Bull ant, Genus Myrmecia
Bull ant, Genus Myrmecia Image: Bruce Hulbert
Bruce Hulbert

Fast Facts

  • Classification
    Genus
    Myrmecia
    Subfamily
    Myrmeciinae
    Family
    Formicidae
    Super Family
    Vespoidea
    Suborder
    Apocrita
    Order
    Hymenoptera
    Class
    Insecta
    Subphylum
    Uniramia
    Phylum
    Arthopoda
    Kingdom
    Animalia
  • Number of Species
    90
  • Size Range
    8 mm - 40 mm

Bull ants have a fearsome reputation, and deservedly so.

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. They have superior vision, able to track and even follow intruders from a distance of 1 metre. 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.

Habitat

Bull ants live in urban areas, forests and woodland, and heath.

Distribution

Bull ants are found throughout Australia.

Feeding and diet

Bull ants collect nectar and other plant juices, as well as animal prey, which are carried back to the nest.

Other behaviours and adaptations

Bull ant nests are usually underground and often have hidden or small entrances. The nests can extend several metres below the ground. They 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.

Life history cycle

Several species have no colony workers. Instead, a raiding queen invades the nest of another species, kills the resident queen and takes over the colony.

Danger to humans

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.