Red harvester ant
|Red harvester ant|
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The main food source for red harvester ants usually consists of seeds, which they hoard in great numbers, hence their name.
As with most ant species, their mating castes consist of winged alates (reproductives) that reside in the nest until weather permits them to fly away and mate. After that the male usually dies, while the now-fertilized queen returns to the ground to search for a suitable nesting site. Once she has chosen a site, she sheds her wings and begins to reproduce, creating a new colony. She produces "worker ants" for 1–20 years until her death.
Red harvester ants defend their colonies vigorously against real or perceived attacks, whether by large or small animals. They bite ferociously and their stings are venomous and painful. The effect spreads through the lymphatic system, sometimes causing dangerous reactions, especially in animals sensitive or allergic to their venom.
Over the years, their numbers have been declining, and this has often been attributed to competition for food with the invasive red imported fire ant and the Argentine ant. Their decline has affected many native species, especially those for which the red harvester ant is a chief source of food, such as the Texas horned lizard. Red harvester ants are often mistaken for fire ants, but are not related to any fire ant species, native or introduced.
Red harvester ant nests are characterized by a lack of plant growth and small pebbles surrounding the entrance to the tunnel, which usually descends at a pronounced angle. Hulls of seeds may however be found scattered around the nest. In grassland areas, such as ranches, the lack of plant life makes red harvester ant colonies very easy to spot, and where they are very plentiful they may make serious inroads into the grazing available to livestock. The mounds are typically flat and broad, 0 to 100 mm (0 to 3.9 in) high, and 300 to 1,200 mm (12 to 47 in) in diameter. There have been reports of even larger denuded areas, on the order of 10 m2 (110 sq ft). Three to eight trails typically lead away from the mound, like "arms". These trails are used by ants to collect and bring food back to the mound. "Scout" ants are the first ones out of the mound every morning. They seek food, and mark their path as they return to the mound to alert the worker ants. The worker ants follow the scent trail and collect the food. Other worker ants clean, extend and generally tend to the mound, the queen and the brood. All the ants in the colonies are females apart from the winged males produced in the breeding season.
Use in captive ant ecologies
Red harvester ants are commonly used in captive ant ecologies (the so-called, "Ant Farm", which is a trademark of Uncle Milton, Inc.). Their large size and foraging habits make the species an excellent choice for this role.