The Bug Box: Harvester ants

University of Florida

Arizona State University

This bug is creeping around your property. He may be friend or foe.

Name: Pogonomyrmex spp.

Alias: Harvester ants. These are fairly large ants ranging from one-forth to one-half inch long. They are red to dark brown and have a brush under their heads that’s used to clean themselves, carry water and remove sand during excavation of the nest. They are seed feeders and may keep areas around their nests clear of vegetation for several yards. Foraging begins in early morning as ants called patrollers leave and meander around the mound. After returning, these ants interact with other ants in the mound and then foragers move out in search of food. Once a seed source is found, foragers will walk past or even over a pile of seeds placed in their path to get to the food source. It is thought colonies may be capable of living for 40 years or more, but generally live for 15 to 20 years. Harvester ants have an unusual three-sex system. Colonies are divided into two lineages. When a queen mates with a male from her own lineage, mostly female reproductives are a result. When that same queen mates with the other lineage, workers are the result. As with other social insects, there are not ants in charge of other ants and the colony’s behavior is a result of the way workers use local available information.

Crimes: Harvester ants are considered by many to have the most toxic venom of any insect. Their stings are very painful. They cause damage to vegetation around their nests. Seed collecting may also cause problems.

Redeeming Qualities: None known.

Sentence: Harvester ants seldom sting unless their nest is threatened so it is best to observe them from a distance. They may occasionally be found indoors. There are insecticides available to control them should they become a problem.

For more information on dangerous and beneficial bugs, call agent Wayne Jones at the Bonneville County Extension Office at 208-529-1390.