I have another question involving ants.

About three years ago, I put a hummingbird feeder outside my office in the home. I fill it with a mixture that is four parts water and one party plain old white sugar.
A few female and male hummingbirds visit every day.

However, black ants would also walk down the pole that the feeder hangs from and actually enter through the holes designed to admit hummingbird beaks and wind up dead in the so-called nectar inside the feeder. I looked for an online solution and found what is called an "ant moat." It's the red cylinder that the feeder is suspended from. It holds water and this prevents ants from crawling down to the feeder.

It works great and I haven't had a single drowned ant in the nectar since I installed the ant moat.

Amazingly, though, over the last two years I've only seen one ant actually walk down the pole, discover the moat, and retreat. *Just one*. Granted I'm not watching every minute, but I'm looking out there enough to be surprised that I've only seen one ant and that was last year when I first installed the moat.

It strikes me that perhaps that original ant left a chemical message for others that communicates that the nectar is inaccessible so don't even try.

What do you think?

Many thanks,


* * *

Dear Ted,

Thanks for all of the details on your ant deterrent, it seems to be quite effective! In fact, there are many potential ways that the colony of ants learned to avoid your trap, likely involving some of the avenues of ant communication discussed in this post. One thing to keep in mind is that collective foraging often works on signals of reinforcement by multiple foragers. Thus, if none of the ants were able to return back to the nest with the nectar, then they would have a hard time "convincing" any other ants to forage in that direction, and there would be little reason to walk towards the moat other than random chance.

Hope this helps!

Max Winston & the AntAsk Team

Dear Ant Experts,

You really can find anything online! I'm so glad I found your website. Please help me as I can't identify these flying ants.

In prior years I've noticed these flying ant like bugs outside my home. A few days ago I noticed two in my kitchen. Then the next morning about a half dozen. Same the next day. This morning there weren't that many.

I've been looking for information to identify them when I found your site. They don't exactly match the pictures of either ants or termites I've seen online. They look more like flying ants but with very small heads. The time of year and other behavior doesn't seem to match up with things I've read online.

They move around clumsily as if they're not used to having wings. I found some dead that appeared to have fallen on their backs and couldn't get up. I am located in the north east NJ.

Please help me figure out what I have, where they might be coming from and what best to do about preventing their entry in my home. Spending hours looking at pictures of bugs online is starting to creep me out :)

I've included some pictures. Wish I could have taken better but hoping that along with the description is enough.

Thank you,

This morning I saw dozens of these flying ants in my kitchen and I desperately need something to do about them. I'm worried I may have to call an exterminator. Two things concern me. 1) I may not have termites and they tell me I do and charge me extra which I can't really afford. 2) I may have termites and I won't treat effectively for them.


Dear Tom,

Thank you for contacting AntBlog!  I am sure you can image that around this time of year we receive many emails regarding ants in peoples homes. 

The ants you found are the common pavement ant, Tetramorium cf. caespitum.  These are the ants you can often see waging battles between the cracks in the sidewalk.  Winged forms you are finding are sexuals (the males and females) that are produced about once a year to found new colonies (you can read more about how to identify the sexual forms here).  The release of these sexuals usually coincides with the first really hard rains of the season or other environmental cues. 

You can read more about pavement ants in these four previous AntBlog posts:

- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2013/06/territorial-battles.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2012/06/lots-of-sidewalk-ants-virginia-philadelphia-pennsylvania-usa.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2012/05/ant-pile-up-val-centennial-co-usa.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2011/01/where-did-north-america-pavement-ants-genus-tetramorium-come-from.html

If you are not seeing any of the wingless workers (typical ants) walking around your home, you likely just have your house in the way of their flight path.  These ants are not very commonly found in homes and do not cause structural damage like termites or carpenter ants.  But, if you start to see large numbers of the workers in your home to you can try some of the tips on these two posts:

- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/07/help-i-have-ants-in-my-home-and-want-them-out-oscar-oakland-ca-usa.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2011/06/winged-ants-in-bathroom-please-help-homeowners-with-ant-problem.html

Best regards,
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

Hi there--

Today, I've been "googling" red ants because last night in my backyard, I saw hundreds of red ants--not tiny--not the huge ones, marching across my backyard--in a 5" wide line, all carrying eggs. There were HUNDREDS of them--it took about a half an hour. Fortunately, I caught them in time to trace over to the leaders of the pack (not carrying eggs), and watched until the last ones came. They marched across my large backyard from a neighbors house, into the backyard of the neighbor on the other side!

It was fascinating and I'm thankful I saw it. My question is--what kind of ants would they be, and what were they doing? I'm a gardener, and I use no chemicals or pesticides--so I don't want to harm the ants--I am just very curious!

Thanks very much! Love your blog--it is fascinating! Found it by googling my ants!

Centennial, CO

Dear Shelly:

Thanks for your interesting question on ant behavior on a warm Colorado afternoon.

As you no doubt discovered in your search, there are a lot of different kinds of "red ants" in the world, but because of your clear description of the behavior, we can narrow it down considerably from all those hundreds of different sorts of ants that could qualify as red.

There are two most likely players in your area, a Polyergus species, or a member of the Formica sanguinea group of species; both in the broader category of slave-making, or dulotic, ants. These are ants that raid colonies of a related ant species and steal, not the eggs, but the pupae in cocoons (equivalent of a butterfly chrysalis) from the raided ant species. These mature into ants that constitute the primary work force of a mixed species ant nest population. The slave-makers themselves are quite expert at this brood-robbing, but often somewhat to completely (depending on the species) ineffectual at normal ant work, such as nest building, food gathering, and brood care. You might find it interesting, if you see this again, to follow the pupa-carrying ants home and see the amazing mixed species colony that results form this behavior.

This is one of several forms of social parasitism in ants, in which one species is dependent on one or more healthy colonies of a particular host ant species for its survival. Some lovely pictures of parasitic ants may be seen at the photography website of Myrmecologist Alex Wild:

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.

Winged ants sendoff

We've observed swarms of pavement ants all over the neighborhood and found out via the internet that this is to send off the winged queens and males to start new colonies. Assuming this is correct, I still have a couple of questions. First, why do so many worker ants need to swarm? Does this serve a useful purpose, like distraction or something? They just seem to be going in all directions (and occasionally moving pine needles and things). Second, as I was crouching over one swarm the ants dragging the winged ants seemed to switch directions and pull the winged ants back into the nest. Would there be a reason for them to do this, like because of my presence, or some other prompt, or was it just a coincidence?

Hello Anne -- Thanks for writing the antblog with this question, which I think will be of broad interest to ant observers. It is true, as you say, that ants send off winged individuals to start new colonies. These mate away from the parent nest, often in a mid-air swarm composed of winged ants from many different home nests, thus ensuring outbreeding. After mating, males soon die, but the females go to a suitable nesting site, break off their wings, build a small nest, and attempt to raise a batch of workers and thus become a colony queen. Most foundress queens fail, due to predation, desiccation, fungal infection, etc., which is why ants send out so many winged females during the life of the colony.
Ant colonies invest a lot of food and energy into brood rearing generally, especially into rearing the large reproductive forms. So they protect this investment the best they can for as long as they can, up until the last moment, when the winged ants fly off. A swarm of worker ants can intimidate potential predators from approaching the winged ants, and when they workers detect a giant form or shadow (such as yours), they try to protect their winged brothers and sisters by dragging them back into the nest. They also do this when changes in weather (sometimes even a mere gust of wind or small cloud blowing over) indicate possibly unsuitable conditions for a successful mating flight may arise. The more healthy winged ants they can keep alive for the eventual mating flight, the more likely it is a particular colony's genes will make it into future generations of their species.

James C. Trager of the Ask Ant Team


I'm sorry if it's bad form to send pictures of dead creatures, but this particular one was acting belligerently in my bed, forcing my hand. I think I crushed its thorax in the act.

I encountered this insect while living in the central part northern Namibia, maybe 10km south of the Angolan border. I have no idea what it is. I've always wanted to learn more about it, and when I discovered this blog I thought it might be a place where I could get some guidance.

Can you identify this? Is it even an ant?

Thanks a lot,


Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for DSCN0730.JPG



No worries on bad form. Your inkling that this is not an ant was correct! This is a Solifugid, more commonly known as a sun spider, wind scorpion, or camel spider. Although it is an arachnid along with scorpions and spiders, most species of Solifugids do not have venom, and are not much danger to humans. The only thing you might want to watch out for is their powerful jaws, which they use to hunt ground-dwelling arthropods and other small animals.

Hope this helps!


Max Winston & the Ant Ask Team

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

We found these ants below in Anduki (Seria, Brunei):



Hi Uli,

The ants pictured belong to the genus Cataulacus, a group of arboreal-nesting ants widely distributed across the Old World tropics. The exact species is likely Cataulacus latissimus, one of the more sizable of the dozen or so Indo-Australian species, known to occur in West Malaysia, Sumatra, Singapore, and of course Borneo.

Thanks for the photo,

Alexandra Westrich & the AntAsk Team

Dear Ant Blog,

All the photographs I see show ants using their mandibles like tongs. Can they rotate them like we can rotate our arms?



Dear Katrina,

Despite the fact that ants use their mandibles for a multitude of different functions including prey capture, manipulation, and escape, there are no ants that have been proven to have fully rotational mandibles. Humans have a ball-and-socket joint that allows great range of motion, and although ants have a ball-and-socket joint for their antennae, their mandibles usually have a single plane of motion. Although this limits range of motion, it allows for much greater strength.

In case you are interested in reading more about mandibles, Chris Schmidt wrote a basic introduction to mandibular function as a part of the Tree of Life project. There are also several academic papers that detail the movements of mandibles (see Jurgen Paul), as well as some of the most extreme mechanical "trap-jaws" that have been convergently evolved by several ant species.

Hope this answers your question!


Max Winston & the AntAsk Team


We've had this ant problem for a long time now. There are these red ants about the length of a fingernail that inhibit a tree opposite our house across the road, they seem to be making a nest in the leaves or something. We usually park our car near the tree because there is limited space here (our neighbours including ourselves have 3 cars each). These ants are always found on the car but I've never considered them anything more than an annoyance. I'm only afraid that they might be inside the car while we're driving and my folks say they have a painful bite which scares me. Plus these ants are cannibalistic I think, I see them rushing to one of their own dead and picking them up back to their nest. When provoked they lift their torso and front 2 legs in some kind of intimidating pose. Today, we found a horde of them all over our car, many were dead due to a chemical smoke run conducted by the local town council to get rid of mosquitoes. What's next? The whole colony is going to come down and collect their dead? I quickly pulled a hose and washed away everything but those that were alive had really strong grip and won't budge even to strong water pressure, so I squashed them and in the process had some crawling up my legs.

Please tell me what to do if anything. I'm tired of it.

Thank you,
Petaling Jaya, Malaysia


It sounds like these ants are probably in the genus Oecophylla (pictured below), or more commonly known as weaver ants because they weave leaves together with larval silk to make their nests.

(Photo by Alexander Wild)

They are highly territorial, but even though they lack a functional sting, they can inflict painful bites and will spray formic acid in the bite wound to intensify the pain.They are probably sticking to your car due to a hairs on their feet that can stick to very smooth surfaces! As for collecting their dead, they are not cannibalistic, but they do take their dead back to a 'trash heap' near their nest. Ants are very tidy animals and communicate using pheromones, so when one ant dies, it emits a certain smell that indicates that it is no longer alive. To prevent any potential spread of disease, they gather their dead (similar to the way we collect and contain our waste).

You can read a bit more about weaver ants in this previous post:

And more about the hygienic behaviors of ants here:

Good luck!

Gracen Brilmyer & the AntAsk Team


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