Wood Ants

© Nigel Homer

An introduction to wood ants

There are around 200 different types of wood ant. This group of ants has other common names such as mound ants, field ants, horse ants and piss ants.

Formica rufa‘, also known as the southern wood ant, is an aggressive, active, and large ant. It is capable of spraying formic acid at enemies up to a few feet away.

These wood ant nests are made from a mass of gathered pine needles, which are typically placed on top of old tree stumps. Nests can reach a few meters height.

Larger workers can be found foraging up to 50 meters from their nest.

Wood ants collect a natural resin found dripping from pine trees, individual ants will walk over the resin to disinfect themselves from bacteria and fungi. This characteristic is unique to wood ants.

Over one year a single colony of wood ants may consumer over 10 million insects. They are very efficient predators, and play a crucial role in protecting a forests natural eco system.

These wood ants sometimes nest in other ants species (particularly ‘Formica fusca‘) nests by becoming temporary social parasites.

Wood ant species ‘Formica rufa‘ is categorised as ‘near threatened’ under the IUCN Red list of Threatened Species

Scientific names

Formica rufa (featured), Formica sp.


Wood ants can be found across southern Britain, North to Mid Europe, Pyrenees and Siberia.


Wood ant nests are typically found in deciduous woodlands and the edges of dense conifer plantations.


Wood ants eat a large range of insects, even other ant species. They aggressively protect and farm honeydew from aphids.

Colony size

Established colonies can have around 100,000 workers with about 100 queens. However some nests have been reported to have up to half a million individuals.


The wood ant queen is typically 12-15mm, she is dark red and black, and mostly polygyn (multiple queens per colony).

They are known to have live for up to 15 years.


8-10mm, dark reds and blacks.

Take a look at the Gigapan link below, here you can really zoom in on one of these wood ants.

Pest info

Wood ants have large mandibles allow for mid level bite. Wood ants species ‘Formica rufa‘ are legally protected in many countries, nests should not be disturbed.

Pet info

Formica rufa is a protected species and so is not suitable as a pet. They would also very hard to look after due to their requirements of fresh pine needles, fresh resin and large foraging space. Other wood ant species make much more suitable pets i.e ‘Formica fusca‘.

External links:

Wood ant videos

Wood Ant Images