Facts on Harvester Ants

Written by timothy baron
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Facts on Harvester Ants
Harvester ants are notable for their read abdomens and torsos, although some have black heads. (red ants image by Jesse-lee Lang from Fotolia.com)

Harvester ants are some of the most commonly found ants in the United States, especially in Texas. Of the 22 species, 10 are found in the Lone Star State. They're notable for their construction of seemingly civic facilities, such as massive ant highways and clear-cut swathes of grass around the entrances to their nests.

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Diet

Harvester ants are primarily foragers and scavengers. During the summer and fall, they gather seeds from a radius around their nest stretching as far as 3.5 meters. These seeds are then stored in special underground chambers called "granaries," supplying the colony with a steady food stream through the winter. In addition, harvester ants will scavenge the corpses of dead insects, though they rarely hunt their own prey.

Structures

While most species of ant produce large mounds around their nest, harvester ants are notable for leaving only a small hole into the ground. Their nests are still easily identified by people, though, as they colony will clear-cut surrounding grass, sometimes in a circle as wide as 3 to 6 feet. These barren spots in the middle of otherwise grassy lawns give the nests away. In addition, colonies will clear-cut lengthy corridors through the grass, so as to expedite travel. The corridors can sometimes stretch as far as 3.5 meters from the nest.

Life Cycle

Like all ants, harvesters go through a 4 stage life-cycle. They begin as small, fleshy eggs 0.5mm in length. Eventually these eggs hatch, and the ants emerge as larvae. With long goose-necked bodies and no legs, larvae are unidentifiable as ants except for their heads. They spend all their time in the nest, eating and growing. When they've stored enough energy, they weave a cocoon around themselves and enter the pupal phase. Like caterpillars to butterflies, this pupal phase is their final transformation and when they emerge from their cocoon, they are full grown ants.

Bite

Although they are unaggressive, harvester ants have a painful sting. Their abdomens are equipped with poisonous stingers, and if provoked they will use these stingers to attack their harasser. The sting can cause burning, hives and rashes and, in extreme cases, can sometimes even lead to nausea and faintness.

Ant Farms

Harvester ants are the most commonly sold ants for ant farms. Their relatively large size (5 to 6mm) makes them more visible than fire ants and black ants, and their generally unaggressive demeanour is ideal in case of escape. Although harvester ants typically live in a caste society, with a queen, breeders, soldiers and workers, generally only worker ants are sold for ant farms. This is to prevent exponential breeding as well as to avoid the more painful sting of the soldier ants.

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