Sugar ant

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Sugar ant
Black-headed sugar ant.jpg
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)

Camponotus dimidiatus Roger, 1863
Camponotus nigriceps obniger Forel, 1902
Formica consobrina Erichson, 1842

C. consobrinus worker ant

The sugar ant (Camponotus consobrinus), also known as the banded sugar ant, is a relatively large ant, identifiable by its orange-brown body, black head, and mandibles. The sugar ant's name comes from its liking for sugar, but it is attracted to savory foods as well. Sugar ants are commonly referred to as pests, but their bites are not painful. Contrary to popular belief, the sugar ant is not related to the ghost ant, nor the similarly looking bulldog ant, although the latter share similar colours, like the red and black sections of their bodies. They are found in most parts of Australia.


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.[1] 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.[2] The species contained several subspecies but has since been reclassified to either a synonym to the species itself or to other Camponotus ants.[3] The species is commonly known as the sugar ant or the banded sugar ant due to their attraction to sugar, although they are attracted to any type of sweet food in general.[4]


Sugar ants range are among the largest group of ants in Australia, in various shapes, sizes and colour, where they vary from 7 to 12 millimetres (0.28 to 0.47 in) in length.[5] Queens are the largest of the colony. Sugar ants are dimorphic, meaning colonies have two types of workers, minor workers and major workers. A vast different and uneven distribution of patrilines in worker castes and between the queen is possibly due to compatibility effects during the larval development stage, but this could explain the association between patrillines and division of labour.[6] Matrilineality is also said to influence caste determination within the species.[7] Their bodies are a brownish-orange color, and they have relatively large black heads, with protruding mandibles. Depending on caste, sugar ants vary in size. A soldier ant is easily noticed by its fairly large body and mandibles compared to workers.

Life cycle and reproduction[edit]

A sugar ant queen with wings still attached.

Although most sugar ant colonies are monogynous, some have been found to be polygynous.[8] During late spring to early autumn, the queen sugar ant produces eggs that hatch into new queens and males (alates). These alates (winged reproductive ants) are completely black (with some variations between species), compared to the orange-coloured workers. During late autumn, hundreds to thousands of alates will mate in the air, with hundreds of workers keeping guard on the ground.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The sugar ant is located throughout all of Australia, although it is not verified to be abundant to Western Australia.[9] They are found in urban areas, forests, woodlands, and heaths. Nests are commonly found in a variety of sites, including holes in wood, roots of plants, twigs of trees and shrubs, between rocks, and in the soil. 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.[10] In undisturbed regions where land degradation has not occurred, mound construction is not present.[11] 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.[11]


Contrary to its name, the sugar ant does not primarily feed on sugary foods. Sugar ants are in fact omnivores, collecting nectar and other liquid secretions from plants and honeydew from aphids and other plant-eating invertebrates, such as caterpillars. Sugar ants also feed on other insects or any other animal they can forage. Most of their meat comes from scavenging dead animals. 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.[12][13] Sugar ants and meat ants tend to nest near one another, and areas where the two ants forage are shortened by interference from each other.[14] During the morning, meat ants have been observed blocking sugar ant nesting holes with pebbles and soil to prevent them from leaving their nest. Sugar ants counter this where they gather to prevent meat ants from leaving their nest.[14]


Sugar ants rebuild their nest entrance following rain

Sugar ants are the dominant ant group of nocturnal ants, and workers can often be seen heading out at dusk in marked trails to forage for food.[15] They can also be seen during the day, but are more active during the night. They are more active during the warmer seasons, especially summer. During winter, they keep a low profile.

Sugar ants collect secretions made by plant-eating insects. Of these, aphids are the most prominent. Sugar ants tend aphids much like farmers tend their stock, moving them around and protecting them from predators. 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. 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 (depending on species) can defend itself by spraying 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. Bites are noticeable but do not cause any pain. 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.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Erichson, Wilhelm F. (1842), "Beitrag zur Insecten-Fauna von Vandiemensland, mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der geographischen Verbreitung der Insecten", Archiv fur Naturgeschichte (in German) 8: 83–287, retrieved 29 January 2015 
  2. ^ Roger, Julius (1863), "Verzeichniss der Formiciden-Gattungen und Arten", Berliner entomologische Zeitschrift 7 (1-2): 1–65, doi:10.1002/mmnd.18630070123 
  3. ^ Wheeler, William Morton (1933). "Mermis parasitism in some Australian and Mexican ants". Psyche (Cambridge) 40 (1): 20–31. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  4. ^ "Sugar Ant". Australian Museum. 20 May 2009. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  5. ^ "Sugar Ants (Camponotus species)". Queensland Museum. Retrieved 29 January 2015. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Fraser, V. S.; Kaufmann, B.; Oldroyd, B. P.; Crozier, R. H. (1 February 2000). "Genetic influence on caste in the ant Camponotus consobrinus". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology (Springer-Verlag) 47 (3): 188–194. doi:10.1007/s002650050010. ISSN 1432-0762. 
  9. ^ "Sugar ant (Camponotus consobrinus (Erichson))". Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. 18 September 2004. Retrieved 29 January 2015. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ a b Humphreys, G.S.; Ringrose-Voase, A.J. (1994). Soil micromorphology studies in management and genesis. Amsterdam: Elsevier. p. 423. ISBN 9780080869902. 
  12. ^ Orr, Matthew R.; Dahlsten, Donald L.; Benson, Woodruff W. (April 2003). "Ecological interactions among ants in the genus Linepithema, their phorid parasitoids, and ant competitors". Ecological Entomology 28 (2): 203–210. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2311.2003.00506.x. 
  13. ^ Hölldobler, Bert (April 1986). "Food robbing in ants, a form of interference competition". Oecologia (Springer-Verlag) 69 (1): 12–15. doi:10.1007/BF00399031. ISSN 1432-1939. 
  14. ^ a b Hölldobler, Bert; Wilson, Edward O. (1990). The ants. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 424. ISBN 9780674040755. 
  15. ^ McQuillan, Peter B. (1997). "Invertebrates of the domain - a brief survey and implications for management". Tasmanian Naturalist 119 (2-9): 3–72. ISSN 0819-6826. Retrieved 29 January 2015. 
  16. ^ Day, M.F.; Pullen, K.R. (1999). "Leafhoppers in ant nests: some aspects of the behaviour of Pogonoscopini (Hemiptera: Eurymelidae).". Victorian Naturalist 116: 12–15. Retrieved 29 January 2015. 

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