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Sugar sugar Ant

October 10, 2022

I have this party trick that I like to show off with to amuse the children. When I see a teeming nest of either meat ants or sugar ants, I place my hand on the ground amongst them and let them run all over it. For the little-known surprising fact is that those two types of ants do not sting. They might nip a little but it’s barely discernible; they have no poison to inject into you. The trick is to be confident about the ID before you try this at home, because there are certainly bullants out there who would give that intruding hand an almighty painful sting!

This nest of sugar ants ( Campanotus species) pictured lives under my house and is mainly nocturnal. They only came streaming out in the middle of the day because I pulled a weed that was growing near their nest entrance which must have caused them much alarm. They ran all over my hand and you can see the jaws, but they pose no threat. I believe they are the Banded Sugar Ant (Campranotus consobrinus), the commonest sugar ant in south-east Australia.

Sugar ants are orange with a black head and a black abdomen. Their nest is quite different to the teeming mound with multiple holes that characterises the meat ant (Iridomyrmex purpureus), They usually nest under a rock or under a log sometimes with multiple holes leading into the breeding chamber. The ones at my place seem to mound up around the entrance when rain is coming. My hand is close to the entrance in the middle photo but the disturbed ground (from weeding!) makes it hard to discern.

How does the nest get established? On some balmy hot summer night, a stream of queens will come swirling out of the nest taking to the air and so will many males. These ‘flying ants’ (properly called alates) are a wonder to watch on a warm evening, turning up on fly screens, window sills, around lights, in swimming pools., When all goes well, a male and female grasp each other mid-air, bite off each other’s wings and where they tumble down to the earth is where the new nest will be built. The wings flutter away in the wind.

I like ants and I hate ant poison. These are energetic and helpful rubbish cleaners around my garden. They eat all kinds of things including other insects but get their name from their love of sugar – they harvest honeydew from aphids and other sap-suckers – all part of the marvelous web of life.

I hope you appreciate ants, their amazing colonial lives, selfless work, role differentiation and adaptability. You might even like to give them a hand.

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