Formica cinerea

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Formica cinerea
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Formicinae
Tribe: Formicini
Genus: Formica
Species: F. cinerea
Binomial name
Formica cinerea
Mayr, 1853

Formica cinerea casent0173156 profile 1.jpg

Formica cinerea casent0173156 dorsal 1.jpg

Specimen labels


This species characteristically occurs in drift sand on coastal dunes in North Europe but also locally inland on coarse morainic drift, and in sandy soils with sparse plant cover in Russia (Zryanin & Zryanina, 2007). It is an aggressive species living largely by predation. Nests may be founded by single queens but where the species is populous, colonies are frequently polygynous and polycalic. Alatae occur in July (Collingwood, 1979). Its ecology and distribution in Finland are described by Kilpäinen. Valkeila, Vesajoki and Wuorenrinna (1977). In the Rhône valley in Switzerland it hybridizes with Formica selysi, where they form a mosaic hybrid zone, with limited introgression from F. selysi into F. cinerea (Blacher et al., 2022).

At a Glance • Polygynous  • Supercolonies  

Photo Gallery

  • Formica cinerea worker. Photo by Michal Kukla.
  • A Formica cinerea worker killed by the fungus Pandora formicae. Photo by Michal Kukla.
  • Formica cinerea tending aphids. Photo by Michal Kukla.
  • Formica cinerea with Manica rubida. Photo by Michal Kukla.


Seifert (2002) - A member of the Formica cinerea group.

Keys including this Species


Seifert (2002) - Formica cinerea is the only species of the group with a very extended distributional range stretching from N Spain to W Siberia (Tjumen, 65.28 E, 57.09 N; Bamaul, 83.45 E, 53.20 N; Bijsk 85.10 E, 52.32 N; Dlussky, 1967) and from S Greece north to Finland at 65 °N. Within this huge range, only weak geographic variation exists - with the exception of a steeply positive gradient of genal pilosity from Central Europe to the Central Balkans. In the Pyrenees, the Alps and the Caucasus the overall abundance of F. cinerea is clearly decreased by the competitive pressure of Formica selysi, Formica fuscocinerea, or Formica georgica. No observations of F. cinerea are known so far from the British Isles. F. cinerea is apparently the only species of the group occurring in Czechia, Poland, and the steppes of S. Russia.

Latitudinal Distribution Pattern

Latitudinal Range: 65.3193° to 40.216667°.

Tropical South

Distribution based on Regional Taxon Lists

Palaearctic Region: Albania, Armenia, Austria (type locality), Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iberian Peninsula, Iran, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, North Macedonia, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Türkiye, Ukraine.

Distribution based on AntMaps


Distribution based on AntWeb specimens

Check data from AntWeb

Countries Occupied

Number of countries occupied by this species based on AntWiki Regional Taxon Lists. In general, fewer countries occupied indicates a narrower range, while more countries indicates a more widespread species.


Ślipiński et al. 2015 (abstract): The abiotic conditions of the desert habitat fluctuate in a circadian rhythm of hot days and cold nights. Species living in desert habitats evolved many adaptations to increase their chances of survival. However, abiotic conditions in xerothermic habitats of a temperate climate are much different. Diurnal fluctuations are not as strong, but animals have to cope with seasonal changes and hibernate during the winter, which may potentially influence their adaptations to critical temperature conditions. We attempted to assess heat resistance adaptations using the example of a widely distributed xerothermic ant Formica cinerea. Using Real-Time PCR, we measured the expression of three heat shock protein genes (Hsp60, Hsp75, Hsp90) and assessed the adaptations of F. cinerea to enable foraging in risk prone conditions. The analysis of gene expression using the Generalized Linear Model surprisingly indicated that there was no significant effect of temperature when comparing workers from the control (23ºC) with workers foraging on the surface of hot sand (47-54ºC). As a next step we tried to estimate the threshold of a thermal resistance with the use of thermal chambers. Expression of all Hsps genes increase compare to the control group, expression of Hsp60 and Hsp90 continued up to 45ºC.

Milar et al. (2017) found in an experimental test, simulating being threatened with entrapment in sand (as might happen if falling in an ant lion pit or if subjected to a collapse of a ground nest), that this species did exhibit rescue behaviour. This was in agreement with their hypothesis that species that could face entrapment situations would show such a response. Formica cinerea nests in sandy soils.

Flight Period

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec


Association with Other Organisms

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Other Insects

  • This species is a host for the ant Formica sanguinea (a slave maker).
  • This species is a host for the ant Polyergus rufescens (a slave maker) (Trager, 2013; Seifert, 2018; de la Mora et al., 2021).
  • This species is associated with the aphids Aphis asclepiadis, Aphis forbesi, Aphis gossypii, Aphis medicaginis, Aphis pomi, Aphis varians, Aphthargelia symphoricarpi, Bipersona torticauda, Brachycaudus helichrysi, Cinara coloradensis, Cinara cupressi, Cinara hottesi, Cinara pseudotsugae, Diuraphis calamagrostis, Eriosoma americanum, Pleotrichophorus quadritrichus, Prociphilus fraxinifolii, Protaphis middletonii, Rhopalosiphum maidis, Uroleucon ambrosiae and Uroleucon erigeronense (Saddiqui et al., 2019 and included references).
  • This ant has been associated with the butterfly Glaucopsyche alexis (Obregon et al. 2015).


  • This species is a host for the trematode Dicrocoelium lanceatum (a parasite) in Armenia (Arakelian et al., 1997) (as Formica cinerea armeniaca).
  • This species is a host for the trematode Dicrocoelium dendriticum (a parasitoid) (Quevillon, 2018) (encounter mode primary; indirect transmission; transmission outside nest).

Other Organisms

  • This species is a associate (details unknown) for the bacterium Serratia symbiotica (a associate (details unknown)) (Quevillon, 2018).

The reported host/parasite relationships between Formica aquilonia and Formica lugubris and Formica cinerea should be investigated in the field as Chernenko et al. (2013) found 100% F. aquilonia and Formica lugubris queen mortality in lab introductions (de la Mora et al., 2021).

The records of this species being enslaved by Formica aserva noted by Ruano et al. (2019) are in error as this species is outside the geographic distribution of F. aserva (Palearctic host, Nearctic parasite) (de la Mora et al., 2021).



The following information is derived from Barry Bolton's Online Catalogue of the Ants of the World.

  • cinerea. Formica cinerea Mayr, 1853c: 281 (w.q.) AUSTRIA. Mayr, 1855: 344 (m.). Combination in F. (Serviformica): Forel, 1915d: 64. Subspecies of fusca: Forel, 1874: 54; Emery & Forel, 1879: 451; Mayr, 1886d: 427; Forel, 1892i: 307; Emery, 1909b: 199; Bondroit, 1910: 483; Emery, 1914d: 159. Status as species: Mayr, 1861: 48; Emery, 1898c: 126; Ruzsky, 1902d: 12; Forel, 1904b: 385; Wheeler, W.M. 1913f: 521; Forel, 1915d: 64; Emery, 1916b: 255; Wheeler, W.M. 1917a: 550; Menozzi, 1918: 88; Bondroit, 1918: 53; Müller, 1923: 141; Emery, 1925b: 246; Karavaiev, 1929b: 214; Karavaiev, 1936: 224; Dlussky, 1967a: 65; Bernard, 1967: 300; Dlussky & Pisarski, 1971: 157; Pisarski, 1975: 42; Kutter, 1977c: 252; Collingwood, 1979: 124; Atanassov & Dlussky, 1992: 264. Senior synonym of brevisetosa: Finzi, 1928a: 68; of subrufoides: Agosti & Collingwood, 1987a: 59. Material of the nomen nudum cinereoglebaria referred here: Dlussky & Pisarski, 1971: 157. Senior synonym of armenica, balcanina, iberica, imitans, italica, novaki: Seifert, 2002b: 251. Current subspecies: nominal plus cinereoimitans.
  • imitans. Formica cinerea var. imitans Ruzsky, 1902b: 472 (w.q.) RUSSIA. [Also described as new by Ruzsky, 1902c: 10 (footnote).] Karavaiev, 1936: 226 (m.). Junior synonym of rufibarbis: Kuznetsov-Ugamsky, 1926b: 97. Revived from synonymy as subspecies of cinerea: Karavaiev, 1927a: 302; Kuznetsov-Ugamsky, 1929b: 39. Raised to species: Agosti & Collingwood, 1987a: 59. Senior synonym of ochracea, sabulosa: Dlussky, 1967a: 65. Junior synonym of cinerea: Seifert, 2002b: 251.
  • armenica. Formica cinerea var. armenica Ruzsky, 1905b: 406 (w.q.) ARMENIA. Combination in F. (Serviformica): Emery, 1925b: 246. Subspecies of cinerea: Dlussky, 1967a: 66; Arakelian, 1994: 92. Junior synonym of cinerea: Seifert, 2002b: 251.
  • subrufoides. Formica cinerea var. subrufoides Forel, 1913i: 360 (w.) AUSTRIA. Röszler, 1950: 219 (q.). Raised to species: Bondroit, 1918: 55; Kutter, 1977c: 255. Junior synonym of cinerea: Agosti & Collingwood, 1987a: 59.
  • brevisetosa. Formica (Serviformica) cinerea var. brevisetosa Karavaiev, 1927a: 302 (w.) UKRAINE. [Unresolved junior primary homonym of brevisetosa Ruzsky, above.] Junior synonym of cinerea: Finzi, 1928a: 68. See also comment in Seifert, 2002b: 267.
  • iberica. Formica cinerea var. iberica Finzi, 1928a: 71 (w.) SPAIN. Junior synonym of cinerea: Seifert, 2002b: 251.
  • italica. Formica cinerea var. italica Finzi, 1928a: 70 (w.) ITALY. Junior synonym of cinerea: Seifert, 2002b: 251.
  • sabulosa. Formica (Serviformica) cinerea var. sabulosa Karavaiev, 1931a: 315 (w.) UKRAINE. Junior synonym of imitans: Dlussky, 1967a: 65. See also comment in Seifert, 2002b: 267.
  • ochracea. Formica (Serviformica) cinerea var. ochracea Karavaiev, 1937: 177 (w.) UKRAINE. Junior synonym of imitans: Dlussky, 1967a: 65. See also comment in Seifert, 2002b: 267.
  • novaki. Formica cinerea var. novaki Kratochvíl, in Novak & Sadil, 1941: 106 (w.q.) CZECHOSLOVAKIA. Junior synonym of cinerea: Seifert, 2002b: 251.
  • balcanina. Formica balcanina Petrov & Collingwood, 1993: 349, figs. 1-5 (w.q.m.) YUGOSLAVIA. Junior synonym of cinerea: Seifert, 2002b: 251.

Type Material

Seifert (2002) - Italy: Tyrol: Bolzano [type investigated]

Taxonomic Notes

Two species listed in Bračko (2000), Formica balcanina and Formica cinerea imitans, were synonymized with Formica cinerea. Re-checking two samples of "F. imians" from Ptuj and Gornja Radgona, Slovenia, showed that they actually belong to F. fuscocinerea, a sibling species of F. cinerea (Bračko, 2007). Unless otherwise noted the text for the remainder of this section is reported from the publication that includes the original description.



Seifert (2002) - Typical worker population from outside the Balkans: Medium-sized, mean CS 1363. Head moderately elongated, CL/CW(1400) 1.123. Scape of average length, SL/CS (1400) 1.050. Clypeus finely microreticulate and with a median keel. Frontal triangle finely transversally microcarinulate and with about 35- 70 short pubescence hairs. Eyes with few scattered microsetae of 4-7 mm length. Dorsal plane of scape without, genae without or only occasionally with few setae. Setae numbers on remaining head, pronotum, mesonotum, petiole and gaster high; setae numbers on propodeum lower. Nest sample means of setae numbers: genae 0- 3, occipital margin in dorsal aspect 24 - 62, gula 7 - 23; propodeum and lateral metapleuron 2-27, extensor profile of both hind femora 0 - 2.5, flexor profile of both hind femora 14 - 34; extensor profile of hind tibae 0 - 1. In anterior view, number of setae surpassing petiolar scale margin above spiracular level 9- 27; within all these fringe setae, setae projecting dorsad about as numerous as those projecting laterad, the latter almost always present. Lateral mesonotum anterior of meta thoracic spiracle densely microcarinulate, with an mean carinular crest distance of 4- 5 mm; mean width of carinulae equal or slightly smaller than width of smooth inters paces. Transition between dorsal and caudal profiles of propodeum in larger workers broadly convex, in smaller workers more angular and under an angle of 140°. Dorsal crest of petiole in frontal view usually convex, in larger specimens frequently forming a blunt angle of 140°. Petiole scale in lateral aspect rather thick, wedge-shaped, with convex anterior and rather straight posterior profile. Head, mesosoma, petiole, and gaster covered by a dense silvery pubescence, PDG 6.3 - 7.5. Colour polymorphism. Dark morph: head, mesosoma, petiole and gaster blackish, scape, mandibles, and legs to a varying degree reddish brown. Reddish morph: whole body reddish brown, vertex and gaster with a blackish colour component.

Worker population from the Balkans: Differs from workers of the nominal population by the following characters. Slightly shorter scape, SL/CS (1400) 1.024. Nest sample means of setae numbers larger.


  • n = 27, 2n = 54 (Switzerland) (Hauschteck-Jungen & Jungen, 1976).


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