Sugar ant

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Sugar ant
Black-headed sugar ant.jpg
Worker with cocoon
Conservation status
Not evaluated (IUCN 3.1)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Genus: Camponotus
Species: C. consobrinus
Binomial name
Camponotus consobrinus
(Erichson, 1842)
Map of Australia showing the distributional range of the sugar ant.
Distribution of the sugar ant
  • Camponotus dimidiatus Roger, 1863
  • Camponotus nigriceps obniger Forel, 1902
  • Formica consobrina Erichson, 1842

The Sugar ant (Camponotus consobrinus), also known as the Banded sugar ant, is a species of ant endemic to Australia. The species is a member of the genus Camponotus, a cosmopolitan genus of ants commonly known as carpenter ants. The species was first described by German entomologist Wilhelm Ferdinand Erichson in 1842. Its common name refers to the ant's liking for sugar and sweet food, as well as the distinctive orange-brown band that wraps around its gaster.

The ant is polymorphic and relatively large, with workers and soldiers measuring around 7 to 15 millimetres (0.28 to 0.59 in) in length, while the queen ants are even larger. The species is also sexually dimorphic, and has two different castes of workers: major workers (also known as soldiers), and minor workers. Mainly nocturnal, sugar ants prefer a mesic habitat, and are commonly found in forests and woodlands. They also occur in urban areas, where they are considered a household pest. The ant's diet consists of sweet secretions that are retrieved from aphids and other insects that it tends. It also preys on insects, killing them with a spray of formic acid. Other ants, echidnas, and birds prey on this species.


German entomologist Wilhelm Ferdinand Erichson first described the Sugar ant as Formica consobrina, based on a holotype queen collected from Tasmania, a specimen now in the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin.[2] It was placed in the genus Camponotus by entomologist Julius Roger under the name Camponotus dimidiatus, now considered a synonym[clarification needed] in his work Verzeichniss der Formiciden-Gattungen und Arten.[3] Several subspecies have been described, but these have since been reclassified to either a synonym to the species itself or to other Camponotus ants.[4][clarification needed] The specific name is derived from the Latin word consobrina, meaning "cousin".[5] This is in reference to the similarity of the species when compared to Camponotus herculeanus.[6]

The ant is a member of the Camponotus nigriceps species group, which also includes C. clarior, C. dryandrae, C. eastwoodi, C. loweryi, C. longideclivis, C. nigriceps, C. pallidiceps and C. prostans.[6]

The species is commonly known as the Sugar ant or the Banded sugar ant due to its attraction to sweet food and the orange-brown band that is present on the gaster.[7]


Worker specimens. Sugar ants come in a variety of colours as shown. Note the distinctive orange-brown band around their gasters.

Sugar ants appear in different shapes, colour and sizes, varying from 7 to 15 millimetres (0.28 to 0.59 in) in length, making them a large species.[8][9] Queen ants are the largest ants in the colony. Sugar ants are polymorphic and sexually dimorphic, meaning that colonies have two types of workers, minor workers and major workers (soldiers) that have different size ranges. The two castes can be identified easily, due to the workers being more small and slender, while the soldiers are more robust and large. Both castes carry a set of powerful mandibles.[6]

The Sugar ant has a large distribution of patrilines.[10] Different workers in a colony have different morphologies due to their distinct developmental pathways, and the differentiated patrilines among the queen and worker ants are due to compatibility effects when an ant is going through the larval development stage. Workers which belong to different matrilines appear significantly different from each other.[11] Matrilines are also said to influence caste determination within the species.[12][clarification needed]

Female sugar ants are easily recognised due to their black head, orange thorax and the orange-brown band that wraps around the gaster. Males of the species are completely black.[13] The dark sides of the thorax and legs are ferruginous (rusty in colour).[2] 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 is covered with tiny black dots.[2] Erect setae are absent under the head but present on the mesosoma which is golden in colour.[clarification needed] The setae on the tibia and scape are shorter than those on the mesosoma.[14] The anterior of the gaster is lighter in colour compared to the posterior, and the dorsum of the mesosoma is outlined and curved.[14] 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.[2]

A related species, Camponotus nigriceps (commonly known as the black-headed sugar ant), has a similar appearance and may be mistaken for a Sugar ant. Black-headed sugar ants are lighter in colour than Sugar ants and the orange-brown band is absent from their gaster.[13]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Sugar ants rebuild their nest entrance following rain

The sugar ant is one of the most widely distributed ants in Australia, but it is most commonly found in south-east Australia.[13][15] It is found along the north-east coast of Queensland, from Charters Towers in the north to Brisbane in the south. The ant is widespread in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and Tasmania.[6][16] 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.[6] The Sugar ant's presence in Western Australia is yet to be verified.[17] They are found in urban areas, eucalypt forests, dry sclerophyll woodland, grasslands and heaths, preferring a mesic habitat.[7][13][18][19] In the drier regions of Australia, the sugar ant is absent and is usually replaced by the similar looking Camponotus nigriceps.[13] Sugar ants can be found at elevations ranging from 170 – 853 metres (557 ft - 2,798 ft).[18]

Nests are found in a variety of sites, including holes in wood, roots of plants, twigs of trees and shrubs, between rocks, in the soil, and under paving stones.[20] Sugar ant nests in the soil are characterised by the large hillock of dirt constructed surrounding the hole.[9] Sugar ant mounds are rather small, with a diameter less than 20 cm (8 in) and are usually funnel shaped and ephemeral.[21] In undisturbed regions where land degradation has not occurred, mound construction does not occur.[22] Instead, nests have vertical shafts at their entrance, which is smooth in appearance.[clarification needed] Chambers in the nest have a similar appearance to the nest entrance (shaft like walls), and the floors within the chambers are typically 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.[22] Excavated Meat ant nests show that Sugar ants will also inhabit them.[23]


Workers recruit additional nestmates to exploit newly discovered food sources by the method of tandem running. The lead worker (on the left) has returned to the nest and is leading the remaining workers back to the food source.

Sugar ants are the dominant group of nocturnal ants in their range, and workers are mostly encountered at dusk when they are foraging for food on marked trails.[24] They can also be seen during the day, but are more active during the night.[9] These ants are more active during the warmer seasons, especially summer.[7]

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.[25]

Sugar ants will often attack the nests of other species apparently at random, while ignoring other ants nearby. They use their mandibles to hold opponents, and use formic acid to kill them.[26] Foraging workers use visual cues to help them find their way around, or to let them determine that they are lost. Workers will identify landmarks they are familiar with to orientate themselves.[27]

When provoked, an individual Sugar ant will lift up its abdomen and use its large mandibles to fend off an attacker. If further provoked, it can defend itself by spraying formic acid from its abdomen to deter predators.[28] If a 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.[28][clarification needed]


Sugar ants are omnivores and feed on sweet substances.[7][29] They tend plant-eating insects such as aphids, and feed on the fluids they secrete.[7] Workers retrieve the honeydew from the aphid by excreting it through the anus of the aphid.[30] This behaviour is mutually beneficial to both organisms, as the ants protect the aphid from predation and the aphid provides a nutritious liquid to the ants. Sugar ants also tend the larvae of Ogyris genoveva butterflies.[31][32] They are visitors to flowers of Eucalyptus globulus trees, where they can act as pollinators.[33] They may be seen at night foraging under lights in urban areas for arthropod prey, particularly the southern cattle tick, Rhipicephalus microplus.[13][34] Sugar ants are known to "rob" Hemiptera food sources consumed by meat ants (Iridomyrmex purpureus) at night, where meat ants will feed on these sources during the day.[35][36] 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 between the species.[37] However, sugar ants are nocturnal while meat ants are not, so foraging periods are extended by one or two hours if no interference occurs.[38]


Ants of the genus Myrmecia are known to hunt Camponotus species, which can be risky as Camponotus ants are able to call for aid by using chemical signals.[39] Sugar ants have been found in the feces of the short-beaked echidna,[40] and non-passerine birds are known to predate them.[41] The blind snake Ramphotyphlops nigrescens follows trails laid by sugar ants, possibly to locate them as a potential prey. Blindsnakes are also known to consume the brood of this species.[42]

Life cycle and reproduction[edit]

Queens exiting a nest for nuptial flight

Like all ants, Sugar ants begin life as eggs. If the egg is fertilised, the ant becomes a female (diploid); if not, it will become a male (haploid).[43] They develop through complete metamorphosis, meaning that they pass through a larval and pupal stage before emerging as adults.[44]

Although most Sugar ant colonies are monogynous, some have been found to be polygynous.[45] Not much is known about their nuptial flight, although new queens and males (alates) were observed mating in South Australia during mid-summer.[6] A colony can be long lived, with queens living for seven years or more.[46] The ant Camponotus pennsylvanicus is known to adopt larvae and pupae from Sugar ant colonies (laboratory colonies).[47]

Relationship with other organisms[edit]

The meat ant, a known competitor of the sugar ant

Meat ants have been observed blocking Sugar ant nesting holes with pebbles and soil to prevent them from leaving their nest during the early hours of the day. The ants counter this by gathering to prevent Meat ants from leaving their nest, a behaviour known as nest-plugging.[37][48] Sugar ants may also invade Meat ant nests if they are overshadowed, since the colony may lose health over this.[49] In a study, leafhoppers were placed in a Sugar ant colony to determine if there was a symbiotic relationship between them, but the results showed that these sugar ants attacked the leafhoppers, suggesting that there was no symbiotic relationship between the two.[50]

Starlings have been observed to rub Sugar ants on their feathers and skin, a behaviour known as anting.[51]

Interaction with humans[edit]

The sugar ant is considered a household pest, and is occasionally seen in houses at night. Carbon disulphide is used to treat and remove a Sugar ant nest.[20] The ant is capable of damaging furniture and fittings by chewing the wood.[52] While the ant is generally harmless to humans, the larger soldiers are capable of inflicting a painful bite with their powerful jaws.[9][53]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Johnson, Norman F. (19 December 2007). "Camponotus consobrinus (Erichson)". Hymenoptera Name Server version 1.5. Columbus, Ohio, USA: Ohio State University. Retrieved 1 April 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d Erichson, Wilhelm F. (1842), "Beitrag zur Insecten-Fauna von Vandiemensland, mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der geographischen Verbreitung der Insecten" (PDF), Archiv fur Naturgeschichte (in German) 8: 83–287, retrieved 29 January 2015 
  3. ^ Roger, Julius (1863), "Verzeichniss der Formiciden-Gattungen und Arten", Berliner entomologische Zeitschrift 7 (1-2): 1–65, doi:10.1002/mmnd.18630070123 
  4. ^ Wheeler, William Morton (1933). "Mermis parasitism in some Australian and Mexican ants" (PDF). Psyche (Cambridge) 40 (1): 20–31. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  5. ^ Crane, Gregory R. "Latin Word Study Tool". Perseus Digital Library. Tufts University. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f McArthur, A.J.; Adams, M. (1996). "A morphological and molecular revision of the Camponotus nigriceps group (Hymenoptera : Formicidae) from Australia". Invertebrate Systematics 10 (1): 1–46. doi:10.1071/IT9960001. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "Animal species: Sugar Ant". Australian Museum. 20 May 2009. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  8. ^ "Sugar Ants (Camponotus species)". Queensland Museum. Retrieved 29 January 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c d "Camponotus consobrinus (sugar ant)". CSIRO Entomology. Archived from the original on 3 April 2015. 
  10. ^ Keller, L. (5 October 2009). "Adaptation and the genetics of social behaviour". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 364 (1533): 3209–3216. doi:10.1098/rstb.2009.0108. 
  11. ^ Leniaud, L.; Pearcy, M.; Aron, S. (11 April 2013). "Sociogenetic organisation of two desert ants" (PDF). Insectes Sociaux 60 (3): 337–344. doi:10.1007/s00040-013-0298-2. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  12. ^ Fournier, Denis; Battaille, Geraldine; Timmermans, Iris; Aron, Serge (January 2008). "Genetic diversity, worker size polymorphism and division of labour in the polyandrous ant Cataglyphis cursor". Animal Behaviour 75 (1): 151–158. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2007.04.023. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f Andersen, Alan Neil (1991). The Ants of Southern Australia: A Guide to the Bassian Fauna. CSIRO Publishing. pp. 46–47. ISBN 9780643051522. 
  14. ^ a b McArthur, A.J. (2007). "A key to Camponotus Mayr of Australia". Memoirs of the American Entomological Institute 80: 290–351. doi:10.15468/leh8vw. 
  15. ^ "Formicidae Family". CSIRO Entomology. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
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  19. ^ "Memoirs of the Museum of Victoria". Museum of Victoria (Melbourne) 56 (2): 379. February 1997. ISSN 0814-1827. LCCN 90644802. OCLC 11628078. 
  20. ^ a b "The Control of Ants.". The Chronicle (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 1 May 1941. p. 11. Retrieved 2 April 2015. 
  21. ^ Conacher, Arthur J. (2001). Land degradation: papers selected from contributions to the sixth meeting of the International Geographical Union's Commission on Land Degradation and Desertification, Perth, Australia, 20 - 28 September 1999. Dordrecht [u.a.]: Kluwer Acad. Publ. p. 269. ISBN 9780792367703. 
  22. ^ a b Humphreys, G.S.; Ringrose-Voase, A.J. (1994). Soil micromorphology studies in management and genesis. Amsterdam: Elsevier. p. 423. ISBN 9780080869902. 
  23. ^ Greaves, T.; Hughes, R. D. (December 1974). "The Population Biology of the Meat Ant". Australian Journal of Entomology 13 (4): 329–351. doi:10.1111/j.1440-6055.1974.tb02212.x. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  24. ^ McQuillan, Peter B. (1997). "Invertebrates of the domain - a brief survey and implications for management" (PDF). Tasmanian Naturalist 119 (2-9): 3–72. ISSN 0819-6826. Retrieved 29 January 2015. 
  25. ^ Hölldobler & Wilson 1990, p. 281.
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  48. ^ Gordon, Deborah M. (February 1988). "Nest-plugging: interference competition in desert ants (Novomessor cockerelli and Pogonomyrmex barbatus)". Oecologia (Springer-Verlag) 75 (1): 114–118. doi:10.1007/BF00378823. ISSN 1432-1939. 
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Cited text[edit]

  • Hölldobler, Bert; Wilson, Edward O. (1990). The Ants. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674040755. 

External links[edit]