are one of the most familiar and easily recognised groups of all
the insects. One of the quickest ways to recognise these insects
is to look at their antennae. Ants, unlike some wingless wasp species
which they may be mistaken for, always have elbowed antennae, with
the scape nearly as long
as the rest of the segments past the elbow. Ants also have the characteristic
'wasp waist', which usually consists of one or two knobs rather
than the single section of other hymenopterans. The mandibles of
most ants are quite prominent and many species have an ovipositor
capable of delivering a painful sting.
have evolved the most advanced social structures found in insects and
most live in social colonies which may be small, less than 100 individuals
or with more than a million members. Each colony is made up of different
castes and usually includes:
A Queen: who lays all the eggs, is winged at birth but loses them after
mating, there may be more than one queen in a nest.
Workers: wingless sterile females who build the nest and tend to the queen,
larvae and pupae. Workers may be separated into workers and soldiers.
Soldiers are used for colony defence and often have very large heads and
Males: who have wings and whose only role is to mate with the new queens.
have one of the most varied diets of all insects. They will feed on a
variety of substances including dead animal matter, other insects, seeds,
fungi, nectar and honeydew produced by scale insects and aphids. When
out foraging an ant who finds a food source returns to the nest leaving
a trail of pheromones which are chemicals that stimulate other ants. Other
ants then follow the trail to the food and take more back to the nest
resulting in the processionary behaviour often observed.
ants, bulldog ants)
ants or bulldog ants are familiar to most Australians due to their large
size and very painful sting. These ants can be separated from most other
ants by their large eyes and long, straight, well-toothed mandibles.
bull ants construct mound nests in the soil which may be covered with
small stones or fragments of plant material. These ants are aggressive
and have well developed sight and when disturbed often come swarming rapidly
from the nest straight towards the intruder with jaws open and stings
at the ready.
ants are considered to be some of the most primitive ant species and only
have relatively small colonies. The workers are solitary hunters and unlike
many other ant species do not form scent trails when foraging. Instead
bull ants forage independently and upon finding food carry it back to
the nest. Despite their aggressive nature adult bull ants feed predominantly
on honeydew, nectar and other sweet substances, but their larvae are carnivorous
and are fed on insects collected by foraging workers. Bull ants are most
active during the day and forage either on the ground or on low vegetation.
is a very large and distinctive group of ants found throughout Australia.
They can be distinguished by the presence of spines on the mesosoma and
the top of the petiole. Most Polyrhachis species are black in colour
and range from 5-10 millimetres in length.
species mainly build their nests in the ground either under rocks and
logs or in the open. A few species from the tropics are known to construct
arboreal nests made from plant fibres or nest in the hollows of trees.
ants are relatively shy and will retreat back into the nest when disturbed.
Adults can often be observed at night foraging on vegetation during warmer
weather, although some species may forage during the day. Polyrhachis
species have a varied diet, collecting nectar and consuming both plant
and animal matter.
Commonly called sugar
ants, Camponotus species occur in most parts of Australia. Camponotus
is one of the largest groups of ants in Australia and species vary greatly
in shape, size and colour. These ants can range from 2.5-15 millimetres
in length and are some of the most often seen ants due to their size and
often bright colouring.
species can be found nesting in a variety of sites ranging from holes
in wood to the roots of plants, in twigs of trees and shrubs, between
rocks or in the soil. They are mostly nocturnal and workers can often
be seen heading out at dusk along marked trails to forage for food, and
travelling back to the nest at dawn. Sugar ants can also be seen during
the day however they are most active at night.
Sugar ants belong
to a group of stingless ants and although unable to sting do possess strong
mandibles which can bite. In self-defence these ants are also able to
spray acid from their abdomens to deter predators.
consobrinus is probably the most familiar species of the Camponotus
group as they are a common sight in many suburban areas. These large yellow
and black ants are often seen during warm weather heading out from their
nest at dusk to gather food or foraging for insects under lights at night.
species are usually the most frequently encountered ants in Australia.
This large group of ants are also one of the most ecological important
groups due to their aggressive nature and high abundance. Many species
often form large colonies with well-defined boundaries which are aggressively
patrolled by workers. In areas where large colonies occur the numbers
of other species is significantly reduced by the presence of Iridomyrmex
nests and their aggressive members.
species build nests in the soil which, depending on the species may consist
of large conspicuous mounds covered in small pebbles with many entrance
holes or more cryptic nests which have only a single small entrance hole.
Iridomyrmex species are scavengers, taking a wide variety of food
which may include nectar, animal material both living and dead and plant
matter such as seeds. Some species also tend aphids and other Hemiptera
for the honeydew they produce.
purpureus are commonly known as meat ants and are possibly the best
known of all ant species in Australia. Their distinctive purple and black
colouring as well as their gravel covered mound nests are seen almost
everywhere. In the cooler southern parts of the country meat ants may
not be very active during the winter. However, during the warmer months
they can be seen foraging across wide areas and if disturbed will come
surging from the nest to defend against intruders. Meat ants do not sting
but have strong mandibles with which to bite. Meat ants collect a wide
variety of foods and can often be seen 'farming' other insects such as
lerps and scale for the sweet honeydew they offer.
are some of the most common ant species in Australia with over 100 species
occurring across the country mostly in either the tropics or the more
arid areas. These ants occur in a wide range of habitats and are often
very abundant in disturbed habitats, being able to successfully colonise
urban areas such as parks, gardens and yards.
build their nest on or in the ground and may be found under rocks and
logs, in rotten wood or out in the open. Nest in open ground often consist
of small, messy earthen mounds or larger mounds decorated with small pebbles,
leaves or twigs.
Rhytidoponera are scavengers or predators although some species
may also collect honeydew or seeds. These ants can often be seen foraging
on the ground or among low vegetation either singularly or in small groups
and foraging times usually vary depending on the environment. In drier
areas Rhytidoponera mostly forage in the evening or during the
night, while those in wetter habitats or forested areas often forage during
species of Rhytidoponera are either unable to sting or have a weak
sting only, while some species have quite a painful sting considering
their small size.
metallica or green ants as they are commonly called occur over most
of southern Australia and are often found in urban areas such as parks
and gardens. Green ants are highly adaptable and can tolerate a wide range
of environmental conditions. They are easily recognised by their iridescent
green colouring and are often felt before they are seen. Many a person
has been taken by surprise by sitting down in lush grass only to be painfully
stung by these cryptic ants while they are out foraging on the ground.
is a very large group of ants found mostly in the drier and hotter areas
of Australia. All species are characterised by having a shield-like plate
on the upper surface of their body. When disturbed these ants lie motionless,
tucking their legs under this protective plate and drawing their antennae
into special grooves on the side of their head. This along with their
often hairy bodies makes them almost invulnerable to attack from other
species nest on the ground and can usually be recognised by the piles
of discarded seeds and seed coats around the entrance. Nests may consist
of a small mound of dirt around the entrance hole or a larger depression.
Meranoplus species are scavengers, taking a wide variety of food
although some species specialise in collecting seeds. Foraging workers
can often be seen moving slowly along the ground or on the trunks of trees
mostly during the day, although some may forage at night.
learn more about the types of ants found in Australia see the Australian
Ants Online website.
more ant species visit the Australian
- Formicidae section found here.