Ant (Formica talbotae)

GenusFormica (1)
SizeMale body length: c. 5 mm (2)
Female body length: c. 4.8 mm (3)

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

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

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).

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).

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

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

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

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  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.