Harvester Ants: How to Identify and Get Rid of Them.

Harvester ants are well known for just one thing, their unbearably painful stings. When a harvester ant attacks, it bites with its mandibles and then repeatedly stings and injects venom into different locations by pivoting its body.

With that first sting, the venom releases a pheromone alarm signal that causes all nearby harvester ants to begin stinging. Just like fire ants, the sudden pain of the stings can feel like all the ants waited until the exact moment to start their attack.

How this can be bad news for you and how to prevent it is discussed below.

Related: How to identify and remove fire ants.

Related: How to get rid of carpenter ants.

Related: Identify and remove odorous ants.

Harvester ant
Harvester Ant, Key’s Ranch, Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Harvester ants: Description.

Harvester ants are a species of ant that collects seeds and stores them in granaries inside their colony’s nest. Most harvester ants provide an ecological value to the lands they inhabit. They help disperse seeds, aerate the soil near their nests, and supply nutrients for the seeds to grow in.

Harvester ants are a dark, rusty red or orange color, have six legs, and average between 1/4” and 1/2” in size. Their mounds are easily recognized as big bare spots in fields and lawns. The devoid area around these nests is caused by the harvester ants deliberately removing all grasses and vegetation around their mounds.

Related: How long do ants live?

Related: What do ants eat?

Harvester ants Western harvester ants
Western harvester ant mound.

Harvester ants in the United States.

The only species of harvester ants east of the Mississippi River are Florida harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex badius). All other species live west of the river.

Florida harvester ant.

Florida harvester ants are different from all the other harvester ants in the United States for two reasons:

  1. Florida harvester ants have two different-sized worker castes. The most notable being the Major Worker, with its huge head.
  2. Florida harvester ants do not clear vegetation from around their mounds. Instead, they cover the tops of their laundry with small stones.

California harvester ant.

The California harvester ant has a unique place in history for two reasons:

  1. It was the ant sent out with some of the original ant farm kits.
  2. The Chumash people of California use it to initiate their boys into manhood. The boys swallow about 250 ants alive, and the stinging causes hallucinations.

California harvester ants range from Texas to Utah to Baja California, Sonora, and Chihuahua.

Red harvester ant.

Red harvester ants are found throughout the southwestern United States. Often mistaken for fire ants, the are unrelated and compete with them for the same resources. However, they are the most studied ant concerning foraging, and three distinct worker castes have been identified.

  1. Nest patrollers. These workers determine the current safety and viability of foraging for the day.
  2. Trail patrollers. Determine the safest and most profitable direction to forage in.
  3. Foragers.

Related: Do not touch the Red Velvet Ant (it’s a wasp!).

Black harvester ants.

Black harvester ants range from southern California to western Texas. They build their nests deep into the ground and cover them with tiny rocks, gravel, charcoal, and dead grasses. 

Black harvester ants will not build a nest inside your home.

Western harvester ants
Western harvester ant.

Western harvester ants.

The Western harvester ant inhabits the deserts, arid grasslands, and high plains of the United States. Workers mostly forage during the heat of the day.

Western harvester ants are a nuisance to grazing plants and seeds on rangelands.

Killing harvester ants.

There are some truly awful ideas on how to naturally kills harvester ants. My favorite is the boiling water method.

Now, if I understand this, you boil a pot of water, head over to the nest, rip it open, and slowly pour the boiling water right into the fire ant mound. Repeat as necessary.

Do I have that right?

Well, I sure hope you do it fast and that you only need one pot of water. Because that mound is going to be teeming with angry harvester ants to try and come back, and if you take too long to open that hole and dump the water, maybe some of that spills on you will kill the harvester ants swarming up your legs.

How to kill harvester ants, the unnatural and chemical way.

Use a professionally made broadcast harvester ant killer in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. 

As Cpl. Hicks pointed out in Aliens, “It’s the only way to be sure.”


Dennis V. Gilmore Jr.

Dennis V. Gilmore Jr. is a former Marine Sergeant and the author of several books, including two on night hunting coyotes and red and gray fox. He has written several hundred articles on predator hunting for ThePredatorHunter.com.

Recent Posts