Life of the Harvester Ant
by Sharon Hester
When you are on a Grand Canyon raft adventure with Arizona Raft Adventures, you will meet the Red Harvester Ant within hours of your departure. The Red Harvester Ant, Pogonomyrmex Californicus, is one of the most numerous and common insects you spot at your stops and at camps along the river. They are very interesting creatures! Learn a few fascinating facts about the ant by reading up on how to co-exist harmoniously with red ants on your adventure.
Interesting facts about Harvester Ants
Guides and guests alike mistakenly call the very large (5-7mm depending on worker class) Red Harvester Ant the very tiny (2-4mm) Fire Ant, however, they are distinctly different species. The infamous Fire Ant, Solenopsis invicta (also known at RIFA-red imported fire ant), is well-known to the public. The Fire Ant is an invasive creature accidentally introduced into the Southeastern USA. Because it has very few natural enemies, the spread has been rapid throughout the South causing many problems. It is aggressive in nature and inflicts painful blistering stings if protecting its nest. The Fire Ant contributes to the loss of billions of dollars a year in damages to agricultural crops and equipment, livestock, wildlife, public health and electrical equipment.
- The Red Harvester Ant queen lives 20-30 years and stores sperm from her first mating in the spring of her first year. She uses the sperm to continually produce offspring for a lifetime.
- Red Harvester Ants seal their nests up every night with pebbles to protect the nest from predators and the cold. The ants that do not make it home before the nest closes, or the ants with the assignment to seal the nest, have to stay outside all night. They die if it is too cold.
- Fire Ants out compete and kill Harvester Ants. The Harvester Ant is the main diet of the Horned Lizard (or Horny toads). In areas where the invasion of non-native Fire Ants is evident, Harvester Ants and Horned Lizards are in serious decline because the Fire Ants out compete the Harvester Ants. In Grand Canyon, Horned Lizards are only found at Lees Ferry. However, the Desert Spiny Lizard which is found in the Grand Canyon, is also known to eat Harvester Ants.
Interesting Facts About the Sting
- Interestingly, the Harvester Ant is believed to be the most poisonous insect in the world. Fortunately, it only injects a small amount of venom. So while a sting can be very painful and long lasting, they are rarely something to worry about.
- Some venom from species of the Red Harvester Ant has been used for hallucinogenic and therapeutic purposes among some Native American tribes and in some areas of Latin America.
- Nests can reach up to 6 feet high, 20 feet deep and the workers can forage as far as 130 feet from their nest.
- All the worker ants seen around camp are sisters and only females can sting. The stinger-less males have wings and their doom is to die in the spring soon after mating.
- Just 12 stings from a Harvester Ant can kill a 4.4 lb rat. While that’s a big rat, 350 stings could kill a 150 lb human.
- The Harvester ant sting is a two part process. First, it bites with its mandible’s. Then it holds on tight and stings as many times as they can while attached. Consequently, removing the ant quickly is a must to reduce the amount of venom injected.