Jack jumper ant

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For Jerdon's jumping ant, see Harpegnathos saltator.
Jack jumper ant
Jumping jack dragging pebble.jpg
M. pilosula worker dragging a pebble
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Myrmeciinae
Genus: Myrmecia
Species: M. pilosula
Binomial name
Myrmecia pilosula
F. Smith, 1858
World map showing the range of the jack jumper ant in Australia
The jack jumper ant is endemic to most of Australia, especially in Tasmania.

Ponera ruginoda Smith, 1858[1]

The jack jumper ant (Myrmecia pilosula), commonly known as the hopper ant, jumper ant or jumping jack, is a species of venomous ant that is native to Australia. It is a member of the Myrmecia genus, which are giant bull ants. The female (queen) has a similar appearance to a worker, while a male is easily noticeable, notably because of their smaller mandibles. They are a large ant species, with workers and males being around the same size (12 to 14 millimetres (0.47 to 0.55 in) for workers and 11 to 12 millimetres (0.43 to 0.47 in) for males), but the queen is the largest at 14 to 16 millimetres (0.55 to 0.63 in) in length.

Mainly active during the day, jack jumpers live in nests surrounded by fine gravel and sandy soil which can be found from woodland areas to urban suburbia. Jack jumpers prey on small insects which they bring back to their colony, by killing their prey using their sting which injects venom. Other ants and Predatory invertebrates prey on this species. The average life expectancy of a jack jumper worker is over one year. They possess the gamergates gene which workers are able to reproduce with drones, either with or without the queen present in the colony. The ants are recorded throughout the country, but are most often found in Tasmania, rural Victoria, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory and the Adelaide Hills of South Australia.

The jack jumper is one of the very few ant species that are harmful and hazardous to humans. Its sting has been known to cause anaphylactic shock, increase of heart rate, falling of blood pressure and many other symptoms, some being severe. It is also responsible for 90% of Australian ant allergies. From 1980 to 2000, there have been four deaths due to the jack jumpers sting, of which all of these deaths were in Tasmania. There is a desensitisation program for people who react to jack jumper stings, but funding for such programs have been limited.


Jack jumper worker detail

Ants of the genus Myrmecia are known as "bulldog ants", which have powerful stings and large mandibles, a feature the jack jumper ant contains. Jack jumper ants can be black or red and black in colour, and they may have yellow or orange legs.[2] The ants antennae, tibiae and tarsi and mandibles are also yellow or orange.[2] Hair on the jack jumper is greyish, short and erect, and is longer and more abundant on their gaster and rather long on their mandibles, none on their antennae, and hair is very short and suberect on their legs.[2]

The queen is a very similar appearance to the workers, but its sculpture is more irregular and coarser.[2] Males are notable for having much smaller triangular mandibles than workers and queens. The mandibles on the male also contain a large tooth at centre between apex and the base of the inner border.[2] Punctures are large and yellow, and the thorax and node are irregularly punctate.[2] The hair on a male is grey and very long, and abundant throughout the ants body, but it begins to shorten on the legs.[2] The pubescence is white and yellowish on the gaster.

Workers range from 12 to 14 millimetres (0.47 to 0.55 in) long, with the queen larger at 14 to 16 millimetres (0.55 to 0.63 in) in length, while males are usually the same size as a worker jack jumper at 11 to 12 millimetres (0.43 to 0.47 in).[2] The jack jumper is a medium sized bull ant in comparison to other Myrmecia species. Their characteristic jumping motion when in an agitated state gave them their name. Their nests may be inconspicuously hidden under a rock, or may be formed from a 20 to 60 cm diameter mound of finely granular gravel.[3]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Two jack jumper workers stand guard infront of their nest entrance

The jack jumper ant is abundant in most of Australia. They can be found as far from Western Australia, where they have been recorded in Albany, Mundaring, Denmark and Esperance, where they have been recorded at some sand hills around the area.[1] The jack jumper is rarely observed or seen in the northern regions of the state of Western Australia.[2] Their presence has also been sighted in South Australia, including at the locations of Mount Lofty, Normanville, Aldgate and Kangaroo Island, where there are dense populations at the western end of the island.[1] They are present in the locations of the Bunya Mountains, Fletcher, Stanthorpe, Tamborine Mountain and Millmerran in Queensland, but have been recorded as far too Rockhampton.[2] They are widespread in Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. They are mostly found and located in the state of Tasmania, where they are notorious, where more people are prone to allergic reactions to the jack jumpers sting.[4]

The jack jumper ant openly occurs in open habitats, which include pastures, gardens and lawns and prefer fine gravel and sandy soil.[5] They can be spotted around light bush. Their preferred natural habitat is woodland, open forests or urban areas. Populations of the jack jumper ant are usually very dense in higher mountain regions.[1][5][6] Their nests are built upon a mound in fine gravel or soil, and nests may also be found underneath rocks.[7] Their range in southern Australia (like other ant species in the regions) appears to be that of relict clinging to separated favorable, usually or sometimes moist, areas with broad stretches of arid land intervening.[1] Based off specimen collections, jack jumpers have been found in dry sclerophyll forests, at elevations ranging from 121 – 1432 meters (396 - 4,698 ft), usually around 1,001 meters average (3,284 ft).[8]

In Tasmania, jack jumper ants are mostly distributed in dry eucalypt open woodlands, where warm, dry and open environments which provides the ant isolation and gives warmth and food resources like nectar and invertebrate prey.[9] They are known to utilise the warmth of rocks and dry soil, and they decorate their nests with seeds, soil, charcoal, stones, sticks, and even small invertebrate corpses.[9] In suburbs, they are associated with native vegetation while using cracks in concrete walls, rockeries, dry dirt and dry grass areas to build nests.[9] It was found that suburbs with large vegetation such as Mount Nelson, Fern Tree and West Hobart had jack jumper populations, while places like North Hobart and Battery Point, suburbs which are heavily built up areas do not have jack jumper populations.[9]

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

Jack jumper worker on top of a dry flower

Jack jumpers are mainly active during the day, meaning they are diurnal and will search for food during the day.[1][3] The jack jumper ant hibernates when temperatures in their habitats are low.[3] Jack jumper ants are highly territorial; fights among jack jumper ants from different, and even the same, colonies are not uncommon. They are known to be highly aggressive towards intruders. They are given the nickname "jack jumper" due to their unique feature of jumping while foraging, a characteristic some Myrmecia ants have, such as the Myrmecia nigrocincta.[3] The jack jumper ant has been observed on the inflorescences of Prasophyllum alpinum (mostly pollinated by wasps of the subfamily Ichneumonidae).[10] Although pollinia was often seen in the jaws of jack jumper ants, their cleaning habits of their mandibles on the vegetative parts of the plant, before moving on to other nectar-rich plants prevented pollen exchange, but indicates that the jack jumper pollinates.[10]


Jack jumper worker foraging. It appears to look like it's about to jump

As with many species of bull ants, jack jumper ants are usually solitary when they forage, though they live in colonies like most ants, and only workers forage. Jack jumper ants are omnivores[6] and scavengers. They sting their victims with venom that is similar to stings of wasps, bees, and fire ants, which are very painful to humans.[11] Jack jumper ants are proven hunters; even wasps and bees are hunted and devoured.[12] These ants have excellent vision, which aids them in hunting. Among other foods include other ants, such as carpenter ants (Camponotus),[12] sweet secretions from plants, sap-sucking insects[6] and other sugar solutions. Jack jumpers also hunt for other small insects and spiders.[3] They also hunt actively for small arthropods to feed their larvae, and perhaps will even follow them for a short distance.[3] Jack jumper ants alongside M. simillima have been given under testing conditions stored frozen houseflies (Musca domestica) and blowflies (Calliphoridae) as food.[13] Observations of the jack jumper suggest that it was revealed it would run and leap energetically at flies it is preying on whenever the fly landed, particularly on Acacia shrubs, plants or trees.[14]


Predators of the jack jumper (and the Myrmecia genus as a whole) include other ants, spiders, lizards, birds and mammals.[15] Predatory invertebrates such as the assassin bug and redback spider prey on jack jumpers and other Myrmecia ants, as well as echidnas have been known to hunt them.[15]

Life cycle[edit]

Based on 6 jack jumper worker ants, the average life expectancy of the jack jumper is around 1.3 years, but workers have shown to live as little as 1.12 years or as long as 1.6, with the queen living a lot longer than the workers.[16] This gives an estimation that they live for 401 – 584 days, but on average 474 days.[17] George C. Wheeler and Jeanette Wheeler (1971) describe very young larva of the jack jumper as 2.4mm in length, with two types of body hair, young larva (matured from very young larva) at 2.7mm in length but with similarities with mature larva, at 12.5mm in length.[18]


Jack jumper drones emerging from the nest

Queens will mate with 1-9 males during nuptial flight, and the pedigree-effective number of mates per queen was ranged at 1.0 to 11.4.[19] Relative frequency of number of matings per queen and effective number of mating declines if there are more male mates for the queen.[19] Jack jumper colonies are polygyne, meaning they have multiple queens in one colony.[3] When the queen establishes a nest after mating, she will go hunt for her food to feed her young, meaning that the queen is semi-claustral.[3] Nest sizes can be as small as 500 or have as many as 1,000 individuals, making them "large" in size, or with another estimate at 553 to 862 adults.[3][16] Using the measuring method of alloenzymes,[16] it was found that some colonies are polygynous and polyandrous.[19] In a study on jack jumper colony genetic structure, colony queen numbers numbered between 1 and 4 queens, and 11 of the 14 colonies tested were polygynous (78.57%), indicating that it's pretty common in jack jumper colonies.[19] The jack jumper ant possesses the gamergates gene, which workers are able to reproduce in both queenless and queenright (colonies with a queen) colonies.[16] In multiple-queen colonies, the egg-laying queens, on average, are not related to one another.[19]


The jack jumper ant is the host to parasites. The gregarines (Gregarinasina) is known to be a parasite to the jack jumper.[20] The effects of the parasite includes the change of colour from their typical black appearance to a brown colour, as revealed when brown jack jumpers were dissected, and were shown to have spores of the parasite, while black jack jumpers showed no spores.[20] If it is present in large numbers, the parasite interferes with the normal darkening of the cuticle while the ant is in its pupal stage.[20] The cuticle is known to soften up due to the gregarine parasite.[21]


The jack jumper ant genome is contained on a single pair of chromosomes (males have just one chromosome as they are haploid), the lowest number known (or even possible) for any animal.[22] A study found that jack jumper ants have chromosome numbers of 2n = 2, 9, 10, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 30, 31 and 32.[23] Taxanomically discussed as a single biological species,[1][2] It has been shown that the jack jumper ant are not actually a single species, but instead show a range of chromosomes (mentioned previously) which suggests that the ant has sibling species.[23][24] It has also indicated that the chromosome numbers range differently in accordance to elevations they are present in.[23]

Below is a table showing chromosome numbers from different jack jumper ant colonies:[23]

Location Coordinates Altitude (metres) Chromosome number (n), 2n No. of colonies observed No. of individuals observed Total cell number observed
Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve 35°26′S 148°56′E / 35.433°S 148.933°E / -35.433; 148.933 820 (1), 2 1 55 male, 34 workers >1000
HMAS Albatross 34°56′S 150°32′E / 34.933°S 150.533°E / -34.933; 150.533 120 (5) 1 4 male 28
Nerriga 35°05′S 150°10′E / 35.083°S 150.167°E / -35.083; 150.167 730 21, 22, 23 3 14 male 59
Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve 35°26′S 148°56′E / 35.433°S 148.933°E / -35.433; 148.933 820 22, 23, 24 5 14 male 56
Black Mountain 35°17′S 149°06′E / 35.283°S 149.100°E / -35.283; 149.100 620 18, 19 2 14 male 68
Wentworth Falls 33°33′S 150°22′E / 33.550°S 150.367°E / -33.550; 150.367 870 (9, 10), 18, 19, 21 4 5 male, 14 workers 41, 93
Lawson 33°43′S 150°26′E / 33.717°S 150.433°E / -33.717; 150.433 670 (10,11), 20, 21, 22, 24 6 12 male, 14 workers 68, 63
Mount Victoria 33°36′S 150°16′E / 33.600°S 150.267°E / -33.600; 150.267 980 (10, 11, 13, 15), 24, 25, 26, 27 4 5 male, 11 workers 35, 71
Piccadilly Circus 35°22′S 148°49′E / 35.367°S 148.817°E / -35.367; 148.817 1200 (16), 30, 31, 32 6 1 male, 16 workers 3, 50

Interaction with humans[edit]


The extent of the jack jumper sting problem differs, where in highly urbanised areas, allergy prevalence rates are significantly low in comparison to rural areas where it's known that allergic reactions and incidents with jack jumpers are much higher, and many people stung in such areas may experience severe reactions.[25][26] In urban areas, 17-30% of presentations of anaphylaxis was due to stings, but in rural areas this is around 60%.[27] The jack jumper ant is responsible for majority cases of anaphylaxis in Australia,[26] and rates of anaphylaxis are twice that for honeybee stings.[28] The jack jumper ant has been a major cause of anaphylaxis outside Tasmania, notably around Adelaide and also around the outskirts of Melbourne, while more distributed cases in New South Wales and Western Australia have been recorded.[29] One in 50 adults have been reported to suffer anaphylaxis due to the jack jumper or other Myrmecia ants,[26] while deaths from anaphylaxis in general is one per three million people every year.[30]


Jack jumper specimen. The jack jumper uses two attack methods, by using its mandibles and sting

The jack jumper ant and all of its relatives in the genus Myrmecia are among the most dangerous ant genera, where they are very aggressive and even have earned themselves fearsome reputations. Guinness World Records even listed Myrmecia pyriformis as the world's most dangerous ant.[31][32] Jack jumper venom has been shown to contain histamine-like, haemolytic and eicosanoid releasing factors, and their venom also has a range of active ingredients and enzymatic activity which includes phospholipase A2 and B, hyaluronidase and acid and alkaline phosphatase.[33][34] The venom of the ant also contains two peptides; one being pilosulin 1, which causes cyotoxic effects, and pilosulin 2, which has antihypertensive properties.[35] The peptide Pilosulin 1 in jack jumper venom inhibited the incorporation of methyl-3H thymidine, into rapidly reproducing Epstein–Barr transformed B-cells.[36] The LD50 was lower in concentration than melittin, a peptide that is found in bee venom.[37][36]

Loss of cell viability in the jack jumpers venom was done by cytometry, which it measured proportions of cells fluoresced within the presence of fluorescent dye and 7-Aminoactinomycin D.[36] Examinations on the rapidly reproducing Epstein–Barr B-cells showed that the cells lose viability within minutes when it is exposed to peptide pilosulin 1. It was also shown that normal white blood cells alter easily when they too are exposed to pilosulin 1.[36] However, partial peptides of pilosulin 1 were less efficient in causing losses of cell viability, and it's also suggested that the residue, 22 N-terminal are critical to cytotoxic activity of pilosulin 1 within the venom of the jack jumper ant.[36]

20 percent of jack jumper ants have an empty venom sac,[38] so it is considered that a negative sting reaction from a jack jumper ant, especially after a allergic reaction should not be interpreted to loss of sensitivity, despite the severity of allergic reactions tend to fluctuate when it comes to an insect sting.[38] Substantial amounts of ant venom was anaylised to characterise venom components, and the jack jumper has been one of the main subjects in this.[39] A study conducted by the East Carolina University which focused and summarised the knowledge about ant stings and their venom showed that the fire ant and jack jumper ant only and mainly had their allergenic components of their venom extensively investigated.[40]

Signs and symptoms[edit]

The symptoms of the stings of the ants are similar to stings of the fire ants. The reaction is local swelling and reddening, and fever, followed by formation of a blister. The sting from the jack jumper, just like a bee and wasp sting, are the most common causes of anaphylaxis to insect stings.[41][42] Patients have also developed a systemic allergic skin reaction when stung by a jack jumper.[43] The heart rate increases, and blood pressure falls rapidly.[44] A severe allergic reaction can cause symptoms such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the tongue and throat, coughing, chest tightness, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, loss of conscious or collapse, and in children they may get symptoms like paleness and floppiness.[45]

In individuals allergic to the venom (about 3% of cases), a sting sometimes causes anaphylactic shock.[46] Although the median time from sting to cardiac arrest is 15 minutes, the maximum period was around three hours.[47][26] The jack jumper ant allergy does not disappear quickly, as it has shown in studies that people with jack jumper allergies will most likely suffer from another allergic reaction if re-stung.[26] Approximately 70% of patients with history of a systemic reaction to the ants sting, had a further such reaction to the sting.[38] About half of these reactions were life threatening to the person stung and occurred predominantly to people who have had previous encounters with the ant sting.[38] Anaphylaxis in Jack jumper ant stings in not rare, and it has shown that 2.9% of 600 residents from semi-rural Victoria in a questionnaire showed allergic reactions to the ants sting.[48] The sensitivity to stings appear persistent for many years, and comparative figures for the honey bee and european wasp to jack jumper ants allergies show 50% and 25%.[49]

In 2011 an Australian ant allergy venom study was conducted, which the objective of which was to determine what native Australian ants were associated with ant sting anaphylaxis, it was shown that the jack jumper ant was responsible for the majority of patients showing a reaction to an ant sting inflicted by a Myrmecia sting. Of the 265 patients who reacted to a sting from an ant belonging to the Myrmecia genus, 176 were from the jack jumper. 15 reacted to M. nigrocincta and three to M. ludlowi, and 56 others reacted to other Myrmecia ants. The study concluded that four native species of Australian ants caused anaphylaxis. Besides Myrmecia species, the green-head ant (Rhytidoponera metallica) also caused anaphylaxis.[29]


The Royal Hobart Hospital in Hobart, Tasmania offers a desensitisation program for people who have been stung by jack jumpers

Dr. Paul Clark first drew medical attention to the jack jumper ant in 1986, where prior that there had been no history on fatalities or their stings.[50] The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy began registering reactions to the jack jumper in 1989 to 1994, where they recorded 454 sting episodes in 224 subjects.[51] Treatment is very similar to wasp and bee stings. There is an allergy immunotherapy program developed for jack jumper stings using their own venom, which the immunotherapy has shown to be effective in preventing anaphylaxis due to the jack jumpers sting.[52][53] However, unlike bee and wasp sting venom immunotherapy, there is lack of funding for venom immunotherapy treatment from jack jumper ants.[54] Other issues of the immunotherapy is there is no current commercially venom extract available for skin testing, despite the immunotherapy showing evidence it prevents anaphylaxis among people who have been stung by the jack jumper ant.[51]

The Royal Hobart Hospital offers a desensitisation program for patients who had a severe allergic reaction to a jack jumper sting.[5] Medications like antihistamines, H2 blockers, corticosteroids and sometimes anti-leukotrienes have no effect on the dangerous effects of anaphylaxis.[51] One in five people will need a second adrenaline shot when being treated due to jack jumper sting.[55] Jack jumper stings are also the most common single cause of anaphylaxis presenting to the Royal Hobart Hospitals when patients were stung by the ants.[33] Victims who succumbed to the jack jumper were all 40 years and over with comorbidities.[46] Two of the victims were taking angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, which are known to increase the risk of anaphylaxis.[46] Three of the victims also had ant-sting allergies, while the fourth victim carried adrenaline, which he did not use.[46] Patients have been suggested to avoid jack jumpers, but it is difficult to do so.[51] Closed footwear (boots and shoes) along with socks should be worn, rather than thongs or sandals which would put the person at risk of a sting.[51] Jack jumpers however are capable of stinging through fabric and can find their way through gaps in clothing.[51]

Follow-ups of untreated people indicates that people usually older than 30 years of age with a history of severe allergic reactions (such as respiratory compromise and hypotension) would benefit from the venom immunotherapy.[56] Efficacy of ant whole body extract immunotherapy remains unknown, but it has shown that the immunotherapy has shown to reduce the risk of systemic reactions caused by the jack jumpers sting, showing results of a the risk rate declining from 72% to 3%.[56] Although venom extraction has been developed, its small market size would mean that the availability for it is limited, and will not be widely available.[56]

In a trial that involved a medical treatment (named placebo) and the ant venom immunotherapy, 33 people who were allergic to the jack jumper were allocated to placebo and 35 were allocated to the ant venom immunotherapy. However, 4 on placebo and 12 on the ant venom immunotherapy were stopped before the primary analysis was done, which left 29 remaining on placebo and 23 on the ant venom immunotherapy.[38] The results ended with systemic reactions occurring in 21 of the 29 patients on placebo (8 cases were associated with hypotension), and no one had any reaction while on the ant venom immunotherapy. The trial concluded that the immunotherapy is highly effective against the jack jumpers sting.[38]


Although the immunotherapy can prevent human fatalities,[52] the jack jumper ant has been responsible for more than 90% of Australian ant venom allergies, but recorded deaths have only been around the state of Tasmania due to anaphylactic shock,[26][57][58] but there has been a case of a fatality in New South Wales.[47] Between 1980 and 2000, there have been four recorded deaths due to the jack jumpers sting.[5][59]

Taxonomic history[edit]

The jack jumper ant was described by British entomologist Frederick Smith in 1858, which appeared in his publications on Catalogue of hymenopterous insects in the collection of the British Museum part VI .[60] The type specimen is located in the British Museum.[2] One synonym for the species have been published – Ponera ruginoda, also described by Frederick Smith.[61] The jack jumper has been discussed as a single biological species since being described.[23] When it comes to phylogenetic relationships, the jack jumper, which lacks a occiptal carina was shown to have supported a monophyletic assemblage, while other Myrmecia ants with an occiptal carina were found to form a paraphyletic and basal assemblage.[62]

In Smith's publication, he described a jack jumper worker as:[60]

"Length 4 1/4 lines.-Black: covered with a fine, short, silky, ashy pile; the head quadrate, with the angles rounded, longitudinally striated, the striae irregular, running into one another; the prothorax with striae diverging from the centre; the strias on the meso- and metathorax above are longitudinal, but on the oblique truncation they are transverse; the nodes of the peduncle globose, the first rugose, and with a short thick petiole. The mandibles, antennae, tibiae, tarsi, apical half of the anterior femora, and tips of the intermediate and posterior pairs, pale rufo-testaceous."

Smith also described a male and female (queen) as:[60]

"Female: Length 5 lines.-Of the same colour as the worker, similarly pilose: the thorax broader and more coarsely sculptured; the first node of the petiole transversely and coarsely rugose, with a central longitudinal carina."

"Male: Length 3 1/2 lines.-Resembles the other sex, but has the antennae, tibiae and tarsi dark obscure testaceous; it is altogether more coarsely rugose, not distinctly striate; the first node of the petiole rugose and carinated as in the female."

The common name "jack jumper" is the most common name for the ant, but its actual scientific name is Myrmecia pilosula.[61] Other names for the jack jumper include hopper ant,[6] jumper ant,[6] jumping jack[6] and black jumper.[2] These nicknames were given as a result of the ant showing jumping behaviour.

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Clark, J. 1943. A revision of the genus Promyrmecia Emery (Formicidae). Mem. Natl. Mus. Vic. 13: 83-149 (page 109, Combination in Promyrmecia)
  • Crawley, W. C. 1926. A revision of some old types of Formicidae. Trans. Entomol. Soc. Lond. 1925: 373-393 (page 383, see also)
  • Ogata, K. 1991a. Ants of the genus Myrmecia Fabricius: a review of the species groups and their phylogenetic relationships (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Myrmeciinae). Syst. Entomol. 16: 353-381 (page 361, see also)
  • Wheeler, W. M. 1922b. Ants of the American Museum Congo expedition. A contribution to the myrmecology of Africa. II. The ants collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition. Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist. 45: 39-269 (page 195, Combination in M. (Halmamyrmecia))
  • Wheeler, W. M. 1933i. Colony founding among ants, with an account of some primitive Australian species. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, viii + 179 pp. (page 56, Combination in M. (Promyrmecia)c)

External links[edit]