Queen green-ants

North Queenslanders know green-ants very well. Their nests of woven leaves are common in our trees, and we learn to be cautious about pushing through shrubbery because the workers drop on intruders and bite quite painfully. But there is one stage of the life cycle we rarely see: the winged queen.

Large winged green ant
Winged queen green-ant

Unmated queens-to-be fly from existing colonies in the wet season and, if they are lucky, mate with winged males released at the same time and then establish their own new colonies.

We visited Magnetic Island yesterday and saw dozens of the winged queens. They looked like wasps but were clumsy fliers, often crash-landing into plants or people, and in spite of their powerful jaws they were not at all aggressive.

Green-ant queen
Another, sitting on my finger

The queen, like all flying ants, soon loses her wings. She will find a likely spot for a nest, and start laying eggs, and her children/workers will build the nest around her.

More pics: Worker and Nest construction  on Flickr.

All you ever wanted to know about Green-ants: A masterpiece of evolution – Oecophylla weaver ants by Ross H. CROZIER†, Philip S. NEWEY, Ellen A. SCHLÜNS & Simon K.A. ROBSON, Myrmecological News, 13, 57-71, Vienna, April 2010. (You will need to download the pdf from the page my link takes you to.)

19 thoughts on “Queen green-ants”

  1. I have just found large clumps of these queen ants on my lemon tree, there were some on outer branches with wings as you have described. Others are all clumped together in protected curled up leaves not moving much. The winged ones seemed to be walking along the branches, I thought maybe eating white fly.
    They have been there for 48 hours and most unusual, as I though there was only 1 queen to a nest, no a whole bunch of queens. Yet this is the identical ant.
    I googled in case it was an overseas unwelcome visitor, I havnt seen them before.
    Watched one this morning as he curled up and preened his bottom. hmm unusual ant behaviour.
    My home is in the suburbs of Darwin.

    1. Hi, Colleen,
      Thanks for reporting this. I haven’t been able to observe this behaviour but I’m sure you’re right about the species.
      Green ants do form colonies with multiple queens, but not *lots* of queens (maybe 3 – 7, I can’t quite remember what I have read). It’s possible that unmated queens are simply hanging around together until they die – the winged queens emerge in huge numbers and I don’t know what happens to the unsuccessful ones. Do let us know what happens next.

  2. Here at Bees Creek we have a number of times seen queens clumping on branches of low trees in the yard. Have never counted how many but there are a lot, dozens and dozens. The NT NEWS had a pic of them clumping in this manner this year if I recall and it was said that it was unusual, but of course it’s not. Why it happens I don’t have a clue and sadly I never monitored them. You can be sure that I will be next time.

    1. I don’t know how common it is to see lots of queens together. I was in Townsville for nearly twenty years before I was aware of the phenomenon, but of course it’s easy to miss noticing something if you don’t know anything about it. Like you, I will certainly look out for them in the coming Wet.

  3. 2 times in a month I have found 2 different green ant nests in my front yard trees. I have broken the nest and sprayed inside, both times at least 30 -50 of these identical flying ants have came out along with the green ants, I was always lead to believe 1 Queen per colony, but in Whitsundays North QLD anything seems possible :-)

    1. Hi, Nathan,
      It’s possible that these are queens-to-be which are almost ready to swarm out in search of mates, as described in my post above. That is, the ones you are seeing are not the queens of the existing colonies – and you’re right, there shouldn’t be anywhere near that many adult queens in a nest.
      The article by Crozier and others, linked above, says that males and new queens are grown within colonies, timed for wet-season emergence, so that fits, too. We haven’t had any rain here yet, but it has got to come soon!

  4. Have just checked Google to see about the huge number of winged green ants we’re seeing. If they are rarely seen then they must all be here. The pool is full of ant wings and dead ants. There’s also quite a few walking around. How long does this last?

    1. Hi, Petra,
      It’s a seasonal thing – none at all except when they all emerge at once. It sounds like they’ve done exactly that, where you are. Our wet season hasn’t arrived yet so we haven’t seen it this year.
      How long will it last? A few days to a week or so, I think.
      If you let us know when it’s over, other people will be able to benefit from the information.

  5. We just noticed a bunch of winged green ants on our frangipani tree in Cairns this afternoon. We’d never seen this before, despite living in the tropics for 20 years, so I found your page via Google and learned that these were the queens. I have 4 frangipani pots, each one with a green ant nest, but only 1 of the trees had the queens. I took some photos of them at 2:30pm and by 4pm, they’d all flown away! I’ll keep watch on the other 3 pots now to see if any more come out. Fascinating :-)

    1. Hi, Mia,
      I’m glad Green Path was able to help with ID.
      Seeing the queens does seem to be a rare event. We’ve had green ants in our own garden for nearly twenty years but have never seen the emerging queens. They don’t hang around very long, I guess, and you have to be the kind of person who doesn’t automatically reach for the insecticide whenever they see anything wasp-like.

  6. At long last I have seen winged queens in my own garden – not many, and not happy, but undeniably present. There were half a dozen of them floating, drowned, in my swimming pool this afternoon. I didn’t see more around the garden but I have to admit that I didn’t look for them: today got to 37C and wandering around the garden was not an attractive option.

  7. I have had a wasps nest on my balcony for some time now, recently it has been taken over by Green ants. Is this common? The wasps have completely disappeared!

    1. Hi, Katie,
      It wouldn’t surprise me if green ants attacked a wasps’ nest and forced the wasps out, but I don’t think they would ever take up residence in any existing nest. Could they just be wandering through it, making sure they have taken all the wasp larvae back to their own nest for consumption?

      1. Yes, they have gone now! The nest is empty. Thanks Malcolm! The green ants seem to be taking over everything in my garden this year! They are prolific!

  8. Hi,
    I have just photographed a big nest of queen green ants in a nest together…I too had not witnessed this phenomena before, always single queens.
    Shame there is nowhere to post a picture, there were at least 30-40 all together.
    I live in Girraween in the rural area of Darwin NT.

    1. Hi, Kirsten,
      Thanks for this. I have restrictions on comments to avoid spam problems but it you’re willing to email photo/s to me at this address I will add them to your comment.
      I would love to see them – like you, I have only ever seen individual queens.

  9. I saw your post on queen green ants after googling why they are congregating in large numbers on my trees at Daly River right now. There are multiple groups of them all through the garden.
    … I watched a lot of Spangled Drongos diving in amongst the branches where they were gathered, I imagine having a feast. No doubt other birds caught on, too. I left to come back into the city so have no idea how long they were there for. 
    Queen Green Ants

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