Myrmecia (ant)

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For other uses, see Myrmecia (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with Myrmecina or Myrmica.
Bullant apr07.jpg
Bull ant foraging in Swifts Creek, Victoria
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Hexapoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Superfamily: Vespoidea
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Myrmeciinae
Genus: Myrmecia
Fabricius, 1804[1]
Type species
Formica gulosa, now Myrmecia gulosa
c. 94 species[2]

Halmamyrmecia Wheeler, 1922
Pristomyrmecia Emery, 1911
Promyrmecia Emery, 1911

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 Myrmecia gulosa (pictured) was perhaps the first of the genus to be discovered after a specimen was collected by Joseph Banks in 1770

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.[3] Myrmecia gulosa is perhaps the first bull ant to be discovered and described, after a specimen was collected by Joseph Banks in 1770.[4] The ant is now is the type species of the genus, originally named Formica gulosa,[5] and this was first designated in 1840.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

The taxon Wheeler described was not referred in later of his publications,[5] and eventually was declared a junior a synonym of Promyrmecia.[9] Clark raised the subgenus Promyrmecia and divided the new genus into several species groups, and the genus also included the subgenus Pristomyrmecia.[5] The whole subfamily was later revised by Clark in his 1951 publication, which includes 118 species and sub-species.[10] This revision was rejected by entomologists such as William Brown Jr.[5] 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.[11]


Bull ants are among the oldest of all ants, first appearing around 100 million years ago.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14][15] 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.[16] 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.


Bull ant showing the powerful mandibles and the relatively large compound eyes that provide excellent vision

These ants are well known in Australia for their aggressive behaviour and powerful stings.[14] The ant Myrmecia pyriformis has been certified as the world's most dangerous ant by Guinness World Records.[17] 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.[17][18] They have superior vision, able to track and even follow intruders from a distance of 1 m.[14]


Myrmecia forficata feeding on a flowering Corymbia ficifolia

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.[19]

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.[12][20] Predators of the bull ant are other ants, spiders, lizards, birds and other animals.[21] Assassin bugs, redback spiders and the Short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus Aculeatus) are also known to hunt bull ants.[21][22]


A winged female bulldog ant in Kialla, Victoria

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.[23] 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.[24] Nuptial flights have been known to occur early in April.[25] 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.[26] 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.[27]

Sometimes, a Myrmecia queen will raid a colony to kill the current queen and take over.[14] Queens are semi-clasutral, meaning that queens of the new established colony will forage for food in order to feed and raise her brood.[28] Colonies take a long time to form. Queens will typically lay around eight eggs, which less than half will survive.[29] 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.[30][29] Egg clumping is common in nests, although some species would not clump eggs together, and would be dispersed from one another.[31] 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.[30]


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.[32] This has been well studied with ants belonging to the Myrmecia pilosula species complex, particularly the jack jumper ant and Myrmecia croslandi.[33] The Myrmecia croslandi genome is being studied to compare it to other species closely related to the ant with a higher chromosome count.[34]


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."[35]


M. brevinoda
M. pyriformis
Winged specimens leaving the nest

Species groups[edit]

The genus contains nine species groups, according to Ogata and Taylor (1991).[5] Species listed under these species groups can be found in the source:

  • 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.[36] The only known ant of the genus that is considered vulnerable is Myrmecia inquilina.[37][38] The first Myrmecia inquilina ants to be discovered were found near Wagin by Athol Douglas and William L. Brown.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "ITIS standard report - Myrmecia (Fabricius, 1804)". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 12 March 2014. 
  2. ^ Bolton, B. (2014). "Myrmecia". AntCat. Retrieved 3 July 2014. 
  3. ^ Fabricius, Johan Christian (1804). "Systema Piezatorum : secundum ordines, genera, species, adiectis synonymis, locis, observationibus, descriptionibus". Brunsvigae: Carolum Reichard: (page 423, Myrmecia as genus). doi:10.5962/bhl.title.10490. OCLC 19422437. 
  4. ^ Vincent, Dietemann (2002). "Differentiation in reproductive potential and chemical communication of reproductive status in workers and queens of the ant Myrmecia gulosa". University of Würzburg. p. 5. OCLC 76565788. Retrieved 31 December 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Ogata, K.; Taylor, R.W. (1991). "Ants of the genus Myrmecia Fabricius: a preliminary review and key to the named species (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Myrmeciinae)" (PDF). Journal of Natural History 25 (6): 355. doi:10.1080/00222939100771021. Retrieved 30 December 2014. 
  6. ^ Swainson, William; Shuckard, W.E. (1840). "On the history and natural arrangement of insects". Cabinet cyclopaedia. Natural history (London: Printed for Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longmans) 104: 173. doi:10.5962/bhl.title.32786. OCLC 4329243. Retrieved 31 December 2014. 
  7. ^ Emery, Carlo (1911). "Hymenoptera: fam. Formicidae : subfam. Ponerinae". V. Verteneuil & L. Desmet. Part 118 in Wytsman's Genera insectorum 2: (page 17, Myrmecia in Ponerinae, Myrmeciini). 
  8. ^ Wheeler, William M. (April 1922). "Observations on Gigantiops destructor Fabricius and other leaping ants". Biological Bulletin. Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole) 42: 195: 185–201. doi:10.2307/1536521. ISSN 0006-3185. Retrieved 31 December 2014. 
  9. ^ Clark, John (1943). "A revision of the genus Promyrmecia Emery (Formicidae)". Memoirs of The National Museum of Victoria 13: 84: 83–149. ISSN 0083-5986. Retrieved 31 December 2014. 
  10. ^ Clark, John (1951). The Formicidae of Australia (Volume 1) (PDF). Melbourne: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia. p. 230. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  11. ^ Taylor, Robert W. (21 January 2015). "Ants with Attitude: Australian Jack-jumpers of the Myrmecia pilosula species complex, with descriptions of four new species (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Myrmeciinae)" (PDF). Zootaxa 3911 (4): 493. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.3911.4.2. PMID 25661627. 
  12. ^ a b Moffett, Mark W. "Bulldog Ants". National Geographic Society. Retrieved 14 September 2014. 
  13. ^ Archibald, S.B.; Cover, S. P.; Moreau, C. S. (2006). "Bulldog Ants of the Eocene Okanagan Highlands and History of the Subfamily (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Myrmeciinae)" (PDF). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 99 (3): 487–523. doi:10.1603/0013-8746(2006)99[487:BAOTEO]2.0.CO;2. 
  14. ^ a b c d "Bull ants". Australian Museum. Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  15. ^ "Alcune formiche della Nuova Caledonia" (PDF). Bollettino della Società Entomologica Italiana (in Italian) (Genova: Fratelli Pagano - Tipografi Editori,1869) 15: 6: 145–151. 1883. ISSN 0373-3491. Retrieved 31 December 2014. 
  16. ^ Lester, Philip J.; Keall, John B. (January 2005). "The apparent establishment and subsequent eradication of the Australian giant bulldog ant Forel (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in New Zealand". New Zealand Journal of Zoology 32 (4): 353–357. doi:10.1080/03014223.2005.9518423. 
  17. ^ a b "Most Dangerous Ant". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 5 April 2014. 
  18. ^ McGain, Forbes; Winkel, Kenneth D. (2002). Ant sting mortality in Australia. Toxicon. p. 40(8):1095–100. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 
  19. ^ New, Tim R. (30 August 2011). ‘In Considerable Variety’: Introducing the Diversity of Australia’s Insects. Springer. p. 104. ISBN 978-8132218340. Retrieved 12 September 2014. 
  20. ^ "Formicidae - Ants". Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Entomology. Retrieved 14 September 2014. 
  21. ^ a b "Myrmecia". Australian Ants. Retrieved 8 August 2014. 
  22. ^ Spencer, Chris P.; Richards, Karen (2009). Observations on the diet and feeding habits of the short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus Aculeatus) in Tasmania (PDF). Collinsvale, Tasmania: The Tasmanian Naturalist. p. 39. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 
  23. ^ Qian, Zengqiang (2012). Evolution of social structure in the ant genus Myrmecia fabricius (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) (PDF). Townsville: PhD thesis, James Cook University. pp. 1–96. Retrieved 5 December 2014. 
  24. ^ Wheeler, William Morton (1916). "The marriage-flight of a bull-dog ant (Myrmecia sanguinea F. Smith)." (PDF). Journal of Animal Behavior 6 (1): 70–73. doi:10.1037/h0074415. ISSN 0095-9928. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  25. ^ Tepper, Otto (1882). "Observations about the habits of some South Australian ants". Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of South Australia 5: 24–26. 
  26. ^ Dietemann, V.; Peeters, C; Hölldobler, B. (2004). "Gamergates in the Australian ant subfamily Myrmeciinae". Naturwissenschaften 91 (9): 432–435. doi:10.1007/s00114-004-0549-1. PMID 15278223. 
  27. ^ Gray, B.; Lamb, K. P. (June 1968). "Some observations on the malpighian tubules and ovarioles in Myrmecia dispar (Clark) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)". Australian Journal of Entomology 7 (1): 80–81. doi:10.1111/j.1440-6055.1968.tb00706.x. 
  28. ^ Haskins, Caryl P.; Haskins, Edna F. (December 1950). "Notes on the biology and social behavior of the archaic Ponerine ants of the genera Myrmecia and Promyrmecia". Annals of the Entomological Society of America 43 (4). Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  29. ^ a b Schmid-Hempel, Paul (1998). Parasites in Social Insects. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 10. ISBN 0691059233. Retrieved 10 August 2014. 
  30. ^ a b Hölldobler, Bert; Wilson, Edward O. (1990). The Ants. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-04075-9. 
  31. ^ Crosland, M. W. J.; Crozier, R. H.; Jefferson, E. (November 1988). "Aspects of the biology of the primitive ant genus Myrmecia F. (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)" (PDF). Australian Journal of Entomology 27 (4): 305–309. doi:10.1111/j.1440-6055.1988.tb01179.x. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  32. ^ Crosland, M.W.J., Crozier, R.H. (1986). "Myrmecia pilosula, an ant with only one pair of chromosomes". Science 231 (4743): 1278. Bibcode:1986Sci...231.1278C. doi:10.1126/science.231.4743.1278. PMID 17839565. 
  33. ^ Taylor, Robert W. (November 1991). "Myrmecia croslandi sp.n., a karyologically remarkable new Australian jack-jumper ant (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)". Australian Journal of Entomology 30 (4): 288–288. doi:10.1111/j.1440-6055.1991.tb00438.x. 
  34. ^ Cook, James; Johnson, Louise J. (2010). "Rampant karyotype evolution in jack jumper ants". School of Biological Sciences (University of Reading). Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  35. ^ Schopenhauer, Arthur (1818). The World as Will and Representation (PDF) 1. Germany: Dover. p. 204. ISBN 0-486-21761-2. 
  36. ^ Social Insects Specialist Group (1996). "Nothomyrmecia macrops". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2.3. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 22 September 2011. 
  37. ^ Social Insects Specialist Group (1996). "Myrmecia inquilina". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2.3. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 30 December 2014. 
  38. ^ Baillie, J.; Groombridge, B. (1996). 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. International Union for Conservation of Nature, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. p. 378. 
  39. ^ Douglas, Athol; Brown, W. L. (March 1959). "Myrmecia inquilina new species: The first parasite among the lower ants" (PDF). Insectes Sociaux 6 (1): 13–19. doi:10.1007/BF02223789. Retrieved 30 December 2014. 

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Myrmecia at Wikimedia Commons
  • Data related to Myrmecia at Wikispecies