Formica difficilis

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Formica difficilis
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Formicinae
Tribe: Formicini
Genus: Formica
Species group: microgyna
Species: F. difficilis
Binomial name
Formica difficilis
Emery, 1893



Specimen Label


Formica difficilis is an ecologically conservative grassland ant species of eastern USA, which once was common in prairies and natural meadows, but now is rare and very sporadic due to nearly total destruction or degradation of suitable habitat. It is a member of the F. microgyna group and is generally found in areas where there are large populations of its temporary host, Formica incerta. It is one of the more heat-tolorant species within the microgyna species group.

At a Glance • Temporary parasite  


Photo Gallery

  • Formica difficilis tending aphids on an oak sapling, eastern Missouri USA. Photo by James Trager.
  • Formica difficilis workers within their nest in 35-year-old reconstructed prairie vegetation in eastern Missouri. Photo by James Trager.


Posterior margin of head and pronotum with sparse short, spatulate or distally flattened and broadened hairs and head slightly shinier than mesosoma.

The scape of workers of this species are without erect or suberect hairs (except at the apex). The tibiae lack erect hairs, except for a row of bristles along the flexor surface. The pronotum and mesonotum have several, erect, blunt-tipped hairs, the propodeum may lack hairs or may have a few. The petiole always has at least a few hairs on the apex and on the sides, the gaster has several scattered hairs.

The queens are tiny, yellow specimens, slightly smaller than the largest workers. The scapes are without erect hairs, the tibiae are without erect hairs except for a row of bristles on the flexor surface. The dorsum of the head has a number of erect hairs, the ventral surface has few erect hairs the dorsum of mesosoma has numerous erect hairs as does the petiole and the gaster. Most hairs are sharp-tipped, except for a few on the mesosoma that have blunt tips.

This species could be confused with Formica querquetulana, but differs in that the head is slightly more shiny than the mesosoma, and their are at least a few hairs present on the posterior lateral corner of the head. It is difficult to separate this species from Formica indianensis, and Formica postoculata, both of which may be synonyms. It can usually be separated on the basis of several erect hairs on the apex of the petiole, which are missing in the other two species. It differs from F. indianensis as there are a number of erect hairs on the dorsum of the head, which are reduced in number in F. indianensis (to 6 of fewer).

Keys including this Species


Eastern United States, roughly co-extensive with its usual temporary host (during colony foundation), Formica incerta.

Distribution based on Regional Taxon Lists

Nearctic Region: United States (type locality).

Distribution based on AntMaps


Distribution based on AntWeb specimens

Check data from AntWeb


This species occurs in native loamy or sandy grasslands, old fields, lightly grazed pasture and barrens. It avidly tends aphids and membracids and visits extrafloral nectaries on prairie plants, as well as preying on (mostly) small, soft-bodied invertebrates. It is attracted to both sweet and meat baits.

New colonies are established when the small F. difficilis queen invades an existing colony of Formica incerta (whose workers they somewhat resemble), or when it re-entering an established colony of its own species followed by colony fission.

It is a host for the slave-maker Formica pergandei.





The following information is derived from Barry Bolton's New General Catalogue, a catalogue of the world's ants.

  • difficilis. Formica rufa subsp. difficilis Emery, 1893i: 651, pl. 22, figs. 9, 14 (w.q.m.) U.S.A.
    • Wheeler, G.C. & Wheeler, J. 1953c: 164 (l.).
    • Status as species: Wheeler, W.M. 1904e: 305; Wheeler, W.M. 1904f: 348; Wheeler, W.M. 1906b: 16; Wheeler, W.M. 1913f: 477 (redescription); Cole, 1943a: 389; Creighton, 1950a: 500; Smith, D.R. 1979: 1462; Bolton, 1995b: 194; Coovert, 2005: 152; Ellison, et al. 2012: 151.
    • Senior synonym of consocians, habrogyna: Cole, 1943a: 389.
  • consocians. Formica difficilis var. consocians Wheeler, W.M. 1904f: 371 (w.q.m.) U.S.A.
    • Subspecies of difficilis: Wheeler, W.M. 1906b: 16; Wheeler, W.M. 1913f: 479 (redescription); Wheeler, W.M. 1916m: 597.
    • Junior synonym of difficilis: Cole, 1943a: 389.
  • habrogyna. Formica habrogyna Cole, 1939: 413, figs. A-D (w.q.) U.S.A.
    • Junior synonym of difficilis: Cole, 1943a: 389.



  • Bolton, B. 1995b. A new general catalogue of the ants of the world. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 504 pp. (page 194, catalogue)
  • Cole, A. C., Jr. 1943a [1942]. Synonyms of Formica difficilis Emery (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Ann. Entomol. Soc. Am. 35: 389 (page 389, senior synonym of consocians and habrogyna)
  • Emery, C. 1893k. Beiträge zur Kenntniss der nordamerikanischen Ameisenfauna. Zool. Jahrb. Abt. Syst. Geogr. Biol. Tiere 7: 633-682 (page 651, pl. 22, figs. 9, 14 worker, queen, male described)
  • Wheeler, G. C.; Wheeler, J. 1953c. The ant larvae of the subfamily Formicinae. Ann. Entomol. Soc. Am. 46: 126-171 (page 164, larva described)
  • Wheeler, W. M. 1904f. The ants of North Carolina. Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist. 20: 299-306 (page 305, raised to species)
  • Wheeler, W. M. 1904i. A new type of social parasitism among ants. Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist. 20: 347-375 (page 348, raised to species)