Myrmecia (ant)

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For other uses, see Myrmecia (disambiguation).
Bullant apr07.jpg
Bull ant
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Hexapoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Superfamily: Vespoidea
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Myrmeciinae
Genus: Myrmecia
Fabricius, 1804[1]
c. 90 species[2]

Halmamyrmecia Wheeler, 1922
Pristomyrmecia Emery, 1911
Promyrmecia Emery, 1911

Myrmecia, often called bulldog ants, bull ants, inch ants, sergeant ants, jumper ants or jack-jumpers (although jack jumper only applies to members of the M. pilosula species group), is a genus of ants. Bull ants can grow to over 40 mm (1.6 in) in length, with the smallest species 15 mm (0.59 in) long. Almost all of the approximately 90 species are endemic to Australia, with the single exception of Myrmecia apicalis from New Caledonia, where it is rare.[3]

The term bull ant is often used in lay language to refer to other common ants which are neither true bull ants nor members of the genus Myrmecia.


A winged female bulldog ant
Head detail

These ants are well known in Australia for their aggressive behaviour and powerful stings.[3] The ant Myrmecia pyriformis has also been listed as the worlds most dangerous ant by Guinness World Records.[4] The venom of these ants has the potential to induce anaphylactic shock in allergic sting victims. As with most severe allergic reactions, the reaction may be lethal if left untreated. These large, alert ants have characteristic large eyes and long, slender mandibles. Some bull ants, such as Myrmecia pyriformis and Myrmecia pilosula are known to have caused several deaths in humans.[4][5]

They have superior vision, able to track and even follow intruders from a distance of 1 m.[3] Myrmecia is one of several ant genera which possess gamergates, female worker ants which are able to mate and reproduce, thus sustaining the colony after the loss of the queen. A colony of Myrmecia pyriformis without queen was collected in 1998 and kept in captivity, during which time the gamergates produced viable workers for three years.[6]


Detail of head and mandibles
Myrmecia forficata

Bull ants eat small insects, honeydew (a sweet, sticky liquid found on leaves, deposited from various insects), seeds, fruit, fungi, gums, and nectar. Because they mostly live exclusively in bushland, they are rarely exposed to a human-influenced diet. The adult ants mainly eat nectar and honeydew, but the ant larvae are carnivores that eat small insects brought back to them by hunting worker ants. The workers can also regurgitate food back in the nest so other ants can consume it.[7]

Carpenter ants (Camponotus) are fed on by bull ants, but this is a dangerous quarry as carpenter ants are able to release chemical signals to bring further reinforcements, which bull ants lack, nor do they have any scent trails as they forage independently.[8][9] Predators of the bull ant are other ants, spiders, lizards, birds and other animals.[10] Assassin bugs, redback spiders and the Short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus Aculeatus) are also known to hunt bull ants.[10][11]


The bull ant famously appears in the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer's major work, The World as Will and Representation, as a paradigmatic example of strife and constant destruction endemic to the "will to live".

"But the bulldog-ant of Australia affords us the most extraordinary example of this kind; for if it is cut in two, a battle begins between the head and the tail. The head seizes the tail in its teeth, and the tail defends itself bravely by stinging the head: the battle may last for half an hour, until they die or are dragged away by other ants. This contest takes place every time the experiment is tried."[12]


M. brevinoda
M. gulosa
M. pyriformis
Winged specimens leaving the nest
Winged specimens leaving the nest


  1. ^ "ITIS standard report - Myrmecia (Fabricius, 1804)". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 12 March 2014. 
  2. ^ Bolton, B. (2014). "Myrmecia". AntCat. Retrieved 3 July 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c "Bull ants". Australian Museum. Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "Most Dangerous Ant". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 5 April 2014. 
  5. ^ McGain, Forbes; Winkel, Kenneth D. (2002). Ant sting mortality in Australia.. Toxicon. p. 40(8):1095–100. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 
  6. ^ Dietemann, V.; Peeters, C; Hölldobler, B. (2004). "Gamergates in the Australian ant subfamily Myrmeciinae"". Naturwissenschaften 91 (9): 432–435. 
  7. ^ New, Tim R. (30 August 2011). ‘In Considerable Variety’: Introducing the Diversity of Australia’s Insects. Springer. p. 104. ISBN 978-8132218340. Retrieved 12 September 2014. 
  8. ^ Moffett, Mark W. "Bulldog Ants". National Geographic Society. Retrieved 14 September 2014. 
  9. ^ "Formicidae - Ants". Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Entomology. Retrieved 14 September 2014. 
  10. ^ a b "Myrmecia". Australian Ants. Retrieved 8 August 2014. 
  11. ^ Spencer, Chris P.; Richards, Karen (2009). Observations on the diet and feeding habits of the short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus Aculeatus) in Tasmania. Collinsvale, Tasmania: The Tasmanian Naturalist. p. 39. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 
  12. ^ Schopenhauer, Arthur (1818). The World as Will and Representation. Germany: Dover. ISBN 0486217620. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Myrmecia at Wikimedia Commons
  • Data related to Myrmecia at Wikispecies