|Bull ant foraging in Swifts Creek, Victoria|
|Formica gulosa, now Myrmecia gulosa
|c. 94 species|
Halmamyrmecia Wheeler, 1922
Myrmecia, often called bulldog ants, bull ants, inch ants, sergeant ants, jumper ants, or jack-jumpers (although jack jumper only applies to members of the M. pilosula species group), is a genus of ants. Bull ants can grow to over 40 mm (1.6 in) in length, with the smallest species 15 mm (0.59 in) long. Almost all of the approximately 94 species are endemic to Australia, with the single exception of Myrmecia apicalis from New Caledonia, where it is rare.
The term bull ant is often used in lay language to refer to other common ants which are neither true bull ants nor members of the genus Myrmecia.
The genus Myrmecia belongs to the subfamily Myrmeciinae which contains 94 species. The genus was first established by Johan Christian Fabricius in 1804 which included seven species that were once apart of the genus Formica. Myrmecia gulosa is perhaps the first bull ant to be discovered and described, after a specimen was collected by Joseph Banks in 1770. The ant is now is the type species of the genus, originally named Formica gulosa, and this was first designated in 1840. In a 1911 publication, three subgenera classifications were recognised by entomologist Carlo Emery in accordance to the appearance of the mandibles; Myrmecia, Pristomyrmecia and Promyrmecia. William Morton Wheeler added the subgenus Halmamyrmecia which included ants from Pirstomyrmecia subgenus, and these ants of the new subgenus were characterised by their jumping behaviour.
The taxon Wheeler described was not referred in later of his publications, and eventually was declared a junior a synonym of Promyrmecia. Clark raised the subgenus Promyrmecia and divided the new genus into several species groups, and the genus also included the subgenus Pristomyrmecia. The whole subfamily was later revised by Clark in his 1951 publication, which includes 118 species and sub-species. This revision was rejected by entomologists such as William Brown Jr. Today, these subgenera are now considered junior synonyms of Myrmecia. In 2015, four new Myrmecia ants were described by Robert Taylor, all exclusive to Australia.
Bull ants are among the oldest of all ants, first appearing around 100 million years ago. Nearly all relatives are only found in fossils and were once distributed worldwide, being found in Denmark, Canada, United States and in other areas of North America, South America and Europe. 89 of the 90 species of the genus are endemic to Australia, with the exception of Myrmecia apicalis, which is only found in New Caledonia. Only one Myrmecia species has been introduced to a non-native country, and that was the giant bulldog ant Myrmecia brevinoda, introduced to New Zealand in 1940. Multiple observations of the ant were recorded in 1948 and 1965, but there has been no report of the ant in New Zealand for over 20 years, so it is presumed the ant has been eradicated.
These ants are well known in Australia for their aggressive behaviour and powerful stings. The ant Myrmecia pyriformis has been certified as the world's most dangerous ant by Guinness World Records. The venom of these ants has the potential to induce anaphylactic shock in allergic sting victims. As with most severe allergic reactions, the reaction may be lethal if left untreated. These large, alert ants have characteristic large eyes and long, slender mandibles. Some bull ants, such as Myrmecia pyriformis and Myrmecia pilosula are known to have caused several deaths in humans. They have superior vision, able to track and even follow intruders from a distance of 1 m.
Bull ants eat small insects, honeydew (a sweet, sticky liquid found on leaves, deposited from various insects), seeds, fruit, fungi, gums, and nectar. Because they mostly live exclusively in bushland, they are rarely exposed to a human-influenced diet. The adult ants mainly eat nectar and honeydew, but the ant larvae are carnivores that eat small insects brought back to them by hunting worker ants. The workers can also regurgitate food back in the nest so other ants can consume it.
Carpenter ants (Camponotus) are fed on by bull ants, but this is a dangerous quarry as carpenter ants are able to release chemical signals to bring further reinforcements, which bull ants lack, nor do they have any scent trails as they forage independently. Predators of the bull ant are other ants, spiders, lizards, birds and other animals. Assassin bugs, redback spiders and the Short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus Aculeatus) are also known to hunt bull ants.
Colonies are polygynous and polyandrous, which means that colonies have multiple queens in one colony. Some species can have from a single queen and up to six queens in a single colony and during nuptial flight, Myrmecia alates will emerge and queens will mate between one to ten males. An observed nuptial flight shows nuptial flight occur after a storm with high temperatures, around in January. At least 1,000 or more alates can gather in a single nuptial flight, with as many as five to six males trying to mate with a single queen. Nuptial flights have been known to occur early in April. Myrmecia is one of several ant genera which possess gamergates, female worker ants which are able to mate and reproduce, thus sustaining the colony after the loss of the queen. A colony of Myrmecia pyriformis without queen was collected in 1998 and kept in captivity, during which time the gamergates produced viable workers for three years. Evidence of fertile workers were observed in several dissections of Myrmecia workers which had ovaries and a spermatheca, although workers would lay trophic eggs, used to feed the colony.
Sometimes, a Myrmecia queen will raid a colony to kill the current queen and take over. Queens are semi-clasutral, meaning that queens of the new established colony will forage for food in order to feed and raise her brood. Colonies take a long time to form. Queens will typically lay around eight eggs, which less than half will survive. Colonies can take between four months to eight months for the first workers to be born. In comparison to other ant colonies unrelated to Myrmecia, they are rather small, with some only consisting of a few hundred individual or even 2,000 individuals. Egg clumping is common in nests, although some species would not clump eggs together, and would be dispersed from one another. Queens will generally live the longest of the entire colony, some being at least 10 years of age before dying while the workers will only live for around one year.
Myrmecia genomes is contained on a single pair of chromosomes, while males only just have one chromosome, as they are haploid. This is the lowest known but possible chromosome count for any animal. This has been well studied with ants belonging to the Myrmecia pilosula species complex, particularly the jack jumper ant and Myrmecia croslandi. The Myrmecia croslandi genome is being studied to compare it to other species closely related to the ant with a higher chromosome count.
The bull ant famously appears in the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer's major work, The World as Will and Representation, as a paradigmatic example of strife and constant destruction endemic to the "will to live".
"But the bulldog-ant of Australia affords us the most extraordinary example of this kind; for if it is cut in two, a battle begins between the head and the tail. The head seizes the tail in its teeth, and the tail defends itself bravely by stinging the head: the battle may last for half an hour, until they die or are dragged away by other ants. This contest takes place every time the experiment is tried."
- Myrmecia aberrans Forel, 1900
- Myrmecia acuta Ogata & Taylor, 1991
- Myrmecia analis Mayr, 1862
- Myrmecia apicalis Emery, 1883
- Myrmecia arnoldi Clark, 1951
- Myrmecia athertonensis Forel, 1915
- Myrmecia auriventris Mayr, 1870
- Myrmecia banksi Taylor, 2015
- Myrmecia borealis Ogata & Taylor, 1991
- Myrmecia brevinoda Forel, 1910
- Myrmecia browningi Ogata & Taylor, 1991
- Myrmecia callima (Clark, 1943)
- Myrmecia cephalotes (Clark, 1943)
- Myrmecia chasei Forel, 1894
- Myrmecia chrysogaster (Clark, 1943)
- Myrmecia clarki Crawley, 1922
- Myrmecia comata Clark, 1951
- Myrmecia croslandi Taylor, 1991
- Myrmecia cydista (Clark, 1943)
- Myrmecia desertorum Wheeler, 1915
- Myrmecia dichospila Clark, 1938
- Myrmecia dimidiata Clark, 1951
- Myrmecia dispar (Clark, 1951)
- Myrmecia elegans (Clark, 1943)
- Myrmecia erecta Ogata & Taylor, 1991
- Myrmecia esuriens Fabricius, 1804
- Myrmecia eungellensis Ogata & Taylor, 1991
- Myrmecia exigua (Clark, 1943)
- Myrmecia fabricii Ogata & Taylor, 1991
- Myrmecia ferruginea Mayr, 1876
- Myrmecia flammicollis Brown, 1953
- Myrmecia flavicoma Roger, 1861
- Myrmecia forceps Roger, 1861
- Myrmecia forficata (Fabricius, 1787)
- Myrmecia formosa Wheeler, 1933
- Myrmecia froggatti Forel, 1910
- Myrmecia fucosa Clark, 1934
- Myrmecia fulgida Clark, 1951
- Myrmecia fulviculis Forel, 1913
- Myrmecia fulvipes Roger, 1861
- Myrmecia fuscipes Clark, 1951
- Myrmecia gilberti Forel, 1910
- Myrmecia gratiosa Clark, 1951
- Myrmecia gulosa (Fabricius, 1775)
- Myrmecia harderi Forel, 1910
- Myrmecia haskinsorum Taylor, 2015
- Myrmecia hilli (Clark, 1943)
- Myrmecia hirsuta Clark, 1951
- Myrmecia imaii Taylor, 2015
- Myrmecia impaternata Taylor, 2015
- Myrmecia infima Forel, 1900
- Myrmecia inquilina Douglas & Brown, 1959
- Myrmecia loweryi Ogata & Taylor, 1991
- Myrmecia ludlowi Crawley, 1922
- Myrmecia luteiforceps Wheeler, 1933
- Myrmecia mandibularis Smith, 1858
- Myrmecia maura Wheeler, 1933
- Myrmecia maxima (Moore, 1842)
- Myrmecia michaelseni Forel, 1907
- Myrmecia midas Clark, 1951
- Myrmecia minuscula Forel, 1915
- Myrmecia mjobergi Forel, 1915
- Myrmecia nigra Forel, 1907
- Myrmecia nigriceps Mayr, 1862
- Myrmecia nigriscapa Roger, 1861
- Myrmecia nigrocincta Smith, 1858
- Myrmecia nobilis (Clark, 1943)
- Myrmecia occidentalis (Clark, 1943)
- Myrmecia pavida Clark, 1951
- Myrmecia petiolata Emery, 1895
- Myrmecia picta Smith, 1858
- Myrmecia picticeps Clark, 1951
- Myrmecia piliventris Smith, 1858
- Myrmecia pilosula Smith, 1858
- Myrmecia potteri (Clark, 1951)
- Myrmecia pulchra Clark, 1929
- Myrmecia pyriformis Smith, 1858
- Myrmecia queenslandica Forel, 1915
- Myrmecia regularis Crawley, 1925
- Myrmecia rowlandi Forel, 1910
- Myrmecia rubicunda (Clark, 1943)
- Myrmecia rubripes Clark, 1951
- Myrmecia rufinodis Smith, 1858
- Myrmecia rugosa Wheeler, 1933
- Myrmecia simillima Smith, 1858
- Myrmecia subfasciata Viehmeyer, 1924
- Myrmecia swalei Crawley, 1922
- Myrmecia tarsata Smith, 1858
- Myrmecia tepperi Emery, 1898
- Myrmecia testaceipes (Clark, 1943)
- Myrmecia tridentata Ogata & Taylor, 1991
- Myrmecia urens Lowne, 1865
- Myrmecia varians Mayr, 1876
- Myrmecia vindex Smith, 1858
- M. aberrans species group
- M. cephalotes species group
- M. gulosa species group
- M. mandibularis species group
- M. nigrocincta species group
- M. picta species group
- M. pilosula species group
- M. tepperi species group
- M. urens species group
The Conservation status for Myrmecia ants is not exactly known. The only living relative, Nothomyrmecia macrops of the genus is crtically endangered. The only known ant of the genus that is considered vulnerable is Myrmecia inquilina. The first Myrmecia inquilina ants to be discovered were found near Wagin by Athol Douglas and William L. Brown.
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