Sanctuary Ants Monitoring

carpenter ant © Mary Dineen
carpenter ant © Mary Dineen

Ants are an obvious group to include in our Inventory & Monitoring Project because they are::

  • Abundant—roughly equivalent in dry weight to the human population, representing 20 to 30 percent of the total animal biomass in many ecosystems;
  • Everywhere—occurring in virtually all terrestrial habitats as well as some  aquatic ones;
  • Versatile—Serving as ecological players with major roles as predators, scavengers, and herbivores;
  • Influential—the world’s prime earth movers (at least equal to earthworms in this region);
  • Reliable—their colonies tend to be stable for long periods;
  • Sensitive to environmental changes—making them excellent ecological indicators; and
  • Not dauntingly diverse—with only about 100 species known in Massachusetts.

Ants of Massachusetts Project Goals

  • To describe and quantify patterns of distribution and abundance of ants across Massachusetts.
  • To provide a baseline from which to assess long-term effects of climate change on species distribution.
  • To develop a set of indicator species to be used to determine efficacy of ongoing and proposed management strategies and to reveal effects of future disturbances and habitat degradation.
  • To compare with ongoing or planned quantitative surveys of birds and plants at Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries.
  • To lay the groundwork and develop capacity within Mass Audubon for future sampling of additional sites and of the same sites in future years.

Mass Audubon has partnered with Harvard Forest to carry out ant surveys. Other organizations that assisted with ant research goals include The Trustees of Reservations, the University of Vermont, and the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard.

Ants You May Already Know (and Love?)

Sugar ant (aka odorous house ant)(Tapinoma sessile)

Tiny. Common and widespread in a variety of habitats, including beaches, fields, and houses. Gives off smell of rotten coconut.

Carpenter ant (Camponotus pennsylvanicus)

This species is bane to owners of wood-frame houses because it excavates its living quarters in damp wood, and can cause major structural damage. Viewed more broadly, however, it plays a critical role in the breakdown of dead wood in forest ecosystems. Also a favorite food of pileated woodpeckers. Learn More

Allegheny Mound Ant (Formica exectoides)

Takes up to two years to build a mound three feet high with tunnels that extend three feet underground. Uses formic acid to clear surrounding vegetation. Tends aphids for their “honeydew” and also preys on small arthropods.

Cornfield ant (aka Labor Day ant) (Lasius neoniger)

An ant of open habitats, including lawns and sidewalks, this abundant, mound-building species gets one of its common names from the mass nuptial flights that typically occur in late August and early September. A scavenger and perhaps a predator in the nests of terns and diamondback terrapins.

Aphaenogaster rudis

The ant found most commonly in our Massachusetts surveys, it inhabits forests, grasslands, and rocky areas. A great seed disperser, upon which many of our spring ephemeral wildflowers depend. Seed dispersal is one of the major ecosystem services ants provide. 

Pavement ant (Tetramorium caespitum)

 Nests under sidewalks, stones, and pavement, and within crevices in houses. Native to Europe, but introduced to North America in the 1700s. Gives off an odor of banana oils as a defense.

Learn More

See our list of resources for where to find more information about ants in Massachusetts.