Most ants you see in your yard or home won’t be much longer than half an inch. If a 0.5-inch ant is enough to make you uneasy, perhaps you should stop reading now. These common ants are absolutely puny compared to the world’s largest eusocial insects. Highlighted below are facts about three of the largest ant species on the planet: Dinoponera, bullet ants, and giant bull ants.
The largest ant you can meet today is the queen driver ant. She can grow up to nearly 2 inches long, though you’re more likely to encounter the much smaller worker and soldier driver ants. The other ants in the hierarchy don’t get much longer than 0.6 inches.
Dinoponera, or giant Amazonian ants, are also known for their massive size. Females of the species can exceed 1.5 inches in length. Giant bull ants, native to Australia, range between 0.3 and about 1.5 inches long. Bullet ants can grow about 1.2 inches long.
The largest ant species ever recorded was discovered in fossilized remains in Wyoming. The insect, named Titanomyrma lubei for its incredible length, was over 2 inches long and comparable in size to a modern hummingbird. Researchers also noted that, unlike the modern queen driver ant, Titanomyrma was big all over and lacked the swollen abdomen characteristic of driver ants.
Seeing a legion of 0.5- to 2-inch-long ants would probably upset you, but natives in areas where these creatures thrive prize driver ants for their ability to keep pests away. Driver ants eat insects, worms, and prey as large as rats. A swarm of driver ants can also invade a termite mound and annihilate the colony to feed their own. As an added bonus, driver ants can sting and bite but will leave humans alone unless provoked.
Driver ants conquer large prey not because of their size but because of their numbers. African driver ants and Dorylus wilverthi queens can lay over 4 million eggs in a month. This is perhaps the highest lifetime fecundity of all eusocial insects.
Modern ant species such as Dinoponera and bullet ants are found in warm regions, and even the prehistoric Titanomyrma is believed to have thrived in a warm climate. Dinoponera are found in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Guyana, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina. Bullet ants are found in the same region and prefer the rainforest climates of Nicaragua, Honduras, Brazil, and Paraguay. Driver ants thrive throughout Africa and tropical portions of Asia.
If their size alone doesn’t terrify you, their aggressive-looking features probably will. Bullet ants have an anvil-shaped petiole — the waist portion between the abdomen and thorax. You can also identify a bullet ant by the horns on the shoulder of the thorax. This feature is exclusive to this species of giant ant.
Dinoponera lack the spikes and distinguishable petiole of the bullet ant. They have rounder waists and are a darker color compared to the bullet ant. You can also identify Dinoponera by their laterally projecting clypeal teeth.
Dinoponera don’t follow a typical queen caste system. Instead, the hive has several male ants, known as gamergate ants, who can fertilize eggs. These mated workers fight for dominance in their colonies and form individual groups of one to five ants that have their own hierarchy independent of the hive. Gamergate ants perform antennal boxing, biting, blocking, and other behaviors, such as gaster rubbing, to establish supremacy.
Over 90 species of bull ants live in Australia. One of the most interesting behaviors of these insects is how the queen establishes a new colony. Instead of laying eggs and building a hierarchy of workers and soldiers, as many other species do, a bull ant queen will invade an existing colony, kill the queen, and assume control of the hive. Bull ants are also known for their exceptional vision.
Bullet ants are startlingly large, but their true claim to fame is their painful sting. In fact, a bullet ant’s sting is so painful that it’s been compared to a gunshot — hence the insect’s name. The sting transmits poneratoxin, which is a neurotoxin that affects the victim’s nerve and muscle fibers. Perhaps the worst part of a bullet ant encounter, however, is the fact that the sting won’t hit peak pain until 24 hours after the attack.
People stung by one of these insects may experience nausea and vomiting, and a bullet ant sting can even cause an irregular heartbeat and local edema. Rare but severe problems have included limb paralysis, shaking, and other neurological symptoms. The Mawé people of Brazil use bullet ants as part of a coming-of-age tradition.
Though no ant’s sting comes close to the crippling pain of the bullet ant, Dinoponera also has a powerful venom they can deliver with a sting. The pain can last up to 48 hours and be accompanied by local swelling, tachycardia, and bloody stool. The venom of the Dinoponera australis species is comparable to that of vespine wasps.
You don’t want to meet a hive of bullet ants, and they don’t want you around either. This species is known for not being aggressive, and if you come too close to a nest, they’ll warn you by loudly and angrily rubbing body parts together.
These species of ants are fascinating, and not just because of their size. The good news is that, for residents in North America, you don’t have to worry about ants any longer than half an inch. If you need help with some less intimidating species around your home, a pest control specialist can recommend prevention methods and solutions to stop an infestation.