Harvester Ants

© Roger Wahl

An introduction to harvester ants

There are hundreds of different ‘harvester ant’ species found world wide. Pogonomyrmex barbatus (featured) is commonly known as the ‘red harvester ant’.

These ants use their large mandibles to grind seeds into a ‘bread’ which is placed in storage areas called ‘granaries‘ found in their nest for year round food.

Harvester ant workers can be found collecting seeds as far as 50-60 Km from their nest, they use their chemical scent trails to navigate back to the nest.

During 2003 some of these ants took part in a 16 day flight into space as part of an observational experiment performed by NASA.

A few horned lizard species feed almost exclusively on harvester ants. They have adapted ways to survive the ants stings and attacks. In some areas harvester ants are being invaded by Argentine ants, as a result the horned lizards have become an endangered species.

Harvester ants are known to aid seed dispersal via myrmecochory.

Scientific names

Pogonomyrmex barbatus, Pogonomyrmex sp, Messor sp, Pheidole sp.


Most Pogonomyrmex sp. are common across South West America, and occasionally found in Mexico.


Harvester ants typically live in dry desert like conditions. They favour exposed open areas for their underground nests which can be around 4.5 meters deep.


Harvester ants mostly feed on the ‘bread’ they make from grass seeds, however they may eat other insects too.

Colony size

Established harvester ant colonies can have around 10 thousand ants.


Harvest ant queens typically reach around 15-17mm length. They are dark red and orange. They Monogyn ants (one queen per colony).

Queens have reportedly lived for up to 30 years.


Harvester ants are polymorphic with both major and minor workers. They are typically 5-7mm and are red and orange in colour.

Some workers are known to lay unfertilized eggs that are fed to the larvae and queen. They typically live for a few months


These ants are not so aggressive, but they do have a strong bite and a sharp sting that can hurt for up to 8 hours. Their stings are similar to that of a bees.

Pet info

For over 50 years, workers of this species have been sold as pets (via an ant coupon system) with many ant habitats that are bought in N. America, including ®Ant Farm and ®Antworks.

They are large, very tough, active, and long lasting ants. They can chew through soft plaster habitats. Their sting may deter beginners.

Harvester ant videos

External links

Harvester ant images