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

Regards, Azman

Malaysian termite.jpg

Soldiers of the termite Macrotermes carbonarius in Malaysia.

Dear Azman,

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Pamula,

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

Ants Down Under
Ants of Brisbane

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

Best of luck,
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

Dear AntAsk,

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

Laura Carrière

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck with your essay on Lasius niger!

Wulfila Gronenberg (Guest Expert) & the AntAsk Team

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

Dear Mikel,

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

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

For more information and links to the genomic sequences, please visit

Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

Dear AntAsk:

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

Dear Owen (and Owen's sister),

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you,


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

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

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

Dear Askantweb,

There is a group of fire ants congregating on a mound. Please see the attached pictures. They are tightly clinging to themselves like balls of ants. I haven't seen this behavior before and found it quite unusual. When I took the picture it was a warm day after it snowed a couple of days before. The ground was a little wet. Please explain why this happening and provide assistance in order to know what to do, should I spray or use some other type of insecticide to keep them from spreading. I live in East Tennessee and they are new to the area. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated, Thank You. Taylor, Philadelphia, TN



Dear Taylor,

This is an unusual behavior! So much so that we contacted a fire ant expert, Josh King, to help with this post. Here is what he had to say:

"This sort of "clumping" behavior is most commonly seen during flooding when the colony is forced out of their nest by rising ground water. As flooding is not an issue here (it seems), and there is a conspicuous lack of a distinct mound, I suspect that the ants are doing something they normally do on warm days after cold weather - they are moving up to the surface to warm up. The lack of a mound may explain why they are clumping, as they normally gather in high densities in the mound to thermoregulate, but in this case there is no structure, so they are clumping upon one another, which may also increase warming a bit. Sorry my answer could not be more definitive!"

As for getting rid of the ants, please see the following AntBlog post here.

Joshua King (guest expert), Corrie Moreau, & the AntAsk Team


I am an undergrad student from the Philippines and my thesis is about Ant diversity and their possible potential of being bioindicators of disturbance in an area. I would like to ask help from you guys for any related literature about ants here in the Philippines. Anything will help me a lot, be it about diversity, foraging, or other indication studies about ants published. 

Please help me.

Thank you.

Dear Rafael,

Thanks for your question. That's a really interesting topic, and there has been quite a bit of research into the use of ants as bioindicators. I'm not aware of any research that has specifically focused on the Philippines, but I can give you some citations of relevant studies from nearby areas like Borneo (e.g., Bruhl et al. 2003) and Papua New Guinea. It is further away, but some of the best Ants as Bioindicators work has been done in Australia.

But first: Anyone considering using ants as bioindicators, or sampling a large amount of leaf litter ants for any sort of ecological question, should read this book:
Agosti et al., 2000. Ants: standard methods for measuring and monitoring biodiversity
It is available here almost in its entirety for download in pdf form.

A recent paper that deals with statistically sound ways of sampling ants was just published in Myrmecological News:
Gotelli et al. 2011. Counting ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): biodiversity sampling and statistical analysis for myrmecologists.

Regarding Philippine ants, there was a very useful revision of the genus Odontomachus in that same issue of Myrmecological News:
Sorger, D.M. & Zettel, H. On the ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of the Philippine Islands: V. The genus Odontomachus Latreille, 1804
Another recent revision is by Zettel (2006) of the genus Pristomyrmex.

Of the few works to be published about Philippine ant assemblages in the past 50 years or so are:
Way et al. 1998
Samson et al. 1997. Ant Diversity and Abundance along an Elevational Gradient in the Philippines. , and this one that might be useful with regards to the negative indicator species described below.

There is also, I might add, an excellent list of ants from the Philippines here and a useful key to their identification here.

That being said, you should try and do as much reading as you can about other case studies in which ants have been used or proposed as biomonitoring tools. For those readers not yet familiar with the "Google Scholar" search tool within Google, it is an excellent supplement to and even substitute for most online literature search engines. Click here for results relevant to this post.

Of the many articles that are retrieved, one of the most useful for justifying the use of ants as bioindicators is by Majer et al. 2007

Perhaps my favorite study on the subject is Anderson et al.'s 2002 Using Ants as Bioindicators in Land Management: Simplifying Assessment of Ant Community Responses. Anderson and colleagues clearly articulate one of the most important things to look for in a biomonitoring protocol: feasibility. "Will we actually have the time and expertise to continue this protocol, or is it so elaborate that we're dooming ourselves to a one-shot deal?" That is a very important question to ask.

In my mind, there are four main styles of using ants (or any other organisms) as bioindicators:

Umbrella species - make sure these species are protected, and all other species will be safe. Their absence should send out warning alarms. This approach is essentially the "Spotted owl" approach that environmental activists in the Northwestern United States used to justify saving big trees. From an ecological standpoint, it makes sense to select species that are very sensitive to disturbance, because that way, if they are safe, everything is safe. The logic of the umbrella species is that you want to take the most sensitive, asthmatic canary with you when you descend down that coal mine. With respect to ants, umbrella species would be tricky to use in a place like the Philippines because many of the most sensitive ants will be undescribed species, and it will take years to establish their identity. However, if there are known rare endemic ants on a particular island, this approach might be helpful, especially in combination with another outlined below.

Negative indicator species (NIS)- Bad Species! No! Go Home!
Negative indicator species should not be there. If you find them somewhere, then something is wrong. In many areas around the world, invasive species are present where ever there is human-caused disturbance. They themselves are also a force of ecological change. Five species of invasive ants (Anoplolepis gracilipes, Linepithema humile, Pheidole megacephala, Solenopsis invicta, and Wasmannia auropunctata) are among the 100 worst invasive species world-wide, and each have been show to change ecosystems in their introduced range. These species are excellent candidates for inclusion in a biomonitoring protocol in an area with many unidentified species, because they can often be unambiguously assigned a taxonomic name and an ecological value. In the Philippines, two out of the five have been reported so far: Anoplolepis gracilipes, Phediole megacephala. Those two and a third, Solenopsis geminata, might make good candidates for use in a negative indicator species biomonitoring protocol. And certainly any of the other ones would be worth watching out for if they were to show up. The satisfying thing about NIS as opposed to umbrella species is that when an NIS appears there are two proactive things you can do: try to figure out what went wrong with the environment to let the NIS in, and try to eradicate the NIS from its new range. When your umbrella species starts to decline or disappears altogether, you're often left with fewer clues and, well, no more umbrella.

Functional groups (at or above the species level)- This is when you look at a bunch of different species in a particular group (say, ants, for example) and check to make sure everyone is there. Or, you look at the average value for some trait of that group, or perhaps make sure that the group displays some ratio of traits. People who study rivers and streams in North America have shown that there are certain taxa, that are usually present when streams are unmodified and unpolluted. Because ants, as a family, display a wide variety of ecological roles, they can also be divided up into functional groups, and a characteristic combination of those functional groups should be present in each ecosystem. Australia has a very strong ant research tradition, especially in applied ecology, and the Australians were the first to follow the stream biologists and apply the functional group concept to ants. You can read more about the functional groups of ants here and here
Unfortunately, the functional group model of ant community composition is based upon the ants of Australia, and Australia's ants, like many of its other organisms, are quite distinctive. So a functional group approach to biomonitoring will not always be productive outside of Australia, unless perhaps new functional groups are established in each new place. Because relatively little is known about Philippine ant assemblages, it might be more productive to use a more generalizable approach, like Negative Indicator Species or fluctuating asymmetry (below).

Assemblage properties (of individuals) - Finally, there are some studies that deal with properties of individual organisms, specifically, asymmetry. Ants, frogs, and people are all pretty much bilaterally symmetrical. However, stress during development can cause slight abnormalities to occur, which make us more asymmetrical than usual. The key phrases for this line of research are "fluctuating asymmetry" and "Developmental instability"
Basically, one could take any group of normally bilaterally symmetrical organisms (even some plants and algae have been studied this way!), and measure the same thing on both sides of a lot of organisms. For insects, good things to measure might be eye width or wing length.

I hope this helps, Rafael. Biomonitoring is a very admirable idea, but difficult to accomplish effectively. Ants are a very strong candidate taxon for use as biomonitoring tools because they are very common in many different environments, and display a wide range of ecological preferences and tolerances. They are also fun and exciting to study! I hope you get a chance to look at some while you're writing your paper!

Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

Hi, We have a new little ant farm with Harvester ants. We had a mishap and had to remove the ants to reduce the moisture. During our clumsy transfer a few dead ants ended up back in the farm enclosure. The ants made one tunnel and a ball of white fuzzy stuff is now at the end of it. A couple of legs and perhaps a part of a head are visible around the exterior of it. How did they make this, and what is it?
Thanks very much, Jackie.

Hi Jackie,

Thank you very much for contacting us at AntAsk! Great to hear that you are keeping ants in an ant farm! Without a picture it is hard to say what the fuzzy stuff is, but my guess would be that the ants have formed a waste pile and now a fungus is growing on the dead ant bodies. Does your ant farm smell moldy? And is it still moist in there? It is quite common that ants dispose waste material in special locations to keep the nest clean. Please also read this post. I would recommend that you remove the fuzzy white stuff and carefully wash your hands afterwards. I would also try to further reduce the moisture as fungi usually prefer high moisture. This might further help to prevent the spread of the fungus.

I hope this helps and you will enjoy your ant colony!

All the best,
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

If and when an ant is moved from one colony to another is it rejected in the new colony? Or it could be taken by other worker ants and brought to the queen ant for decisions. Or does the ant just fit in into the new colony. (Anthony)

Hi Anthony,

Thank you very much for contacting us at AntAsk! This question is not that easy to answer as ants are highly diverse. There are more than 12,500 described ant species to date and many more awaiting description. Each species has a distinct biology and many differ in their response towards an ant which belongs to a different colony. I would say that in the majority of cases, an intruder would be killed by the workers of the resident colony. However, if the intruder is from a colony that is closely related to the new colony, then the workers might not be able to recognize it as foreign and it could sneak in. There are a few ant species, which would accept an ant from a different colony. These ants usually are more primitive in their social organization. Please also read this post. The queen does not take part in the decision process, her job is to lay eggs and to produce pheromones (chemicals), which signalize her dominance over the workers regarding reproduction. The workers perform the task that also involve nest defense against ants from other colonies.

All the best,
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team


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