Arizona Ants

Arizona Ants

Ants are a critical component of the earth’s terrestrial ecosystems.  They consume and break down large amounts of material, they control the populations of numerous species, and they provide food for many others.  For instance, ants make up 40% of the diet of the Northern Flicker, a common Arizona bird.  Despite being small and not so visible, ants account for 15% to 25% of all animal biomass on our planet’s land surface—far more than any other animal group.

So how much do the ants weigh?  Using guesstimates from the references I made assumptions that the average ant weighs .004 grams, and that there are 1,000,000 ants per human.  Thus, the earth’s ants weigh around 21 billion tons (I didn’t try to use dry weight).

Not to be beaten by little bugs, however, humanity is increasing its weight at a rapid rate.  Issac Asimov once estimated that if our numbers continued to grow at the 1970’s rate of 2% (doubling in 35 years), the mass of humanity would match that of the whole planet in about 1500 years (Asimov 1975).  Probably no ants (or any other animal) could survive that.  Of course, our birth rate is declining, and even though our life expectancy is increasing, doubling our numbers will take longer and longer.  If we assume that the average person weighs 120 pounds, our species currently weighs 420 million tons.  If we double every 100 years, and if we do not destroy any ant habitat (OK, that is not a reasonable assumption.  Nevertheless…), it will take 600 years for us to become heavier than the ants.  After that, we get ahead and stay ahead.

The photo shows Myrmecocystus navajo, a member of the Formicinae subfamily.  This one was collected in Yavapai County, Arizona.  The photo may be by Barry Bolton, but it could be by Stefan Cover or Bob Johnson.  It is from the AntWeb website.


Arizona has 318 ant species, more than any other U. S. state.  Ants are found from the lowest desert areas to near the tops of the highest mountains.  Harvester Ants (Pogonomyrmex, Messor, and Pheidole) are most abundant in warm desert areas.  Carpenter (Camponotus) and Wood Ants (Formica) are more common in cooler uplands and mountains.

Some ants are quite secretive, and either hide or camouflage their nests.  Many ants have a painful bite or sting, but some use other means of defense.  Once while studying ants near Red Pine Mountain, my friend Ray Turner was using an aspirator to capture ants from a camouflaged Formica nest when he suddenly began gasping and momentarily could not catch his breath.  Ray was nearly overcome by the formic acid odor released by the frightened ants.  Some birds place these ants in their feathers to repel parasites.

According to Stefan Cover and Bob Johnson (, 12 of Arizona’s ant species are introduced, but none of these are considered to be problems.  Fire Ants from South America (Solenopsis invicta) have been found in Arizona, but the only known colony has been eradicated.  Fire Ants are highly destructive.  They form large colonies that displace other ants, alter habitats, and consume native animals and their offspring (Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum).  Edward O. Wilson once stuck his hand in a Fire Ant nest to observe the response.  He was stung more than 1,000 times.

Fire ant stings are reported to be quite painful, but according to Justin O. Schmidt (1990), they are only “mildly alarming” in comparison to some others.  For instance, he describes the Bullet ant sting as “Pure, intense, brilliant pain.  Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel” (quoted in Wikipedia in the article on the “Schmidt Sting Pain Index”).

The Ants (Holldobler and Wilson 1990), Ant Ecology (see Alonso 2010) and the novel, Ant Hill (Wilson 2010) provide extensive information about ants.  Don’t miss the article by Berenbaum (2003).  It gives an in-depth discussion of the pain caused by ant stings, and it is a delightful example of creative nonfiction.  Antweb provides photographs and field guides for Arizona ants.

Ants, like some wise people, eschew cold weather.  While they are out and about next summer we can discuss collecting, identifying, and photographing them.

Conservation status

There would be enormous costs to our planetary ecosystems if ant habitat continues to be lost to human development.  Some scientists have convincingly argued that ants should be at the center of conservation concerns.  Perhaps because of their vast numbers and ubiquity, ants have, in fact, been given relatively little attention.  In a recent article on ant ecology, Leeanne Alonso (2009) discusses the approaches that need to be taken for effective ant conservation.  As Wilson points out in the forward, however, “We have only begun to explore the full impact of ants on the natural ecosystems of the planet…” (viii).

Numbers (species identified/probable total)
World US AZ T&E
12500/22000* 700(?) 318/334**
*Wikipedia.  **species/subspecies, Antweb.



Allred, D.M.  1982.  Ants of Utah.  Great Basin Naturalist 42:  415-511.

Alonso, L.E.  2010.  Ant conservation:  Current status and a call to action.  Chapter 4 in L. Lach, C.L. Parr, and K.L. Abbott.  Ant Ecology.  Forward by E.O. Wilson.  Oxford University Press, New York, NY.  409 p.

Asimov, I.  1975.  Science past–science future.  Doubleday, Garden City, New York, NY.  346 p.

Antweb: Principal authors:  Stefan Cover and Bob Johnson.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum:

Berenbaum, M.  2003.  A Stinging Commentary.  American Entomologist 49: 68-69.

Holldobler, B., and E.O. Wilson.  1990.  The ants.  Belknap Press, New York, NY.  746 p.

Johnson, R.A.  1996.  Arizona ants.  Arizona Wildlife Views, June 1996: 3-5.

Schmidt, J. O. 1990. Hymenoptera venoms: striving toward the ultimate defense   against vertebrates, pp. 387–419 in D.L. Evans and J.O. Schmidt, eds., Insect defenses: adaptive mechanisms and strategies of prey and predators.  State University of New York Press, Albany, NY.

Wilson, E. O.  2010.  Ant Hill.  Norton, New York, NY.  382 p.


The field guides provided by AntWeb can be used as checklists, but the one below is more compact because it is merely a list—no help with identification.  It does sort species into subfamilies.  Many species occur in the rich southeastern Arizona desert and uplands far from the Agua Fria River Basin.  Probably half the species in the list below do not occur in the Basin, but I could not find any lists for any region smaller than the state.

Arizona Ants

Amblyopone orizabana
Amblyopone pallipes
Acanthostichus arizonensis
Acanthostichus punctiscapus
Cerapachys augustae
Dorymyrmex az01  (Cone or odorous ant))
Dorymyrmex az02
Dorymyrmex az03
Dorymyrmex az04
Dorymyrmex az05
Dorymyrmex az06
Dorymyrmex bicolor
Dorymyrmex flavus
Dorymyrmex insanus
Dorymyrmex wheeleri
Forelius az01
Forelius az02
Forelius mccooki
Linepithema humile
Liometopum apiculatum
Liometopum luctuosum  (Pine tree ant)
Tapinoma sessile
Ecitoninae (Army Ants)
Neivamyrmex agilis
Neivamyrmex andrei
Neivamyrmex az01
Neivamyrmex az02
Neivamyrmex az03
Neivamyrmex fuscipennis
Neivamyrmex graciellae
Neivamyrmex harrisii
Neivamyrmex kiowapache
Neivamyrmex leonardi
Neivamyrmex melshaemeri
Neivamyrmex microps
Neivamyrmex minor
Neivamyrmex nigrescens
Neivamyrmex nyensis cf
Neivamyrmex opacithorax
Neivamyrmex rugulosus
Neivamyrmex swainsonii
Neivamyrmex texanus
Typhlomyrmex az01
Formicinae (Carpenter Ants)
Acropyga epedana
Brachymyrmex depilis
Brachymyrmex obscurior
Camponotus festinatus
Camponotus fragilis
Camponotus hyatti
Camponotus laevigatus
Camponotus microps
Camponotus mina
Camponotus modoc
Camponotus ocreatus
Camponotus papago
Camponotus pudorosus
Camponotus sansabeanus
Camponotus sayi
Camponotus schaefferi
Camponotus semitestaceus
Camponotus trepidulus
Camponotus ulcerosus
Camponotus vafer
Camponotus vicinus
Formica alpina
Formica altipetens
Formica argentea
Formica aserva
Formica az01
Formica az02
Formica az03
Formica az04
Formica canadensis
Formica ciliata
Formica comata
Formica dakotensis
Formica densiventris
Formica foreliana
Formica fusca marcida
Formica gnava
Formica gynocrates
Formica lasioides
Formica moki
Formica neoclara
Formica neogagates
Formica neorufibarbis
Formica obscuripes
Formica obtusopilosa
Formica occidua
Formica occulta
Formica opaciventris
Formica oreas
Formica perpilosa
Formica podzolica
Formica propinqua
Formica puberula
Formica subnitens
Formica wheeleri
Formica xerophila
Lasius alienus
Lasius arizonicus
Lasius az01
Lasius colei
Lasius coloradensis
Lasius crypticus
Lasius fallax
Lasius flavus
Lasius humilis
Lasius interjectus
Lasius latipes
Lasius murphyi
Lasius niger
Lasius occidentalis
Lasius pallitarsis
Lasius sitiens
Lasius subumbratus
Lasius umbratus
Myrmecocystus (Honey Ants) az01
Myrmecocystus az02
Myrmecocystus depilis
Myrmecocystus flaviceps
Myrmecocystus kennedyi
Myrmecocystus mendax
Myrmecocystus mexicanus
Myrmecocystus mimicus
Myrmecocystus navajo
Myrmecocystus placodops
Myrmecocystus romainei
Myrmecocystus tenuinodis
Myrmecocystus yuma
Nylanderia austroccidua
Nylanderia bruesii
Nylanderia terricola
Nylanderia vividula
Paratrechina longicornis
Polyergus breviceps
Prenolepis imparis
Myrmicinae (Harvester Ants)
Acromyrmex versicolor
Aphaenogaster albisetosa
Aphaenogaster boulderensis
Aphaenogaster cockerelli
Aphaenogaster huachucana
Aphaenogaster megommata
Aphaenogaster occidentalis
Aphaenogaster punctaticeps
Atta mexicana
Cardiocondyla mauritanica
Cardiocondyla minutior
Cardiocondyla venustula
Cephalotes rohweri
Crematogaster az01
Crematogaster az02
Crematogaster browni
Crematogaster colei
Crematogaster dentinodis
Crematogaster depilis
Crematogaster emeryana
Crematogaster hespera
Crematogaster isolata
Crematogaster larreae
Crematogaster navajoa
Crematogaster nocturna
Crematogaster opaca
Crematogaster opuntiae
Crematogaster smithi
Crematogaster torosa
Cyphomyrmex flavidus
Cyphomyrmex wheeleri
Dolopomyrmex pilatus
Leptothorax az01
Leptothorax az02
Leptothorax crassipilis
Messor az01 (Seed harvesters)
Messor lobognathus
Messor pergandei
Messor smithi
Monomorium pharaonis
Monomorium az01
Monomorium az02
Monomorium az03
Monomorium emersoni
Myrmecina americana
Myrmecina cryptica
Myrmica az01
Myrmica az02
Myrmica az03
Myrmica az04
Myrmica az05
Myrmica az06
Myrmica az07
Myrmica az08
Myrmica discontinua
Myrmica incompleta
Myrmica magniceps
Myrmica rugiventris
Myrmica striolagaster
Myrmica tahoensis
Myrmica wheeleri
Pheidole artemisia
Pheidole az01
Pheidole az02
Pheidole az03
Pheidole az04
Pheidole az05
Pheidole az06
Pheidole az07
Pheidole az08
Pheidole az09
Pheidole az10
Pheidole az11
Pheidole az12
Pheidole az13
Pheidole az14
Pheidole az15
Pheidole barbata
Pheidole bicarinata
Pheidole californica
Pheidole cavigenis
Pheidole cerebrosior
Pheidole ceres
Pheidole clydei
Pheidole cockerelli
Pheidole coloradensis
Pheidole desertorum
Pheidole diversipilosa
Pheidole floridana
Pheidole furtiva
Pheidole gilvescens
Pheidole hyatti
Pheidole juniperae
Pheidole marcidula
Pheidole micula
Pheidole militicida
Pheidole obtusospinosa
Pheidole paiute
Pheidole perpilosa
Pheidole portalensis
Pheidole psammophila
Pheidole rhea
Pheidole rugulosa
Pheidole sciara
Pheidole sciophila
Pheidole senex
Pheidole soritis
Pheidole spadonia
Pheidole tepicana
Pheidole tetra
Pheidole titanis
Pheidole tysoni
Pheidole vallicola
Pheidole virago
Pheidole vistana
Pheidole xerophila
Pogonomyrmex anergismus (Seed harvesters)
Pogonomyrmex apache
Pogonomyrmex barbatus
Pogonomyrmex bicolor
Pogonomyrmex californicus
Pogonomyrmex colei
Pogonomyrmex desertorum
Pogonomyrmex huachucanus
Pogonomyrmex imberbiculus
Pogonomyrmex magnacanthus
Pogonomyrmex maricopa
Pogonomyrmex occidentalis
Pogonomyrmex pima
Pogonomyrmex rugosus
Pyramica arizonica
Pyramica chiricahua
Pyramica membranifera
Rogeria foreli
Solenopsis amblychila
Solenopsis aurea
Solenopsis az01
Solenopsis az02
Solenopsis az03
Solenopsis az04
Solenopsis az05
Solenopsis az06
Solenopsis invicta
Solenopsis krockowi
Solenopsis xyloni
Stenamma californicum
Stenamma chiricahua
Stenamma huachucanum
Stenamma snellingi
Strumigenys louisianae
Temnothorax andrei
Temnothorax az01
Temnothorax az03
Temnothorax az04
Temnothorax az05
Temnothorax az06
Temnothorax az07
Temnothorax az08
Temnothorax ca09
Temnothorax carinatus
Temnothorax emmae
Temnothorax josephi
Temnothorax neomexicanus
Temnothorax nitens
Temnothorax obliquicanthus
Temnothorax obturator
Temnothorax pergandei
Temnothorax polita
Temnothorax rugatulus
Temnothorax silvestrii
Temnothorax stenotyle
Temnothorax tricarinatus
Tetramorium hispidum
Tetramorium spinosum
Trachymyrmex arizonensis
Trachymyrmex carinatus
Trachymyrmex desertorum
Trachymyrmex nogalensis
Trachymyrmex pomonae
Hypoponera az01
Hypoponera bca01
Hypoponera inexorata
Hypoponera opaciceps
Hypoponera opacior
Hypoponera punctatissima
Odontomachus clarus
Pseudomyrmex apache

Pseudomyrmex pallidus

1 thought on “Arizona Ants

  1. Pingback: Slave ants and their masters are locked in a deadly relationship | GarryRogers Nature Conservation


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