Harvester ants are a large type of ant that creates massive outdoor nests that are hard to ignore. If you approach them, they’re likely to respond aggressively. This is not a species that you want on your property. Learn more about how to identify harvester ants and what to do if they take up residence in your yard.

What Are Harvester Ants?


Image via Flickr by jared

Harvester ants are a broad category of ant that contains many individual species. These ants get their name from their habit of harvesting seeds for food. They prefer to stick to a very limited diet, consuming only one type of food until that food source is depleted. They will travel as far as 31 miles from their nests to find their preferred food source. In addition to seeds, these ants can also eat grasses and dead insects.

It’s unlikely that harvester ants will find a food source inside your home, so they’re not a major concern within dwellings. However, harvester ants are a major nuisance when they build nests in the yard. If you have these ants around, you’ll want to contact a pest control specialist to take care of them.

What Do Harvester Ants Look Like?

Harvester ants are between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch in length. They can be red, orange, or dark brown. They have two segments. Most harvester ant species have a pair of spines on top of the body, and some have long hairs on the head that give them the appearance of a beard.

Where Do Harvester Ants Live?

There are 22 species of harvester ants in the United States; most harvester ants live west of the Mississippi River; the sole exception is the Florida harvester ant. Harvester ants create large nests with wide mounds that are cleared of vegetation around the opening. Their galleries can go nearly 20 feet deep. Harvester ants are common in the desert, so the majority of their nests go undisturbed and never come into contact with humans.

A harvester ant colony can contain between 10,000 and 20,000 ants. In the summer, these ants emerge from their nests in mating swarms. They typically take to the air after rainfall. The swarms congregate around tall structures in the area, such as chimneys, farmhouses, or buildings. The males die within 24 hours of mating, while the females will move on to establish nests of their own. Queens that are successful in establishing colonies may live ten years or more.

Problems With Harvester Ants

One of the biggest problems with harvester ants is their sting. It’s excruciating to get stung by a harvester ant. The “King of Sting” Justin Schmidt rated the harvester ant’s sting a three out of four on his pain index, making it more painful than a hornet. A researcher studying the ants found that one got into his shoe. Describing the sting, he said it “felt like a large screw being driven in slowly for the next several hours.”

These insects are particularly dangerous to individuals who have allergic reactions to them. Allergic reactions are more common in children than adults. Signs of an allergic reaction include difficulty breathing and swelling of the lips or face.

Harvester ants can sting multiple times, so it’s essential to get them off of you and move away from the nest as soon as possible if you get hurt. A cold compress and pain relievers will help with most stings. However, if you have a serious reaction, you should see a healthcare professional right away.

Harvester ants are a nuisance on lawns because they will create large barren spots around their mounds. These may span as much as 30 feet in diameter. They usually nest outdoors and will rarely come into the house. However, this is not an insect that you want to allow anywhere near your home, including your yard. If you have a harvester ant nest on your property, it’s best to turn to a pest control professional to help you get rid of the problem.

Pest Control Solutions for Harvester Ants

As with most ants, bait is the most successful option for getting rid of harvester ants. However, you must choose the right bait for the job. A sweet bait that attracts other types of ants won’t have the same appeal for this species. It’s best to work with a pest control professional. Since harvester ants are aggressive when disturbed, you don’t want to approach the nest on your own, or you could suffer painful stings as a result.

An experienced exterminator will help you identify the species of harvester ant that you’re dealing with. This individual will then work with you to develop a personalized plan to get rid of the nest on your property so that you can enjoy your yard safely again.

Other Harvester Ant Facts

Harvester ants have a long history with humans. Though their desert nests have often gone undiscovered and undisturbed, it’s clear that this is a species people have interacted with for a long time. Check out these interesting facts about harvester ants.

They Have a Rich Mythology

Harvester ants figure into the mythology of ancient peoples. The Navajos called these “big pinching ants.” They believed that these ants should not be disturbed. If a harvester ant nest was disrupted, the Navajos had an elaborate ritual they would use to placate the insects.

They’ve Been Used in Children’s Products

Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm, a novelty toy for kids, used harvester ants to populate the contained farm. The red harvester ant is regularly recommended as the best species for ant farms. These ants are chosen for their large size and long life span. They’re easy to observe in the right conditions. However, these ants can present a danger due to their aggressive nature and painful stings.

If you’re concerned about how to get rid of harvester ants, reach out to our exterminators today. We can help you come up with an effective solution for handling this problematic infestation.


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