The Elongated Twig Ant (Pseudomyrmex gracilisis) a relatively large, though thin ant native to the South Eastern United States and Mexico, primarily the Gulf Coast states. The Twig Ant is dramatically colored but ant standards. A black head and abdomen (back portion of its body), with an orange face, legs, and thorax (middle portion). Though similarly colored, the black and orange Twig ant is easily distinguishable from the much larger and more robust Velvet Ant (Dasymutilla occidentalis) or Cow Killer Ant (in fact a species of wasp). It also has a very distinct narrowing of its body between the thorax and the abdomen, more characteristic of a wasp than an ant. There are several unique qualities to the Twig Ant.
1. While it is a common mistake to label these ants as “solitary ants” – all ants live in colonies – they are solitary hunters. Most ants hunt and forage either by scavenging a large area for already dead insects and edible organic matter or by overwhelming potential prey with large numbers. The Elongated Twig Ant, however, huts and scavenges individually.
2. The other differentiating characteristic of the “Tree Ant” is they, like fire ants, retain the wasp-like stinger from their common ancestral past.
3. The Twig Ant generally prefers to nest in trees and does not dig out nesting sights in the ground. Instead of preferring the crotch of an oak tree or to hollow out a hole in a rotten branch.
Twig Ants Sting
Ants and bees evolved from a common ancestor most closely resembling a modern Mud Dauber (Sceliphron caementarium). This divergence in the Order Hymenoptera occurred roughly 150 million years ago. In the time since that divergence, most ants have lost their ability to sting, the “Oak Ant” has not. While all ants can at times bite, the Tree Ant is a relatively rare species that can sting, just like a wasp. Many South Floridians trimming their trees or hedges on a Saturday morning has learned this evolutionary fact the hard way.
Because the Twig Ant arboreal – meaning it lives in trees – it typically only comes into conflict with humans during the activities with vegetation. Trimming trees and brush or building a tree house, will quickly make you familiar with these unusual ants, and their painful sting.
The Benefits and Drawbacks of the Twig Ant
Though their sting is painful Tree Ants can actually be beneficial to gardens and plants. Their predatory nature and tenacious defense of their nesting sites mean they will defend plants from damaging caterpillars.
They aren’t all good, however. The Twig Ant will actually tend to and defend certain parasitic sap-sucking insects that feed on plants such as Aphids and Scale. They do this because the black, sooty looking waste they produce, often referred to as honeydew or sooty mold, is a food source for them. Not all plants easily succumb to parasitic insects such as scale and aphids, unfortunately, though many of the most common ornamental plants in South Florida landscapes are highly prone to sap sucking type insects. Ixora, Hibiscus, Gardenia, and Croton all are easily affected by these types of garden pests and the Tree Ant will eagerly exacerbate the problem. Ghost Ants, too, will tend to and protect aphids and scale to harvest their honeydew.
The Elongated Twig Ant is a common pest on the Treasure Coast and Green Pest Services is a skill and affordable pest control service with local knowledge and experience. If you would like to get rid of ants around your home call a local exterminator service near you like Green Pest Services, LLC.