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Meat Ant, Gravel Ant Fact File

Iridomyrmex purpureus






Meat ant, <I>Iridomyrmex purpureus</I>

Meat ant, Iridomyrmex purpureus
Photo: Michael Elliott

Meat ants exiting nest

Meat ants exiting nest
Photo: Michael Elliott

Nest of <I>Iridomyrmex purpureus</I>

Nest of Iridomyrmex purpureus
Photo: Michael Elliott





Meat Ants are members of the genus Iridomyrmex, which is the most abundant, conspicuous and ecologically important group of ants in Australia. In the same way that eucalypts dominate the tree flora of Australia, Iridomyrmex dominates the continent's ant fauna.

Meat Ants, also known as Gravel Ants, build large nests underground and often place sand, gravel, pebbles or even bits of dead vegetation on the upper (mounded) surface of the nest. Large nests are common along some of Sydney's country roadsides and a single nest may contain 64,000 ants. Sometimes a number of nests will be part of one colony and can be spread over a wide area connected by numerous ant paths and trails. These super-nests are known to stretch up to 650 m.

Workers of the colony are equipped with powerful jaws and communicate with each other using chemical cues. They are aggressive towards intruders, attacking other invertebrates, which they may eat, and driving off much larger animals by sheer weight of numbers. Iridomyrmex species, including Meat Ants, are omnivores (eat plants and animals) and forage during the day while other species of ants in the area may be restricted to foraging at night. Border disputes may occur between rival colonies and are resolved by ritual fighting.

Meat Ants and other Iridomyrmex species are often involved in mutually beneficial (symbiotic) relationships with caterpillars of different butterflies. The caterpillars supply sugary fluids to the ants, which in turn protect the caterpillars from predators. In rural Australia farmers may use these ants to remove animal carcasses from their land. A dead animal placed on a nest would be reduced to bones over a period of weeks.

Distribution:
Throughout Australia.

Habitat:
Sandy/gravel soils in urban areas, forests and woodlands, heath.

Size:
Workers up to1 cm long.

Sting:

These ants do not sting, but they bite and can discharge a defensive chemical. This is usually enough to drive off other invertebrates.