Ant (Formica talbotae)

Male Formica talbotae specimen, head detail
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Ant fact file

Ant description

GenusFormica (1)

Formica talbotae is the first known workerless parasite in the Formica genus (3). Formica talbotae inhabits the nest of Formica obscuripes in a form of social parasitism, where Formica talbotae benefits from the host species (4).

Formica talbotae is a small species, with a medium-brown body, and lighter, yellow- brown legs (3).

Male body length: c. 5 mm (2)
Female body length: c. 4.8 mm (3)

Ant biology

As a social parasite, the Formica talbotae queen will enter a Formica obscuripe colony, and the residing queen is then either killed or is already absent (5). The invaded nests are large mounds, up to 1.5 metres wide, and contain up to 50,000 host individuals. The chambers that are underneath the surface can extend to over one metre (5) (6).

The mixed colonies that are formed have been observed to be quite small, with one colony in Michigan having only around 6,000 individuals, a third of which were Formica talbotae (5). The colony is thought to be short-lived, as while Formica talbotae inhabits the host colony, no worker ants are produced(5).

The Formica talbotae queen produces winged male and female ants throughout the summer. Larvae and pupae are stored in the lower parts of the nest mound.  The brood of Formica talbotae is abundant through the summer until September (5).

As Formica talbotae shares a colony with its host, Formica obscuripes, it is likely to have the same diet. This includes the secretions produced by aphids as well as dead insects (7).

Formica talbotae has a long flying season, stretching from mid-June to late September, and so swarms are not usually seen. Small swarms may occur however, where relatively small numbers of females swarm around the nest, and mate with the males (5).


Ant range

Formica talbotae is native to the United States, where it is only found in three locations: Michigan, Iowa and North Dakota (1) (3).


Ant habitat

The favoured habitat of Formica talbotae is open, sloping fields that are well drained with tall grass or other vegetation near the host colony (5).


Ant status

Formica talbotae is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Ant threats

There are no known direct threats currently facing Formica talbotae or its host species.


Ant conservation

There are currently no known conservation measures in place for Formica talbotae.


Find out more

To learn more about the conservation of ants and other insects see:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

This species information was authored as part of the ARKive and Universities Scheme.


A group of organisms living together.
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Immature stage in an animal’s lifecycle, after it hatches from an egg and before it changes into the adult form. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but are usually unable to reproduce.
An organism that derives its food from, and lives in or on, another living organism at the host’s expense.
Interaction in which one organism derives its food from, and lives in or on, another living organism (the host) at the host's expense.
In some insects, a stage in the life cycle during which the larval form is reorganised into the adult form. The pupa is usually inactive, and may be encased in a chrysalis, cocoon or other protective coating.


  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
  2. AntWeb - Formica talbotae (March, 2011)
  3. Wilson, E.O. (1976) The first workerless parasite in the ant genus Formica (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Psyche, 83: 277-281.
  4. Hölldobler, B. and Wilson, E.O. (1990) The Ants. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  5. Talbot, M. (1976) The natural history of the workerless ant parasite, Formica talbotae. Psyche, 83: 282-288.
  6. Beattie, A.J. and Culver, D.C. (1977) Effects of the mound nests of the ant, Formica obscuripes, on the surrounding vegetation. American Midland Naturalist, 97(2): 390-399.
  7. Weber, N.A. (1935) The biology of the thatching ant, Formica rufa obscuripes Forel, in North Dakota. Ecological Monographs, 5(2): 165-206.

Image credit

Male Formica talbotae specimen, head detail  
Male Formica talbotae specimen, head detail

© CAS /



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