Harvester ant

Harvester ant, also known as harvesting ant, is a common name for any of the species or genera of ants that collect seeds (called seed predation), or mushrooms as in the case of Euprenolepis procera, which are stored in the nest in communal chambers called granaries.[1] They are also referred to as agricultural ants. Seed harvesting by some desert ants is an adaptation to the lack of typical ant resources such as prey or honeydew from hemipterans. Harvester ants increase seed dispersal and protection, and provide nutrients that increase seedling survival of the desert plants. In addition, ants provide soil aeration through the creation of galleries and chambers, mix deep and upper layers of soil, and incorporate organic refuse into the soil.[2]

Pogonomyrmex badius workers transporting a seed to add to their granary
Messor sp. carrying seeds into their nest

Seed dispersalEdit

Ants may play an important role in the dynamics of plant communities by acting either as seed dispersal agents or as seed predators, or both. During the day, these ants search the savannas for vegetation and plant seeds, and carry them along back to their nest. The two main mechanisms through which ants disperse seeds are myrmecochory, or seed dispersal mediated by the elaiosome, i.e., a lipid-rich seed appendage that mainly attracts non-granivorous ants and provides rewards for seed dispersal, and diszoochory, or seed dispersal performed by seed-harvesting ants that is not mediated by any particular seed structure. While the former has traditionally been recognized mainly as a mutualism, the latter is usually perceived as an antagonism.[3]

Foraging behaviorEdit

Harvester ants foraging in hot, dry conditions lose water, but obtain water from metabolizing fats in the seeds they eat. Positive feedback on foraging activity, from returning foragers with food, allows the colony to regulate its foraging activity according to the current costs of desiccation and the benefits based on current food availability.[4]

In many harvester ant species, foraging behavior is influenced by the weather. For example, in the ant Messor andrei, recruitment to food bait is higher in more humid conditions. Both humidity and food availability are affected by day-to-day changes in weather conditions. Food is distributed by wind and flooding and rain uncover seeds in the top layer of the soil. In Pogonomyrmex barbatus, daily changes in conditions such as humidity and food availability produce strong daily trends in the foraging activity of all colonies.[5]

Colonies may vary in the relation between humidity and foraging activity. Colonies differ consistently from year to year in how often they forage at all and most colonies forage on days with high humidity and high food availability, such as those just after a rain when flooding has exposed a layer of seeds in the soil. Few colonies forage on very dry days. Colonies also differ in how likely they are to adjust the rate of outgoing foragers to the rate of forager return. While all colonies tend to adjust outgoing foraging rate closely when conditions are good, only some colonies do so in poor conditions.[6]


Harvester ants, for their size, have a rather potent venom. They inject it into their victim via sting by biting down and following up with a rapid sting from their abdomen. This causes 4-8 hours of sharp pain with effects similar to neurotoxicity such as piloerection and localized swelling around the area of the sting.[7]

Species and generaEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Conference, International Union for the Study of Social Insects. Italian Section. (1991). Biological studies on social and presocial arthropods: proceedings of the Third Conference of the Italian Section of the International Union for the Study of Social Insects (I.U.S.S.I.). Associazione Italiana per lo Studio degli Artropodi Sociali e Presociali (A.I.S.A.S.P.). p. 79.
  2. ^ Uppstrom & Klompen 2011, p. 1
  3. ^ Arnan et al. 2012, p. 2
  4. ^ Gordon, Dektar & Pinter-Wollman 2013, p. 1
  5. ^ Gordon, Dektar & Pinter-Wollman 2013, pp. 1–2
  6. ^ Gordon, Dektar & Pinter-Wollman 2013, p. 2
  7. ^ Clinical Consequences of Toxic Envenomations by Hymenoptera
  8. ^ Whitford & Steinberger 2009, p. 551
  9. ^ LaPolla 2009, p. 1
  10. ^ Steinberger, Leschner & Shmida 1991, p. 241
  11. ^ "Species: Pheidole militicida". antweb.org. AntWeb. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  12. ^ Johnson 2000, p. 89
  13. ^ Gordon & Hölldobler 1987, p. 341
  14. ^ "Pogonomyrmex occidentalis (Cresson, 1865)". Integrated Taxonomic Information System.
  15. ^ Corlett, Richard T. (21 August 2014). The Ecology of Tropical East Asia. Oxford University Press. p. 147. ISBN 9780191503498.
  16. ^ Mani, M. S. (1989). Indian Insects. Satish Book Enterprise. p. 133.