Ants (Formicidae) of the southeastern United States - Introduction

The aim of this web site is to provide comprehensive lists of ant species for the Southeast and each state within the Southeast including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee; species pages with information and photos; keys to subfamilies, genera, and species of ants found in the Southeast (not all keys are updated to include the entire Southeast); diagnostic drawings; collecting information; a glossary; publications about ants by the Mississippi Entomological Museum (MEM); relevant literature citations; and links to other ant sites on the web. This web site is primarily designed for researchers who already have a working knowledge of ants and scientific nomenclature. However, others may find the site to be useful as well.

Initially, the goal of the MEM was to study the ants of Mississippi; but, because we had numerous records from Alabama, we expanded our goals to include that state. Additional collections and MEM specimens from other southeastern states, especially Arkansas, Georgia, and Louisiana, but to lesser extents Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina, have given us records from the entire southeastern region. With these records and collections, coupled with published species lists of ants from the region, lists of ants for each southeastern state and the entire region have been compiled. The most extensive survey work by the MEM began in 2001 and is ongoing. However, there are specimens housed in the MEM from the early 1900's through the present.

To use this site, click on the appropriate tab on the above header menu. All lists of ants are found under the "Faunal Lists"; just click the appropriate link to get to the species list needed. Lists of all species, exotic species, and pest species are provided for the entire Southeast and each state. Primary species lists are arranged taxonomically by subfamily, tribe, and genera and alphabetically by species; whereas, exotic and pest species are arranged alphabetically. Common names are not given in these lists because some species have no common name, have multiple common names, or have the same common name as other species. Thus, they are not a useful way to list species. However, common names will be included on species pages as they are developed.

Basic Information About Ants

Diversity:  Ants are among the most numerous of creatures on the planet and consequently, they greatly impact the lives of man. It has been estimated that 10% of the animal biomass of the earth is comprised of ants! Not only are they abundant, but they are also quite diverse. About 12,000 species have been described worldwide, with over 1,200 species known from the Nearctic region, and over 300 known to occur in the Southeast. Ants affect mankind directly by invading houses, biting and stinging people, raiding food supplies, damaging structures, killing animals, and by being general nuisance pests. On the positive side, ants move and aerate large quantities of soil, disperse seeds of herbaceous plant species, bring nutrients to the soil, kill large quantities of other insects (including pest species), aid in the natural decay process of both dead plants and animals, and perform numerous other activities. Ants are found in all terrestrial habitats, such as deserts, tundras, rainforests, swamps, fields, etc. Their nests are as just as variable, and different species may nest in soil, leaf litter, rotting wood, live trees, hollow twigs and stems, insect galls, in specially constructed paper-like nests, and anywhere else imaginable. Colony sizes range from a few individuals to millions, depending on the species. The diets of ants are widely varied and include animals (mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, arthropods), seeds, nectar, honeydew (secreted by other insects), fungi, and many other things. Some species are specific in their diets and only eat certain things such as spider eggs, various springtail species, centipedes, etc., whereas, others are general omnivores or carnivores.

Physical characteristics:  Ants range in size from less than 1.0 millimeter to about 40 millimeters. They are variously colored black, brown, orange, yellow, to pale white, and anywhere in between. They may be concolorous or bicolored. Different species may be shiny or matte, hairy or not, have eyes or lack them, have short or long antennae, have a stinger or not, may emit formic acid or other harmful chemicals, may have one or two waist segments, be hard or soft bodied, and may have many other differences. These differences are how we describe them and differentiate species from one another.

Classification:  Like all living things, ants are classified and grouped in a hierarchal system that links related organisms. Ants are in the Kingdom "Animalia," the Phylum "Arthropoda", the Class "Hexapoda", the Order "Hymenoptera" (includes bees, wasps, and ants), and the Family "Formicidae". They are further classified to Subfamily (10 subfamilies in the Nearctic region), Genus (72 species in Nearctic region), and species. Ants are typically listed by their scientific name, which is simply the combination of the genus and species names, which is often followed by the last name of the author(s) who described the species. For example the scientific name of the black carpenter ant is Camponotus pennsylvanicus (DeGeer). In this case, Camponotus is the genus (all carpenter ants are in this genus), pennsylvanicus is the species, and (DeGeer) is the author who originally described this species. The parentheses indicate that the species was originally described in another genus, but was later moved to the current one. In this case, it was originally described in the genus Formica. Incidentally, this was the first ant species described from North America. The names that are given to species often have significance as well. A species name may describe some important feature of the ant, refer to the locality where it was discovered, be named after somebody of importance, or may have no obvious meaning at all. Traditionally, names were Greek or Latin in origin, but more recently this has not been the case.

Identification:  Surprisingly, and despite the high numbers and great importance of ants, they are still a difficult group to identify and classify. The family Formicidae has been a taxonomic problem for the last century and only became somewhat more clear in 1950 with the publication of W. S. Creighton's Ants of North America. Since then, numerous taxonomic papers have been written about ants, but they are scattered in many journals, making it difficult to easily identify ants on a regional basis without having lots of literature. Fortunately, this is changing, as many people are now working with Formicidae in one aspect or another. Regional faunistic studies, such as those being conducted by the MEM, are helping scientists better understand species diversity and distributions. Current DNA research is helping to resolve questions about similar species and movement of exotic species. Some wonderful web sites are now available that greatly aid the identification process by offering beautiful photos of ants (such as at Antweb), valid names of ants species and links to publications (antbase.org), or keys to ants (The Ants of the New World). Recent books including "The Ants of North America" by Brian Fisher and Stefan Cover (2007), which gives keys to North American genera, "Identification Guide to the Ant Genera of the World" by Barry Bolton (1994), and A New General Catalog of the Ants of the World by Barry Bolton (1995) also are very useful.

Identification and Information Requests

Anyone needing information, loans of research material, or Identification of ants should email Joe MacGown or call him at 662-325-9551. In general, identifications should be limited to to southeastern species, although other inquiries are welcome. Photographs taken by the MEM may be used for educational purposes by obtaining written permission. Links to this site are encouraged; however, we prefer that these pages not be embedded in other sites.