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Taxonomy terms

African big-headed ant (Pheidole megacephala)

African big headed ant

Coastal brown ant

The big-headed ant / coastal brown ant is one of the worlds worst invasive ants.

The big-headed ant is found worldwide in many tropical and sub-tropical areas. In Australia, it is common along the east coast, Perth and Darwin, but is probably more widespread.

It prefers moist, disturbed habitats – areas around human population are ideal. Typically, it  nests outdoors in soil and under rocks / pavers. Sometimes it will nest indoors in wall cavities and plug sockets.

A multi-queen, multi-nest species. The colonies can develop into massive super-colonies completely dominating an area. They are a highly destructive invasive species and will out-complete most other ant species.

Colour: Mid brown / red
Size: 1.5 – 4.5 mm
Nodes on petiole: 2

There are minor and major workers, with the major workers (“soldiers”) having enlarged heads, from which they get their name. The major workers form around 1% of the foraging force, so may not always be visible.

Alates are not often seen as the colony expands through budding, whereby one or more queens with a number of workers move to set up another nest in a new location.

Although big-headed ants are often seen tending sap feeding insects, they show a strong preference for protein and lipid foods. They will typically feed on live and dead invertebrates, but will eat any dead animal material.

  • The ants will move significant amounts of dirt to make their nests – their activity around pavers becomes particularly obvious.
  • Workers will travel significant differences between nest sites and to and front food sources.
  • They sometime build shelter tubes for foraging trails, which can look superficially similar to termite mud tubes.

The big-headed ant only has a mild sting which is not painful to humans and its bite is not painful.

  • Regular treatments (at least once a year) will likely be required to keep numbers down
  • Following good hygiene practices, especially clearing away food and not leaving pet food out, will help minimise any foraging inside buildings.

There are a number of other small brown ants, but the presence of major workers and sheer extent of infestations normally make identification straight forward.

Go back to the main ants page.

Treatment notes:

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