Animal Species:Bull ants

Bull ants have a fearsome reputation, and deservedly so.The sting of these ants hurt a lot since they inject formic acid. Unlike other ants they are attracted to flowers but have no role in pollination.

Bull Ant on top of its nest

Bull Ant on top of its nest
Photographer: J.Green © J.Green

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Standard Common Name

Bull ants

Alternative Name/s

Bulldog ants

Number of species

90

Identification

  • Bull ants are large, alert ants that can grow up to 40 mm.
  • They have characteristic large eyes and long, slender mandibles and a potent venom-loaded sting.
  • Many species of bull ants have bright red or orange colours on the head or abdomen.
  • There are about 90 species of bull ants in Australia with diverse behaviours and life cycles.
  • Nine bull ant species have been recorded in Sydney, but there may be more as yet undiscovered.
  • Some of the smaller species are known as jumper ants after their habit of aggressively jumping toward intruders.

Size range

8 mm - 40 mm

Distribution

Bull ants are found throughout Australia.

Habitat

  • Bull ants live in urban areas, forests and woodland, and heath.
  • Bull ant nests are usually underground and often have hidden or small entrances.
  • The nests can extend several metres below the ground.

Feeding and Diet

  • Bull ants collect nectar and other plant juices, as well as animal prey, which are carried back to the nest.
  • Young larvae are usually fed dead insects and grubs.

Other behaviours and adaptations

  • They will attack intruders of any size that come too close to their nest.
  • Bull ants also have well-developed vision and will follow or even chase an intruder a good distance from the nest.
  • Usually the sight of large aggressive ants streaming out of the nest is enough to prompt a hasty retreat. If not, the ants deliver painful stings by gripping the intruder with their mandibles (jaws), curling their abdomen to reveal the sting and injecting the victim with venom. Often multiple stings are delivered.
  • These ants have two pair of jaws – the outer pair used for carrying objects and the inner pair is used for chewing food.

Communication

 Unlike other ants, they communicate by touch and smell.

Life cycle

  • An ant’s life cycle passes through four distinct stages of egg, larva, pupa and adult.
  • The eggs hatch into small grubs which grow into worker ants who expand the nest.
  • The fertilized eggs hatch into females and unfertilized ones into males.
  • The bulldog ants live for 8 to 10 weeks passing through the four stages of life. However, in some cases, the queen ant may live for several years.

Mating and reproduction

  • During certain times of the year, these ants develop wings. When the young queen is ready to mate she flies out to meet other males.
  • These winged male and queens fly into the air and mate after which the males die. After mating, the queens’s wings fall off and she starts building an anthill.
  • The fertilized queen starts a nest by digging small chambers where she lays her eggs. The queen spends her entire life laying eggs.
  • In some species of bull ants, there are no colonies and the queen attacks the nest of other species to kill the queen before taking over the entire colony.

Predators, Parasites and Diseases

 These ants are often hunted by ants of other species, birds, wasps and spiders.

Conservation Status

They have been listed in the IUCN red list as Critically Endangered Species. However, no conservation measures have been taken yet. 

Economic/social impacts

  • They help in decomposition of dead plants and animals in the wild.
  • Scientists have observed that these ants secrete a special chemical that kills pollen. Scientists are testing this secretion to check if it can be used to cure human diseases.

Danger to humans and first aid

  • These ants can deliver painful stings and are aggressive.
  • An ice pack or commercially available spray may be used to relieve the pain of the sting.
  • If there is evidence of an allergic reaction, medical attention should be sought.

Classification

Genus:
Myrmecia
Subfamily:
Myrmeciinae
Family:
Formicidae
Superfamily:
Vespoidea
Suborder:
Apocrita
Order:
Hymenoptera
Class:
Insecta
Subphylum:
Uniramia
Phylum:
Arthopoda
Kingdom:
Animalia

What does this mean?


Melissa Murray , Interpretive Officer
Last Updated:

Tags ants, insects, arthropods, invertebrates, identification, wildlife of sydney, dangerous, bites, stings, myrmecia, stinging, anaphylactic shock, allergic reaction, bull ants, bulldog ants,

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