (maybe like the "simple Tubberware model" found in this post). Once you have moved your ants into a temporary home with enough space for you to introduce your experimental circles of construction paper, I would wait a day or so for them to get used to the new space. Be sure to provide them with water on a moist cotton ball.

Once you start your experiments you should be sure to use a scientific "control" to insure that the ants are not deterred by the construction paper itself. To do this you will create a circle with jam, but no repellents to see if the ants are attracted to the jelly. You could also try a cotton ball soaked in sugar or honey water.

Also this post here has lots of useful information that may help with your experiments.

Best of luck and enjoy your ants after your experiments!
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

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

Thristy ants

Hi AntAsk,

I am in seventh grade and i'm doing a science project on ants. I'm studying a colony of Linetithema humile, and I was curious, if, and when, ants drink water.


Hello Dominica:

Ants, like other living organisms, are mostly water. In general, ants from desert climates are a little better at avoiding water loss than are those from more humid or cooler climates, but interestingly they do this mostly by behavioral means, such as foraging at night or only during the coolest hours of the day, or climbing above ground level on stems or pebbles periodically to avoid the heated ground surface. And of course, they drink water when they encounter it. Adult ants consume an almost exclusively liquid diet, so they do acquire a lot of water from their diet, but like any other animal, when the water content of their body fluid is low, they experience thirst, and drink water from dew, droplets in moist soil or sand, or the lawn sprinklers.

Indeed, it is landscape irrigation that allows Linepithema humile to survive in California and the Mediterranean Region of Europe, where the climate is too dry for these ants, originally from humid, subtropical Argentina and Paraguay.

James C. Trager and the AntAsk Team

Dear AntAsk,

I am a fourth grader, and I am doing a science project. I am required to ask an ant expert questions about my science project. Can you please answer the following questions? When you are testing ants, do they run for survival? What happens when you try to grab ants?

Thank you,

Thumbnail image for MyrmeciaPil7_stinging.JPG

Myrmecia piliventris stinging Alex Wild, who broke into the ant nest (photo by Alex Wild).

Dear Monica,

Thank you very much for your great question! Ants can react in two different ways when you try to grab them: Either they try to escape or they try to attack you. Some ants (all belonging to one particular subfamily, the Formicinae) spray formic acid, some other ants sting (for example bullet ants or Acacia ants) for defense. I find that ants usually try to escape unless you are working directly at their nest site. Once you try to grab them at their nest, they want to defend the nest and will even sacrifice their lives.
I hope this answers your question!

All the best,
Steffi Kautz and the AntAsk Team


I'm doing a biology project about evolution and I was wondering if ants, specifically the common carpenter or fire ant, has any vestigial features, and what may have been their function.


Hi Haley,

This sounds like a very interesting biology project! Vestigial traits are reduced or incompletely developed structures. These features are non-adaptive and have no function, but are clearly similar to functioning organs or structures in closely related species. Vestigial traits are homologous among related species and are evidence for common descent and a shared evolutionary history. In ants, vestigial traits have not been extensively studied and there are just a few examples. Remains of wings in the worker cast, called "gemma" have been described in some ant species: in pupae of the ponerine Diacamma ceylonenese (Baratte et al. 2005), in larvae of the red imported fire ant Solenopsis invicta (Bowsher et al. 2007), and in Pheidole morrisi (Sheibat et al. 2010). Vestigial spermatheca are present in some basal ant lineages (Gobin et al. 2008). These vestigial traits are particularly interesting as the queen caste still possesses functional wings and functional spermatheca, but the workers do not. Workers cannot fly and mate. Some ant lineages are sting-less, but possess vestigial traits of the sting apparatus, for example the entire Formicinae subfamily. This subfamily includes the genus Camponotus (carpenter ants). Other vestigial traits are the absence of functional eyes in army ant species (see photo of Eciton burchellii below). These ants are blind, but show remains of the eyes.

army ant.jpg

Soldier of the army ant Eciton burchellii with vestigial eye structures. Photo by Alex Wild (

Here are the relevant citations:

Baratte S, Cobb M, Deutsch J and Peeters C. 2005. Morphological variations in the pre-imaginal development of the ponerine ant Diacamma ceylonense. Acta Zoologica 86: 25-31.

Bowsher JH, Wray GA, Abouheif E. 2007. Growth and patterning are evolutionarily dissociated in the vestigial wing discs of workers of the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Journal of Experimental Zoology (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 308B:769-776.

Gobin B, Fuminori I, Billen J, Peeters C. 2008. Degeneration of sperm reservoir and the loss of mating ability in worker ants. Naturwissenschaften 95:1041-1048.

Shbailat S J, Khila A, and Abouheif E. 2010. Correlations between spatiotemporal changes in gene expression and apoptosis underlie wing polyphenism in the ant Pheidole morrisi. Evolution and Development 12: 580-591.

I hope this helps!
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team


I was just wondering if you knew what type of ants these critters are? I live in Florida if that helps.

K. Brown






These appear to be ghost ants (Tapinoma melanocephalum), a notorious so-called "tramp" species that is well-established in Florida. The species epithet melanocephalum literally means "brown head", owing to its distinctive bicoloration. Here is a previous post that addresses the role of ghost ants as pests in the home and also provides links to a number of articles that can tell you more about the appearance and ecology of this species.


Alexandra Westrich & the AntAsk Team

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

Dear AntAsk,

I'm in Central Texas in Limestone County and photographed some ants that were behaving like leafcutter ants. But I have never seen ants with such huge spikes on their backs! Will you please tell me exactly what kind of ant these are?






Hey Pamela,

You're right! The ants in your photographs are indeed leafcutter ants. This particular species is Atta texana. All species of leafcutter (or fungus-farming) ants display a spiny exterior, as you point out, and in fact the number of these thoracic spines tells you the difference between the two "true" genera of leafcutters, Atta and Acromyrmex. Please see this previous post to learn more about the geographic distribution of leafcutter ants, and the second point of this post for an explanation of their spiny morphology.

Thanks for your interest!

Alexandra Westrich & the AntAsk Team

About a week ago at location Kandy, Sri Lanka round 7 in the evening local time (a little after sunset) I was observer of a fantastic scenery with some rather large insect. They were attracted by the light in the room, and in very short time, there were hundreds flying round the lamps. Suddenly over few minutes, they landed, dropped their four wings and mated, where after the male died and the female disappeared - I didnĀ“t see where, as I was occupied taking photos.
The length of the insect was round 10 mm, and the wingspans round 30-40 mm. A local told me that this happened at few times a year. Somehow it's was like when ants are mating in my country, but I do not find the animals very ant like.

I add a few pictures showing the experience. I'm great full for any informations regarding these insects.

Allan Bergmann Jensen

2011-11-25 13-44-51 - _ABJ1469.jpg
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Dear Allan,

Thanks for your detailed descriptions and great photography work concerning the termite queens that were mating in your kitchen! You were right, there are some very distinct differences between the termites in your kitchen and the ants you may have seen mating previously in your life.

If you'd like to know more about the differences between ants and termites, here is a good blog previously written on how to distinguish them.

As you can see in your pictures, the insects in question have broad waists, a pair of forewings and hindwings of roughly equal size (and almost double the body size), and beadlike antennae. This makes them termites!

Good luck on your future identification!

-Max Winston & the AntAsk team


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