|Worker with cocoon|
Not evaluated (IUCN 3.1)
|Distribution of the sugar ant|
Camponotus dimidiatus Roger, 1863
The sugar ant (Camponotus consobrinus), also known as the banded sugar ant, is a species of ant indigenous throughout Australia, but is more common in south-eastern Australia. The species is a member of the genus Camponotus, a cosmopolitan genus of ants that are commonly known as Carpenter ants. The species was first described by German entomologist Wilhelm Ferdinand Erichson in 1842. Its common name is from the ants particular liking of sugar and sweet food, as well as the distinctive orange-brown band that wraps around the ants gaster.
The ant is relatively large and polymorphic, measuring around 7 to 15 millimetres (0.28 to 0.59 in) in length, while the queens are larger. The species is also dimorphic and has two different castes of workers: minor workers and major workers (also known as soldiers). Mainly nocturnal, sugar ants prefer a mesic habitat, commonly found in forests, woodlands and urban areas, where the species is regarded as a household pest. The ants diet consists of sweet secretions that are retrieved from aphids and other insects it tends to, and preys on insects, which sugar ants use and spray formic acid to kill them. Other ants, echidnas and birds prey on this species.
German entomologist Wilhelm Ferdinand Erichson described the sugar ant as Formica consobrina, based on a holotype queen collected from Tasmania, now in the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin. It was placed in the genus Camponotus by entomologist Julius Roger under the name Camponotus dimidiatus, now considered a synonym in his work Verzeichniss der Formiciden-Gattungen und Arten. The species contained several subspecies but has since been reclassified to either a synonym to the species itself or to other Camponotus ants. The specific name is derived from the Latin word consobrina, meaning "cousin". This is in reference to the similarity of the species when compared to Camponotus herculeanus.
The species is commonly known as the sugar ant or the banded sugar ant due to their attraction to sugar and the appearance of the orange-brown band that is present on the gaster, although they are attracted to any type of sweet food in general.
Sugar ants range are among the largest group of ants in Australia, appearing in different shapes, colour and size, where they vary from 7 to 15 millimetres (0.28 to 0.59 in) in length. Queens are the largest of the colony. Sugar ants are dimorphic and polymorphic, meaning colonies have two types of workers, minor workers and major workers (soldiers) that range in different sizes. These two sorts of caste can easily be identified due to the workers being more slender and smaller, while the soldiers are more robust and large, each containing a set of powerful mandibles.
A vast different and uneven distribution of patrilines in the sugar ant is known. Distinct morphologies among workers in colonies are from developmental pathways which are different to one another, and the differentiated patrilines among the queen and worker ants is due to compatibility effects when an ant is going through the larval development stage. Workers which belong in different matrilines appear significantly different in size in comparison to other workers who are not in the same matriline. Matrilines are also said to influence caste determination within the species.
Sugar ants are easily noticeable due to their black head, orange thorax and the orange-brown band that wraps around the gaster, but males of this species are completely black. The dark sides of the thorax and legs are ferruginous, meaning they look rusty in colour. The scape (the base of the antenna) and mandibles are black and the head is wider than the thorax. The thorax is longer than its total width and slightly compressed, and the gaster contains sparsed punctations (tiny dots). Erect setae is absent under the head but is present on the mesosoma which is golden in colour. The setae on the tibia and scape is shorter than it is on the mesosoma. The anterior of the gaster is lighter in colour compared to the posterior, and the dorsum of the mesosoma is outlined and curved. A worker's metanotum is absent and the eyes are bulging, while a soldiers metanotum is noticeable and the eyes are flat. The wings on the queen are dark, and the stigmata and nerves are yellow.
The Camponotus ant, Camponotus nigriceps (commonly known as the black-headed sugar ant), can be easily mistaken as a sugar ant due to its similar appearance, although these ants are lighter in colour and the orange-brown band is absent from their gaster.
Distribution and habitat
The sugar ant is one of the most commonly found ants located throughout almost all of Australia, but it is more encountered in south-east Australia. Their distribution ranges from the north-east coasts of Queensland, being found as far north in Charters Towers, then down to the south in Brisbane. The ant is widespread in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and Tasmania. In South Australia, it is a common household pest in Adelaide, and populations are mostly found in the south-east of the state, while the species is absent in the north-west. The sugar ants presence in Western Australia is yet to be verified. They are found in urban areas, forests, woodlands, grasslands and heaths, preferring a mesic habitat. In the drier regions of Australia, the sugar ant is absent and is usually replaced by the similar looking Camponotus nigriceps. Sugar ants can be found at elevations ranging from 170 – 853 metres (557 ft - 2,798 ft).
Nests are commonly found in a variety of sites, including holes in wood, roots of plants, twigs of trees and shrubs, between rocks, in soil and under paving stones. In the soil, sugar ant nests are easily recognised by the large dirt grain hill constructed surrounding the hole. Sugar ant mounds are rather small, with a diameter less than 20 cm (8 in) and are usually funnel shaped and ephemeral. In undisturbed regions where land degradation has not occurred, mound construction is not present. Instead, nests will have vertical shafts at their nest entrance, which is smooth in appearance. Chambers in the nest will have a similar appearance to the nest entrance (shaft like walls), and the floors within the chambers will be 20 to 30 millimetres (0.79 to 1.18 in) in length with an arched roof that is 10 millimetres (0.39 in) in height. Excavated meat ant nests show that sugar ants will also inhabit them.
Sugar ants are the dominant ant group of nocturnal ants, and workers are mostly encountered at dusk when they are foraging for food on marked trails. They can also be seen during the day, but are more active during the night. These ants are more active during the warmer seasons, especially summer.
Sugar ants collect secretions made by plant-eating insects such as aphids, and they are floral visitors to Eucalyptus globulus tree, being a potential pollinator. Sugar ants use multiple social techniques to make other ants follow them to a food source; this includes a worker carrying another worker, tandem running, or simply leaving an odor trail to the source.
Sugar ants will often approach foreign nests to attack ants at random, while ignoring other ants nearby. They use their mandibles to hold the ant and use formic acid to kill it. Foraging workers use visual cues which help them find their way around or quickly notify that they are lost. Workers will identify landmarks they are familiar with to orientate themselves.
When provoked, a sugar ant will lift up its abdomen and use its large mandibles to fend off an attacker. If further provoked, the sugar ant can defend itself by spraying formic acid from their abdomens to deter predators. If the nest is attacked, however, hundreds of ants will attack in force. Unlike some other ants, sugar ants do not sting and thus do not pose any threat to humans, even when swarming.
Sugar ants are omnivores and feed on sweet substances. They collect nectar and liquid secretions from plants, and also retrieve honeydew from aphids and caterpillars. They are commonly seen foraging under lights in urban areas during the night for insects, particularly the southern cattle tick, Rhipicephalus microplus. Sugar ants are known to "rob" Hemiptera food sources consumed by meat ants (Iridomyrmex purpureus) until daytime occurs, where meat ants will proceed to feed on these sources. Sugar ants and meat ants tend to nest near one another, and areas where the two ants forage have shorter foraging periods due to interference from each other. However, sugar ants are nocturnal while meat ants are not, so foraging periods are extended by one or two hours if no interference occurs.
Ants of the genus Myrmecia are known to hunt Camponotus species, which is a risky task considering Camponotus ants are able to call aid through chemical signals. Sugar ants have been found in the feces of the short-beaked echidna, and non-passerine birds are known to predate them. The blind snake Ramphotyphlops nigrescens follow trails laid by sugar ants, possibly to locate them as a potential prey species. Blindsnakes are also known to eat on the brood on this species.
Life cycle and reproduction
Like every ant, the life of a sugar ant starts from an egg. If the egg is fertlised, the ant will be a female (diploid); if not, it will become a male (haploid). They develop through complete metamorphosis, meaning that they pass through a larva and pupa stage before emerging as an adult.
Although most sugar ant colonies are monogynous, some have been found to be polygynous. Not much is known about their nuptial flight, although new queens and males (alates) were observed mating in South Australia during mid-summer. A colony can be long lived, with queens living for seven years or more on average. The ant Camponotus pennsylvanicus is known to adopt larvae and pupae from sugar ant colonies (laboratory colonies).
Relationship with other organisms
Sugar ants tend to aphids and will collect secretions from them; they will also move them around or protect them. Workers retrieve the honeydew from the aphid by excreting it through the anus. This behaviour is mutually beneficial to both parties, as the ants protect the aphid from predation and the aphid provides a sap-like liquid to the ants. Sugar ants are a tending ant species to larvae of the Ogyris genoveva butterfly.
During the morning, meat ants have been observed blocking sugar ant nesting holes with pebbles and soil to prevent them from leaving their nest. The ants counter this where they gather to prevent meat ants from leaving their nest, known as nest-plugging. Sugar ants may also invade meat ant nests if they are overshadowed, since they may lose vigour over this. In a study, leafhoppers were placed in a sugar ant colony to provide any evidence of a symbiotic relationship, but the results shown these sugar ants attacked them instead, concluding no relationship between the two.
Interaction with humans
The sugar ant is considered a household pest, occasionally seen in homes during the night; the use of carbon disulphide can treat and remove a sugar ant nest. The ant is capable of damaging furniture and fittings by chewing up the wood. While these ants are harmless to humans, the larger soldiers are capable of inflicting a painful bite from their powerful jaws.
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