Florida Harvester Ants – A Quick Guide

Florida harvester Ants, Pogonomyrmex badius, are found on the East Coast of the United States

Is the sting of the Florida harvester ant painful?

They have a painful sting. The sting of the harvester ant can last for up to 12 hours. Entomologist Justin Schmidt described the pain as ‘Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a power drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.’ The sting does not give immediate pain but rather has a delayed response of about 30 seconds before intensifying.

How did the Florida harvester ant get its name?

They get their name from their habit of collecting seeds. Harvester ants are very good at finding them. They can even find seeds in otherwise baron environments such as desert planes. They focus their efforts on collecting seeds during winter months when other food sources are less abundant. They are often accused of damaging crop yields by taking the seeds, although evidence about the damage they inflict is debated.

How big are Florida harvester ants?

As ants go harvester ants are relatively large with the largest up to 0.5 inches long (13mm).

Judy Gallagher, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

How long do harvester ants live?

They are the longest living of all ants. Studies have found that harvester ant colonies can potentially survive for up to 45 years. (Source: Schmidt) To survive this long ant queens are protected by their workers. She will not leave the colony unless the relocation is absolutely needed, and then she is escorted by her worker ants. The average life expectancy of a queen ant is closer to 15 years. Worker ants may only live for about a year.

How deep are harvester ant colonies?

The colonies are very deep. Harvester ant nests have been found as deep as 12.1 feet (3.7 meters). For a colony of harvester ants to survive the queen must be protected, She is responsible for laying all the eggs for the colony and if she dies so does the colony. For this reason, keeping herself safe is paramount. Consequently, she stays deep in the colony. Here she can stay protected from predators.

Do harvester ant queens have wings?

The queen only has wings prior to mating. In a similar fashion to other ant species, the queen discards her wings once she has mated. The wings are useful for mating as they allow the male and females to meet but become unnecessary and so are discarded. Male harvester ants by contrast can not break off their wings and die not long after mating.

What do Florida harvester ants nests look like?

Harvester ant colonies can be easy to spot as mounds on the earth, especially as harvester ants remove the vegetation from around the entrance. It has been suggested that they do this as protection from predators including spiders. Removing the vegetation makes predators more vulnerable and removes purchase points for spider webs.

How long does it take for a colony to get to full size?

It takes up to four years for the colony to get to full size. In the first year, the harvester ant colony will remain small but will grow in size year on year as more ants bring in more food. The ant brood needs a lot of protein to grow which requires the worker ants to prey on other insects and bring them back to the nest.

How long are harvester ant trails?

Harvester ants will establish trails that stretch for up to 30 meters out from the colony. They are used for transporting food and make traveling extremely efficient as there are no obstacles on the routes.

What do harvester ants prey on?

When insects are available the harvester ants will work together to prey on insects often much larger in size. Caterpillars are common food sources and are dragged back to the ant colony by hoards of ants.

(Source: Schmidt – The Sting Factor)