Formicidaeants, fourmis


Approximately, 12,000 species of ants (Formicidae) are documented worldwide; however, scientists estimate that closer to 15,000 actually exist. Within this family, there are about 21 subfamilies and 283 genera. This family of insects is highly diverse. Ants can be found on almost every continent, and they live in various habitats, including grasslands, tropical forests, and human-dominated areas. While they all have the same basic body plan, there are slight variations in their appearance. Coloration ranges from black-brown to red-yellow and size may vary depending on the species. Some species have stingers, enabling them to inject venom into threats, while others spray formic acid as a defense mechanism. Despite variations in geographic location and appearance, all ants are social, colonial insects, meaning they live in large groups with each individual contributing to the collective wellbeing of the colony. They also all have the same basic hierarchical caste system: queens, males, and workers. Moreover, ants have incredible communication and perception capabilities. They can find prey using powerful compound eyes, feel their environment with their antennae, gather pheromone information with their maxillary palps and antennae, and use their abdomens and mandibles to strike surfaces within a nest, causing vibration messages to be sent to other ants. Lastly, ants have a wide variety of ecosystem roles and affect humans in countless ways. They disperse seeds, aerate soil, serve as a food source for other species, and eat decaying organic matter, thus cleaning the environment. They even eat other household pests, help increase crop yield, and serve as a tool for medical research. Alternatively, ants can contaminate food, harbor pathogens dangerous to humans on rare occasions, and be major household pests, causing wood and surface damage. Overall, ants are an interesting and diverse group of organisms, important to their ecosystems. (Anjos, et al., 2022; Beatson, 1972; Bennett and Ellison, 2021; Charles, et al., 2022; Cleveland Clinic, 2022; Cornell University, 2023; Del Toro, et al., 2013; Drees and Summerlin, 2023; Hahn, 2020; Holbrook, 2023; Hölldobler, 1999; Klotz, et al., 1995; Kumari, et al., 2022; Lach, et al., 2010; Leahy, et al., 2020; Santoandré, et al., 2016; Simothy, et al., 2018; Sorvari, 2022; The National Wildlife Federation, 2023; University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources, 2017; Wetterer, 2012; Yates, 1992)

Geographic Range

Ants are found on almost every continent and in most biogeographic regions, including the Nearctic region, the Palearctic region, the Neotropical region, the Oriental region, the Australian region, and the Ethiopian region. While many native species live in these areas, invasive species have also been transported to these regions via human activity. (Charles, et al., 2022; Del Toro, et al., 2013; Hölldobler, 1999; Leahy, et al., 2020; Santoandré, et al., 2016; Siddiqui, et al., 2021; Sorvari, 2022; The National Wildlife Federation, 2023; Wetterer, 2012)


Ants inhabit a diverse array of terrestrial habitats. They can be found in urban areas and suburban areas, human-dominated areas, temperate forests, tropical forests, and grasslands. Their nests can be built in various places, including underground, in branches, in dead trees, in human-made materials and buildings, in acorns, in leaf litters, under stone, and so on. (Bennett and Ellison, 2021; Charles, et al., 2022; Cornell University, 2023; Del Toro, et al., 2013; Klotz, et al., 1995; Santoandré, et al., 2016; Sorvari, 2022; Wetterer, 2012)

Systematic and Taxonomic History

All ants belong to the family Formicidae. Their distinguishing characteristic is the metapleural gland, a gland with antimicrobial capabilities. This feature was also found in Cretaceous period fossils. This family is related to the order Hymenoptera, which includes ants, wasps, and bees. They are their closest relatives. This order is a part of the larger class Insecta, which includes all insects. They are characterized by having 6 legs. This class falls under the phylum Arthopoda, which includes insects, centipedes, millipedes, spiders, scorpions, and crustaceans. They are characterized by having jointed legs and an exoskeleton. (Bennett and Ellison, 2021; Brady, et al., 2006; Duncan, et al., 2023; Fernández, et al., 2021; Martins, et al., 2022; The National Wildlife Federation, 2023; University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources, 2017)

  • Synapomorphies
    • metapleural gland

Physical Description

Generally, adult ants have segmented bodies with the following parts: head, thorax, and abdomen. They have one pair of antennae with a bent elbow-like shape, three pairs of walking legs, and a set of mandibles. Coloration ranges from black and brown to yellow and red. Most species have a pair of compound eyes. Ants also have an exoskeleton made up of a durable material called chitin for protection against the environment and as a source of muscle attachment. Furthermore, ants are ectothermic, meaning they use environmental heat to maintain their body temperature in an optimal range, and they are bilaterally symmetrical, meaning that the organism can be split into two identical halves. Sexual dimorphism exists among ants, and they also vary in appearance depending on their role in the colony. Males are born with wings. They typically have smaller heads but larger eyes and thorax. Females can be larger or smaller than males depending on their designation. Queens are larger than males and are born with wings; however, wings fall off after mating. Workers, which are all female, are smaller than males with no wings. In some species, workers have stingers located at the bottom of their abdomen, which inject venom into another organism. Moreover, young ants look significantly different from adults. Eggs are typically white in color and have an oblong shape. As larvae, ants have a worm-like appearance. Finally, pupa cacoons have an oblong shape and are much larger than the eggs. (Bennett and Ellison, 2021; Cornell University, 2023; Drees and Summerlin, 2023; Hahn, 2020; Helms, 2023; Holbrook, 2023; NC State University, 2015; Smith, 2023)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • male larger
  • sexes shaped differently


Ants undergo complete metamorphosis, meaning that the organism goes through a distinct set of developmental stages. The four stages are the following: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. First, ants begin as eggs that are laid by the queen. They are usually white in color, oval-shaped, and soft. Next, the eggs hatch into larvae. Larvae are light-colored and worm-like in shape with no legs or eyes. They must rely on adult ants to feed and care for them. During this stage, they grow rapidly. After they reach a large enough size, the larvae become pupae. The larvae spin a cacoon around themselves and undergo a final transformation. The pupae look more adultlike except their limbs are folded close to their bodies. After pupation, ants emerge as adults. Depending on the caste of the adult, an ant will then fulfill specific duties for the colony. The entire cycle takes a few months to complete depending on the species. (Bennett and Ellison, 2021; Drees and Summerlin, 2023; Holbrook, 2023; University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources, 2017)


Ants are eusocial insects. Only certain adult females can breed with males within a colony, colony adults care for the young together, and multiple generations coexist together. For ants, one or several queens take on the reproductive role. Queens and males take to the air to find mates during a period known as the mating flight. Queens then mate in the air with at least one male. Sometimes, a queen will mate inside the nest she was born in. The male then dies within two weeks of copulation, his role being fulfilled. After this initial mating, a queen ant never has to mate again. Her sole purpose is to lay eggs for the colony. (Bennett and Ellison, 2021; Brady, et al., 2006; Charles, et al., 2022; Drees and Summerlin, 2023; Helms, 2023; Holbrook, 2023; Smith, 2023; University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources, 2017; Wilson and Hölldobler, 2005)

Ants reproduce sexually and are gonochoric. Respectively, this means that genetic material from two individuals, sperm and an egg, is combined to reproduce, and there are two different sexes, male and female. Specifically, a queen ant mates with at least one male in the air for fertilization to occur during a period called the mating flight. In some species, however, the queen will mate inside her birth nest. Post-mating, the male dies within two weeks. In contrast, the queen loses her wings and finds a suitable location to start a nest and lay her eggs for the rest of her life. She never mates again. The eggs hatch into larvae, which the queen will initially feed with her saliva. After a certain point, enough workers will be produced. They will take over the role of feeding and caring for the young and the queen. The queen then focuses on laying eggs, using stored sperm from the single mating period she participated in to fertilize them. After several years, reproductive broods are produced in a colony. Males develop from unfertilized eggs. New queens develop from eggs fertilized by stored sperm. These new males and queens will mate and leave the original nest to start a new colony. Thus, the mating season for ants begins when reproductives mature and ends with their mating exodus. The timing of the event depends on the ant species, the climate in which they inhabit, and the weather conditions. (Bennett and Ellison, 2021; Chérasse and Aron, 2018; Drees and Summerlin, 2023; Hahn, 2020; Helms, 2023; Holbrook, 2023; Smith, 2023; The National Wildlife Federation, 2023; University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources, 2017; Yates, 1992)

Ants dedicate a significant amount of time to parental investment for offspring. Initially, a queen will nurture the first generation of offspring for a new colony. She will protect and feed larvae with saliva until they pupate. They eventually emerge as adult workers. These nonreproducing females then take over the role of feeding, caring for, and protecting the brood. Workers travel outside the nest to find food and bring it back to the colony to feed larvae and the rest of the community. They will also groom pupae and transport the brood to different locations within the nest. (Bennett and Ellison, 2021; Drees and Summerlin, 2023; Franks and Sendova-Franks, 1992; Holbrook, 2023; University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources, 2017)

  • Parental Investment
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


The lifespan of an ant depends on the species and caste. In the wild, queen ants can live from several months to about 15 years. Worker ants can live between a few months and several years. Males live up to two weeks, dying soon after mating. In captivity, queens may live up to thirty years. (Anderson, 2022; Bennett and Ellison, 2021; Cetintas, 1998; University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources, 2017)


Ants are social, colonial insects. They live in large groups within nests, each individual having a specific role to help the overall colony thrive. These roles are determined by their social hierarchy system called the caste system. Ants can belong to one of three castes: queen, male, and worker. Queens are the largest ants in the colony. She is responsible for laying eggs. Depending on the species, a colony can have one or several queens. Males are smaller than queens. Their sole purpose is to mate with new mature queens who leave their original nest. They die after copulation. Lastly, workers are the nonreproductive females. They are subdivided into major and minor workers. Major workers are the larger workers, about the same size as a male. They focus mainly on guarding the nest; however, they also perform other tasks similar to minor workers. Minor workers are smaller. They maintain the nest and care for both the brood and the queen. Specific responsibilities include the following: finding food, storing food, building the nest, grooming the queen and brood, feeding the queen and brood, and transporting the brood. Furthermore, ants are territorial. They will defend their nests from rival species. (Bennett and Ellison, 2021; Drees and Summerlin, 2023; Hahn, 2020; Holbrook, 2023; Lach, et al., 2010; Simothy, et al., 2018; University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources, 2017; Yates, 1992)

Communication and Perception

Ants generally communicate through chemical cues and vibrations. They perceive the world visually, tactilely, and chemically. Ants release pheromones and create a scent trail for other ants in the colony to follow. This may be used when one ant finds food for the colony. Ants detect pheromones and smells via their antennae and maxillary palps, sensory organs found at the mouth. Antennae may also be used to feel the environment around them. Mandibles and gastors, an ant's abdomen, can be used to strike surfaces and create vibrations. Nest mates then interpret these vibrations. Also, some ant species rely on sight to hunt prey. Thus, these types of ants have large compound eyes to better see the world around them. (Bennett and Ellison, 2021; Holbrook, 2023; Hölldobler, 1999; The National Wildlife Federation, 2023)

Food Habits

Typically, ants are omnivorous. They eat a wide variety of foods: honeydew, termites, dairy products, decaying animal and plant matter, ant larvae, sweets, starches, seeds, and other plant parts. Ants also store food. Workers may store food internally in fat bodies and in their gasters (abdomens), which will become enlarged. They may also store food within the nest using seeds or dried-out insect prey and place it in chambers. Furthermore, ants exhibit trophallaxis, the exchange of fluids between individuals within a colony. Mature ants eat liquified forms of the food they find. Frequently, solid food is fed to the larvae to be broken down and then it is distributed to the rest of the colony. (Bennett and Ellison, 2021; Cornell University, 2023; Drees and Summerlin, 2023; Hahn, 2020; Lach, et al., 2010; Meurville and LeBoufe, 2021; Simothy, et al., 2018; The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, 2023; Yates, 1992)


Ants defend themselves by biting, injecting venom via a stinger, and spraying formic acid. Predators include birds, mammals, arthropods, amphibians, and carnivorous plants like pitcher plants. (Bennett and Ellison, 2021; Cleveland Clinic, 2022; Cornell University, 2023; Drees and Summerlin, 2023; The National Wildlife Federation, 2023; Yates, 1992)

Ecosystem Roles

Ants have a wide variety of ecosystem roles. Many species hold keystone positions in their habitat. Generally, ants help disperse seeds for various plants, aerate the soil with their nests, clean the environment of decaying organic matter, and serve as a food source for other species. Ants also participate in mutualistic relationships with various organisms: plants like Acacia and Leonardoxa africana africana, fungi, other insects like aphids, and bacteria. They may use certain plants as homes like Acacia and Leonardoxa africana africana, eat byproducts of certain insects like aphids, and cultivate certain fungi for food. In return, they protect these other species. Alternatively, certain ants can be parasites to plants like Leonardoxa africana africana. Furthermore, ants serve as hosts to parasites such as the fungi Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, which controls the behavior of hosts and eventually kills them, and other ants like Polyergus breviceps, a slave-making species. (Araújo, et al., 2018; Bennett and Ellison, 2021; Blatrix, et al., 2009; Brady, et al., 2006; Cornell University, 2023; Lubertazzi, 2018; Meurville and LeBoufe, 2021; Michelson, 2016)

Species Used as Host
  • Leonardoxa africana africana
Mutualist Species
  • acacia plants (Acacia)
  • fungi (Fungi)
  • bacteria (Bacteria)
  • aphids (Aphidoidea)
  • Leonardoxa africana africana
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Ants have many beneficial roles for humans. They help aerate soil as they build their colonies, making ants useful for maintaining healthy gardens and yards. They eat other household pests like termites (Isoptera), and they help increase crop yield, acting as a tool for crop pest management. Ants are even used in medical research to develop pharmaceuticals. (Anjos, et al., 2022; Bennett and Ellison, 2021; Cornell University, 2023; Klotz, et al., 1995; Kumari, et al., 2022)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

While ants have beneficial roles, many species are considered major pests in human households and other buildings. They infiltrate and build their nests in wood and under stone and brick, contributing to wood and surface damage. They also contaminate food, and some species may bite and sting humans, injecting venom or acid into the wound. Certain species, specifically pharaoh ants (Monomorium pharaonis), can carry pathogens like Salmonella spp. and Staphylococcus spp. that hurt humans; however, this occurrence is not that common. (Beatson, 1972; Cleveland Clinic, 2022; Cornell University, 2023; Drees and Summerlin, 2023; Hahn, 2020; Klotz, et al., 1995; Simothy, et al., 2018; University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources, 2017)

Conservation Status

Generally, many ant species have no special conservation status like black carpenter ants (Camponotus pennsylvanicus), Argentine ants (Linepithema humile), and pharaoh ants (Monomorium pharaonis) or the population is considered secure like with red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta). Some ants are listed as vulnerable, but the information is outdated and needs to be updated. Ants in this category include the following: slave-raiding ants (Polyergus breviceps), silky carpenter ants (Camponotus universitatis), and Anoplolepis nuptials. (The IUCN Red List, 2023; The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, 2023; The National Wildlife Federation, 2023)

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated

Other Comments

Ants go out of the nest in search of food to bring back to the colony. Sometimes, what they find is larger than they are. Thus, they are able to carry at least ten times their own body weight. (The National Wildlife Federation, 2023)


Justine Negron (author), Colorado State University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

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living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

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living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

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living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

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living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

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bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

causes disease in humans

an animal which directly causes disease in humans. For example, diseases caused by infection of filarial nematodes (elephantiasis and river blindness).


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.


having a worldwide distribution. Found on all continents (except maybe Antarctica) and in all biogeographic provinces; or in all the major oceans (Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific.

delayed fertilization

a substantial delay (longer than the minimum time required for sperm to travel to the egg) takes place between copulation and fertilization, used to describe female sperm storage.


a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


the condition in which individuals in a group display each of the following three traits: cooperative care of young; some individuals in the group give up reproduction and specialize in care of young; overlap of at least two generations of life stages capable of contributing to colony labor

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.

keystone species

a species whose presence or absence strongly affects populations of other species in that area such that the extirpation of the keystone species in an area will result in the ultimate extirpation of many more species in that area (Example: sea otter).


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

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reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


an organism that obtains nutrients from other organisms in a harmful way that doesn't cause immediate death


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

soil aeration

digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in


mature spermatozoa are stored by females following copulation. Male sperm storage also occurs, as sperm are retained in the male epididymes (in mammals) for a period that can, in some cases, extend over several weeks or more, but here we use the term to refer only to sperm storage by females.

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


an animal which has an organ capable of injecting a poisonous substance into a wound (for example, scorpions, jellyfish, and rattlesnakes).


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate


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