Monday, October 4, 2010

Spiny-Waisted Ant

This beautiful red ant is the Spiny-Waisted Ant (Aphaenogaster tennesseensis) or funnel ant as they are also sometimes called. This species is widespread throughout North America and can be found in the soil, within rotting logs or stumps, and under the bark of trees. The one pictured here was found in an old maple tree stump that is so far decayed that there is very little left of it. This colony of ants have excavated a large series of tunnels in one section of the stump. As I was removing pieces of the stump to look for beetles I disturbed these ants. One in particular caught my eye as she raced back and forth carrying a worm in her mouth. I placed her on a stick and spent the next 30 minutes trying to get her to stand still long enough for a photo. 128 pictures later, I had managed two decent shots. These ants are constant motion. What made the situation comical was the fact that she refused to drop her way, no how was she letting go of that worm. I know the little worm is a beetle larvae of some kind, but what; I have no idea. Must be tasty though.

Ants within this genus are usually medium to large in size with slender bodies, long legs and antennae. They will be dark reddish brown with heavily sculptured bodies. The Queen will look remarkably different than the workers in that she is entirely smooth, and lacks any obvious sculpture.

They will build dense tunnels in soil or rotting wood, these nest may contain numerous entrance holes all leading to tunnels that may be up to 15 inches deep. It is these tunnels that has earned ants within this genus the common name of Tunnel Ant. There are over 200 described species within this genus of ants and many of them are also temporary parasites of other ants within this genus.

A study was done in the Ozarks forests of Missouri and Arkansas on the Oak trees. Red Oak Borers are a huge pest of these trees and many trees are killed each year by their feeding habits. Oaks were being decimated in many areas. Missouri is traditionally an Oak and Hickory forested state. Almost all of our old growth forests are made up of these mighty trees. Losing them to a pest is heartbreaking indeed. During the course of this study it was discovered that these ants feed on approximately 72% of the eggs laid by the Red Oak Borer....I say "GO ANTS!!!!" Besides having a taste for oak borer eggs and beetle larvae they also will tend aphids found on the roots of plants. They've been found tending leafhoppers as well. So it seems they have a sweet tooth. The design of their tunnels also traps other arthropods, causing them to fall into the nest, becoming trapped, and being consumed by these ants.

These ants are not aggressive, but will bite if disturbed. Of all the six and eight legged creatures roaming around our farm, I can honestly say I have been bitten more by ants than any other creature. Ants are not one of my favorites as far as insects go, simply  because of their often times testy temperament. It is bad enough to be bitten, but many of them go the extra mile and spray formic acid on the wound they inflict. Nice of them huh? I swell up like a water balloon and itch for days! I usually try to give ants a wide berth. With over 100 species in Missouri alone this is no easy feat.

Muilenburg, V. L., Goggin, F. L., Hebert, S. L., Jia, L. and Stephen, F. M. (2008), Ant predation on red oak borer confirmed by field observation and molecular gut-content analysis. Agricultural and Forest Entomology, 10: 205–213. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-9563.2008.00371
Author Information
1. Department of Entomology, University of Arkansas, AGRI 319, Fayetteville, AR 72701, U.S.A.
*Correspondence: Vanessa L. Muilenburg. Tel: +1 330 202 3555; fax: +1 330 263 3686; e-mail:
Publication History
1. Issue published online: 10 JUL 2008
2. Article first published online: 22 APR 2008
3. Accepted 25 October 2007First published online 22 April 2008


  1. The swelling and itching makes it more fun doesn't it?I tend to come in with a few bites, wonder if an ant did get me, since I rarely know what it was.I have benydryl pens all around me to put on them as soon as I notice.Nice photos, it was worth all the work.

  2. LOL Steve, I don't know about more fun, but it certainly makes it more interesting.I've had so many bites by ants it is ridiculous. I have sever reactions to them. The bite is always painful, and I turn red at the bite sight, and it swells hugely....and bothers me for days

  3. You'll be glad to know that Aphaenogaster species do not sting.
    Funny thing about common names -- This species has no spines on its waist segments, nor does it build the funnel-shaped nest entrance of some Australian species in its genus. The North American species are sometimes called thread-waisted ants, a name I'm still not all that wild about. Oh well...
    And speaking of stinging ants, I'm still waiting for pictures or specimens to ID, of those ones that sting you, though I have a hunch what they are. If my hunch is right, their venom is a mix of pain-inducing and histamine releasing proteins, actually lacking formic acid. Curiously, all the ants that have formic acid in their venoms (members of the subfamily Formicinae, only) have such tiny little rudimentary stingers, that they are unable to inject this caustic substance, but can only spray it on the surface of prey or enemies (unless they can break the skin with a bite from the mandibles - rare).