Bull Ants: All About These Unique Ants


A picture of Bull Ants

Bull Ants fall under the genus, Myrmecia, and have around 90 different species, almost all of which are endemic to Australia. They’re one of the most primitive group of ants on earth, and they function quite differently from most other ant species.

Typically, when an ant wants to communicate with its fellow colony members, it lays down pheromones, which the others can smell using their antennae, and be guided towards, some food for example. Forming a sight, you’ll probably be familiar with, a long trail of ants leading to a source of food.

Great EyeSight

But, Bull Ants are different. Instead of laying down pheromone trails and relying largely on their sense of smell to direct themselves, they navigate through a different sense. “Through their sense of sight”. While most ants have relatively poor eyesight, Bull Ants have exceptional vision. Just look at those massive eyes in the above picture. They often travel long distances from their nest in search of food. And as they go, they use their enhanced vision to scan, and even memorize their environment. Relying on landmarks, like the surrounding trees and logs, in order to navigate their way back to their nest. Bull Ants’ acute sense of vision, also makes them incredibly effective at tracking down and stalking prey.

Eating Habits Of Bull Ants

The workers prefer to feed on sweet substances, like nectar and tree sap, and fruit, like an apple core or any other fruit that they can get their hands on, if they get the chance. But the colonies’ larvae demand protein-rich foods, like other arthropods. Once they get within striking distance, they use their powerful mandibles to grip onto, and then, quickly subdue their prey by delivering a deadly sting, which they, like their wasp ancestors, can inject multiple times. Bull Ants occasionally prey upon other ants too. Usually seen targeting Carpenter Ants, which hoften live alongside them. A successful kill comes with great reward.

Not only do the ants provide great nourishment for their colony, but it also reduces the numbers, and subsequently the strength of their neighboring colonies. Increasing the Bull Ants’ odds in finding food within the area. This can be a little dangerous, however, as these Carpenter Ants will raise alarm pheromones when felt threatened, causing their fellow colony members to rush in against their attacker, sometimes even resulting in the predator becoming the prey.

Bull Ants are quite good multi-taskers

So instead of constantly hunting these foreigners, in order to compete for territory and resources, Bull Ants have developed a safer alternative. They do so through sabotage. The Bull Ants pay a visit to their neighbors and start dropping debris, like rocks and twigs, into their nest entrances. By shutting in the rival colony, it forces them spend time and energy in order to clear these blockages, effectively, limiting their foraging capabilities. Bull Ants are even known to multitask too. They have been seen to clean out their nest, carrying out scraps, like the exoskeletons of past prey, which they no longer have any use for simultaneously. So they move it out of their nest and straight into their, not so fortunate neighbors’.

A Type of Bull Ants known as Myrmecia pilosula can jump quite high, a few times their body size

One of the most abundant and commonly found Bull Ants across Australia, are Myrmecia pilosula, commonly known as Jumping Jack Ants. As their name suggests, they actually have the ability to jump, and they utilize this unique trait for a number of different circumstances. When they’re agitated, particularly around their nest, they perform a hoping like action, perhaps to warn intruders to stay clear by showcasing their agility and ferocity. And when they really feel threatened, they can use it as a defensive mechanism. Leaping into the air, several times their own body length, in hope of escape. And paired with their great vision, they occasionally use it whilst foraging, jumping from place to place relatively accurately, much like a jumping spider would.

An Extensive video about bull ants from the youtube channel “Ants Australia

The colonies of bull ants can carry in size quite a bit and can have one or multiple queens The workers enclosed from the queen’s very first batch of eggs, and so, are known as nanitics. They are the ones that do most of the hardwork around the nest. The first generation or two, tend to be smaller in size than the preceding generations, as the colony simply has fewer workers around, foraging for food and making sure that the brood and queen is well nurtured.

Apart from the obvious size difference, Bull ant queens look quite similar to regular workers. Most queens you’ll see, like CarpenterAnt queen , tend to have a disproportionally large thorax and gaster section. After these queens dig themselves out an egglaying chamber, known as a claustral cell, here they’ll remain, living off their fatreserves and waiting patiently for their workers to arrive.

These types of queens are known as fully-claustral queens. Unlike fully-claustral queens however, Bull Ant queens just don’t have the sufficient fat reserves to fast through a long period. And so, found their colonies in a semi-claustral manner. Meaning, they leave their claustral cell to search for food, so as to nourish both themselves and their hungry larvae.

Some Bull Ants can reach a size of upto 2.5 cm in length and hence would be one of the largest ants you will see

Bull Ants can be some of the largest ants you’ll see. With some species, reaching up to 2.5cm in length, and the queens measuring even larger. Here you can see the difference against an averaged sized ant. As you can see, Bull Ants are like giants by comparison. Generally, however, the larger the species,the longer it takes for the brood to develop and for workers to emerge. Because these ants are so large, the lifecycle of the ant, from egg to adult, can take several months. It’s worth the wait though, as Bull Antworkers exhibit greater longevity in comparison to other ants, having a life expectancy ofover a year in age.

Whereas, the more common, smaller species, tend to live for only just a few months. These Bull Ant workers also possess a unique ability, in that they can actually reproduce with male ants and lay fertile eggs. Becoming what’s known as, gamergates. In most other species of ants, it’s only the queen of the colony which is able to do this, and all the workers are completely sterile. This trait is particularly useful if the original queen of the colony were to die. As a gamergate or two, would then be able to take over the role of egg laying and extend the lifespan of colony.

In Bull Ants, even the workers of the colony are fertile and able to reproduce which is something quite unique when it comes to Ants’ species

All these unique characteristics makes BullAnts a true favourite of many insects’ enthusiasts. Bull ants can be quite aggressive and do have the ability to sting. Because of their great sense of sight, they’re immediately drawn to any movements. So it’s really hard to do basic things around their nest, like adding in and removing foods if you intend to have one as a pet, without causing any alarm. Apparently they deliver quite a potent and painful sting. With some species of Bull Ants being considered the most toxic within the entire insect world. So if you do come across these guys, it’s recommended keeping a good distance and definitely it isn’t recommended trying to raise them if you’re a beginning ant keeper or prone to allergies.

Bull Ants are not so interested in insects when they don’t have any larvae to feed. Unlike the omnivorous adults, Bull ant larvae are known to be carnivorous, so once the eggs do hatch into larvae, it becomes a necessity for the colony to hunt some insects

Bull Ants’ queens often themselves like to stand guard over the larvae and take care of them

Stinging And Biting Of Bull Ants

Bull Ants can sting as well as bite, some of their stings can be quite venomous so it is recommended that you don’t agitate a bull ant unnecessarily especially if you are near their nests. Moreover Bull Ants do not lose their stingers after stinging once like the honey bees as they can just take the stinger out of the victim’s body. This means that they are very much capable of stinging one victim various time with their venom

Hopefully, this article was informative, and gave you some interesting insight about Bull ants as well as their unqiueness when it comes to insects. If you have any further related questions feel free to use the comment section below. Moreover, if you want to know an answer to whether insects seek and take revenge, we have a great article written on just that, you can give that a look “here“. And if you want to go through some interesting facts about insects, natgeokids has a great article written on that, you can give that a look “here

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