Amazing Australian ants

by Simon
Publish date
1 March 2013
Comments (4)

There are a number of rituals that go hand in hand with growing up in Australia. It goes without saying that in getting out of the wading pool as a kid (before water restrictions of course), there were bound to be European honey bees gathering pollen and nectar in the clover. It was Murphy’s Law that you would stand on one with bare feet or get one caught in your thongs as you ran across the lawn. The resultant sting was extremely painful and the knowledge that in stinging you the bee has, in effect, ripped its own insides out and will soon die was of small comfort to distraught children.

Neighbourhood cricket on the road (remove wicket and players in the event of a car), falling out of trees and buying firecrackers at the local milk-bar were all great fun for those of us of a certain age.

Bull ant family Bull ant Queen, Worker, larva and pupa
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria

Another rite of Australian childhood is to be stung by a Bull ant or Jumping Jack. This genus of ants numbers around 90 species, and almost all are endemic to Australia. These ants have extremely good eyesight and will come out to meet what they see as threats to the colony they are defending.

Bullant - Myrmecia sp. Bullant - Myrmecia sp.
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Minibeast Wildlife

Jumping Jack - Myrmecia pilosula Jumping Jack - Myrmecia pilosula
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Minibeast Wildlife

Often the nest is fairly well hidden and one sure fire way of finding out you have a nest of these ants is an inadvertent drive-over with the lawnmower. This usually serves to enrage the inhabitants, who will spill out to defend the colony to the death. Bull ants and Jumping Jacks possess powerful venom, and also an impressive pair of mandibles or jaws. These jaws are used to grab the offending finger, leg, ankle, knee or toe while the sting at the end of the abdomen is injected into the skin - sometimes multiple times.  Note that a small percentage of the population can experience an allergic reaction to a sting from ants in this genus, and you should seek medical advice in such an event.

Bee sting (close up) SEM Bee sting as seen through a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM)
Image: Ken Walker
Source: Museum Victoria

Bull Ant sting SEM Bull Ant sting as seen through a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM)
Image: Ken Walker
Source: Museum Victoria

These amazing Australian ants were captured in May Gibbs’ Snugglepot and Cuddlepie along with other Australian wildlife such as goannas, snakes and kookaburras. Bull ants and Jumping Jacks are to be admired for their tenacity and also undertake a great job in cleaning up the environment. The female workers collect live and dead insects to take back to the colony to feed the young.


Bugs Alive!

Australian Museum, Bull ants


Australian Venom Research Unit

Comments (4)

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Wayne P. Armstrong 26 May, 2013 00:31
Great photo images! I would love to obtain a specimen of the Jack Jumper to photograph for my biology website Although I am primarily a botanist, I am fascinated by ants.
Brian Barratt 16 March, 2015 11:48
There are uneven cracks in my concrete drive. Depending on the weather, tiny ants appear and busily take sand out while building nests underground. In past years, they have sometimes built tiny towers above ground level. This year they are doing something I have never seen before. They collected small feathers and planted them in their nest holes. The feathers stand vertically above the ground. I can find only one reference to this behaviour: Can you provide any more information on this curious phenomenon, please? Brian Barratt, Mount Waverley.
Discovery Centre 9 April, 2015 12:02
Hi Brian, our Live Exhibits manager said I haven't seen this phenomenon before, but ants never fail to surprise. When living in North Queensland, I noticed that ants (particularly Green Tree Ants) will drop on you when you sit under a tree, and wondered whether there was a reason behind it. The reasoning being perhaps that arboreal ants will drop from the tree to forage (and therefore be free of food), then climb the trunk to return to the nest (with food). Conversely, fossorial ants should travel up the trunk without food and fall from the foliage with food. With a bit of investigation I found this to be the case, and later saw on the internet similar studies from South America where ants with paint on them were filmed 'flying' out of trees (

But that doesn't help us here. We've discussed all the options and apart from the possibility that they may take the feathers back if there are scraps of flesh still attached or that they may assist in collecting dew we can't think of any other reasons. It may also be completely random; if it's a regular phenomenon it would make a really interesting study. I'll let you know if we have any further thoughts.




Peter Muller 10 February, 2016 16:55
Hi I observed Camponotus cosobrinus with small grey downy feathers in their nest entrance. The were taking them out and bringing some in. Observed them at it of about 10 minute.Late in the day but too early for them to be usually active. Couldn't work out why they were doing. Cheers Peter JM
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