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Big-headed ant workers (one major and many minor casteworkers) under the microscope.
, alsocalled coastal brown ants, are a major nuisanceant species in Western Australia. They are anurban pest and are oten seen in lawns and inbrick paving, which they tend to undermine.This Garden
describes ways to identiy big-headed ants, discusses their biology, and adviseson eective control methods. Control proceduresoutlined here are specifc to big-headed antsand may not be eective on other ant species.Thereore, it is wise to have pest ants identifedbeore attempting control as this can save timeand money. The Department o Agriculture andFood oers this ree service. See treatmentsection or details.
Big-headed ant is an introduced species of Africanorigin. Look for:
small, light ginger-brown coloured ants, withshiny dark brown abdomens
the presence o two very dierent-sized ‘castes’(types determined by their unction) o workerants, that is:
smaller ‘minors’ - 2 to 3 mm long and
a larger ‘major’ caste - 3.5 to 4.5 mm long,which has a very obvious, much larger headand which makes up about 1 per cent o thepopulation. The ‘major’ caste o worker antsare not primarily soldiers or deence. Instead,their powerul jaws are used or cutting up largepieces o ood into small pieces which can moreeasily be transported back to the nest by themore numerous minors.
ants with no obvious odour when crushed.
There are multiple queens in the nests and nestsare interconnected. New colonies are ormedby budding whereby one or more queens withattendant workers leave an existing nest andwalk to a nearby location. Rarely are new nestsestablished by ying, mated queen ants.While these ants can sting, the sting does notcause discomort to humans. Big-headed antsare particularly active in late summer, autumnand early winter. They nest outside in the groundand only occasionally invade dwellings whenpopulations outside are very high. However,invasions o dwellings can be severe. These antspreer meat or at/oil-based oods.Big-headed ants can orm ‘super-colonies’ whentheir interconnected nests act as a single colony.The worker ants o such an inestation can occupymany hectares and they cooperate in ways similarto a single colony. In these situations they candisplace native ant species and be the only antspecies present in a heavily inested area. Big-headed ants are specialists in invading disturbedareas and are thereore ideally suited to urbandevelopments. There are native species belongingto the genus
but these are rarely everpests, and tend to be ound in undisturbedhabitats where they are predominantly seed-harvesters.
Infestations of big-headed ants are characterisedby lines of inter-connected holes and small moundsof excavated soil. Excavations can be so extensivethat brick paving is destabilised and the roots ofplants and the lawn can become so aerated thatthe plants subsequently die by drying out. Often thesmall worker ants are hard to see, but foods put outfor pets can become covered in ants.
Look or two distinctly dierent-sized ants on aood source, with the larger worker ants having adisproportionately larger head.
Big-headed ants, coastal brown ants
By Peter Davis and Marc Widmer (Social Insect Research), Entomology, South Perth
March 2010Replaces Note: 173