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Harvester Ants in the genus Pogonomyrmex are common in the arid grasslands and deserts of the western United States. As pests, their most significant impact is in agriculture where they sometimes cause damage to crops, rangelands, and livestock.
The harvester ants are large ants 5 to 6 mm in length and different species can vary in color from reddish-brown to yellow or black. The pedicel between the abdomen and thorax has two segments. They have elaborate fringes of hairs underneath the head. As is the case with other ants, adults may be winged males or females, or workers (wingless females). Winged ants have two pairs of wings, the anterior pair being much larger than the second pair.
Worker ants remove vegetation in circular areas or craters around nests. Colonies occur in open areas and usually have a single central opening. The area around the opening usually has small pebbles deposited on the soil surface by the worker ants. Often there is no vegetation within a 3- to 6-foot circle around the central opening of the colony, and along foraging trails radiating from the colony.
Colonies usually are widely separated; however, heavy infestations in pasture and rangeland can reduce yield. Red harvester ants also colonize in ornamental turf areas where their presence may be undesirable. They do not invade homes or structures.
Life Cycle: Winged males and females swarm, couple and mate, especially following rains. Winged forms are larger than worker ants. Males soon die and females seek a suitable nesting site. After dropping her wings, the queen ant digs a burrow and produces a few eggs. Larvae hatch from eggs and develop through several stages (instars). Larvae are white and legless, shaped like a crookneck squash with a small distinct head. Pupation occurs within a cocoon. Worker ants produced by the queen ant begin caring for other developing ants, enlarge the nest and forage for food.
Damage: The harvester ants not only construct large mounds which cause loss of grass but also clear areas of grass around the next and along the forage trails radiating from the central nest. Cleared areas around the nest may be 7 m or more in diameter.
Generally, nests are constructed in open areas and are a real problem on golf courses, recreational areas and occasionally in lawns. It is also thought that they may hinder reseeding of different grasses by collecting seed. In addition, they can sting viciously. At least three small children have died from their stings in Oklahoma.
Harvester Ant Mound
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