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Harvester ants

can be found throughout the American Southwest, from California eastward through Texas. Their natural range happens to coincide with that of the horned lizards (also known as horny-toads), and this species of ant is the chief prey item for these lizards. In areas where the harvester ants have been exterminated, the horned lizards have fared the same fate.

Harvester ants, like all other ant species, are simply nothing more than wingless wasps that live in colonies.
This variety of ant is the largest species in west Texas, with workers averaging three-eights of an inch in total length. The queen of the colony is slightly larger, averaging nearly one-half inch. The general coloration of this ant ranges from a dark brick red to almost candy-apple red.

Like other insects, harvester ants have three body parts: the head, the thorax, and the abdomen. Each one of these body parts has a specific purpose, with the head being the area where the eyes, antennae, and feeding appendages are, the thorax is where the legs and wings are attached, and the abdomen is where the majority of the internal organs are housed.

Also like others in the insect group, the skeletal structure is on the outside of their body. This structure is known as the exoskeleton. They have six legs, and some members of the colony (known as the alates) have two pairs of wings that are utilized for flight.

Like most other species of ants, harvester ants live in surprisingly-large colonies. It has been estimated that a particular nest may house more than 20,000 individuals! The colony is accessible by only a single nest opening, and all of the plant matter, including the root systems, is cleared away around it. This perimeter is about three feet or so, making the nest easily recognizable.

The nest itself can descend for 20 feet below the surface, and there are many times multiple side systems that can extend out for a dozen or more feet. The benefits of a single nest are obvious, the most important being the aeration of the landscape that adds to the welfare of the soil.

Only the females of these colonies are active, at least until the seasonal rains come and the “royal” members of the group ascend to the surface to swarm. Their purpose in doing so is to leave that colony and begin another.

Harvester ants are seed gathers, with many trails from the nest opening to rich food sources can be observed.

Although they feed on seeds, this species can and will sting perceived predators with a toxin that can cause as severe a pain as any other insect in this area. The sting from this species is several times more painful than the common and invasive fire ant.

Generally, they are content to go about their business casually, but they are very quick to defend their nest from potential threats, with many individuals emerging from the nest at the slightest provocation.

Give this species adequate space and use common sense when near the nest, and allow these native arthropods to improve the welfare of your yard in ways that only nature could design.


This article was printed in the March 31, 2019 edition of the San Angelo Standard Times and was written by Michael Price
Michael Price is owner of Wild About Texas, an educational company that specializes in venomous animal safety training, environmental consultations and ecotourism. Contact him at

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