Formica lugubris

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Formica lugubris
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Formicinae
Tribe: Formicini
Genus: Formica
Species: F. lugubris
Binomial name
Formica lugubris
Zetterstedt, 1838

Formica lugubris casent0127733 profile 1.jpg

Formica lugubris casent0127733 dorsal 1.jpg

Specimen labels


This ant was found by Boulay et al. (2007) to be one of two important ant dispersers (also Camponotus cruentatus) of myrmecochorous seeds of the plant Helleborus feotidus. F. lugubris was responsible for 67% of the observed visits and 80% of the observed seed removals from a population from northwestern Spain.

At a Glance • Facultatively polygynous  



A sibling species of Formica paralugubris, these two species can be separated using queen pilosity characters and morphometrics (tables and discriminant functions to separate these two species and Formica aquilonia are provided by Seifert 1996).

Collingwood (1979) - Bicoloured with distinct but not well demarcated dark patch on promesonotum. Frontal groove distinctly shining. Large punctures coarse and deep, widely dispersed among close set microscopic puncturation. Occiput with a thick fringe of hairs extending forward over area between ocelli and sides of head and laterally round to the eyes. Eye hairs erect and prominent. Body pilosity including gula, tibiae and femora more or less densely pilose. Some populations have scape hairs. Head width of largest workers 2.1 mm. Length: 4.5-9.0 mm.

Keys including this Species


Northern Eurosiberia and European mountains from Pyrenees to Kamchatka and Japan, Italy to North Norway (Collingwood 1979).

Distribution based on Regional Taxon Lists

Palaearctic Region: Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iberian Peninsula, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Mongolia, Montenegro, Norway (type locality), Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Distribution based on AntMaps


Distribution based on AntWeb specimens

Check data from AntWeb


Collingwood (1979) - This is a robust active species. Colonies are often in groups with inter-connecting nests. It has similar habits to Formica rufa but is able to forage at much lower temperatures and replaces F. rufa entirely from Central Fennoscandia to the far north. This species varies in the presence, abundance or absence of scape hairs in the female castes and some local populations in South Finland and in the Alps with such hairs have widely spaced micropunctures on the dorsum of the gaster as in F. rufa. Because of great variability among local populations in these areas it has not been possible to demarcate the extreme forms as a separate species but samples mainly from coastal areas and offshore islands in Nylandia include some extremely hairy specimens with queens consistently having wide spaced micropunctures which are well outside the range of F. lugubris as described by Yarrow (1955) and Betrem (1960). Bondroit (1917) briefly described a form, F. rufa var. nylanderi, as having long outstanding body and antennal hairs and F. nylanderi could be a suitable name for this form, if distinguished as a species.

F. lugubris spreads by colony fission but also by the adoption of fertile queens by Formica lemani. Such mixed incipient nests often under stones have frequently been seen in Norway and North Sweden (Collingwood, 1959).


Formica lugubris collect large quantities of honeydew.

Novgorodova (2015b) investigated ant-aphid interactions of a dozen honeydew collecting ant species in Western Siberia pine and aspen-birch-pine forests (54°7´N, 83°06´E, 200 m, Novosibirsk) and mixed-grass-cereal steppes with aspen-birch groves (53°44´N, 78°02´E, 110 m, near Karasuk) in the Novosibirsk Region and coniferous forests in the northeastern Altai (north end of Lake Teletskoe, 51°48´N, 87°17´E, 434 m). All of the ants studied had workers that showed high fidelity to attending particular aphid colonies, i.e, individual ants tend to return to the same location, and group of aphids, every time they leave the nest. F. lugubris' honeydew collecting activities were highly coordinated during the summer months when the aphids and ants were most active. Individual foragers specialized on specific tasks and could be classified as shepherds (collect honeydew), guards (protect aphids from competitors), scouts (search for new aphid colonies) and transporters (transport honeydew to the nest). Individuals performed the same type of work day after day, with groups of the same workers, thereby forming teams. F. lugubris tended: Symydobius oblongus (Heyden) and Cinara laricis (Hartig).

Nesting Habits

This species is polydomous and is considered to be a member of a Formica species group known as wood ants. Ellis and Robinson (2015) conducted a 3 year field-study of a population (2012-2014, Peak District, England) of Formica lugubris to ascertain the potential benefit of non-foraging nests. Abstract - A colony of red wood ants can inhabit more than one spatially separated nest, in a strategy called polydomy. Some nests within these polydomous colonies have no foraging trails to aphid colonies in the canopy. In this study we identify and investigate the possible roles of non-foraging nests in polydomous colonies of the wood ant Formica lugubris. To investigate the role of non-foraging nests we: (i) monitored colonies for three years; (ii) observed the resources being transported between non-foraging nests and the rest of the colony; (iii) measured the amount of extra-nest activity around non-foraging and foraging nests. We used these datasets to investigate the extent to which non-foraging nests within polydomous colonies are acting as: part of the colony expansion process; hunting and scavenging specialists; brood-development specialists; seasonal foragers; or a selfish strategy exploiting the foraging effort of the rest of the colony. We found that, rather than having a specialised role, non-foraging nests are part of the process of colony expansion. Polydomous colonies expand by founding new nests in the area surrounding the existing nests. Nests founded near food begin foraging and become part of the colony; other nests are not founded near food sources and do not initially forage. Some of these non-foraging nests eventually begin foraging; others do not and are abandoned. This is a method of colony growth not available to colonies inhabiting a single nest, and may be an important advantage of the polydomous nesting strategy, allowing the colony to expand into profitable areas.

This species is a host for the ant Formicoxenus nitidulus (a xenobiont) (Holldobler & Wilson 1990; Busch 2001; Martin et al. 2007).


This species is a host for the fungus Aegeritella superficialis (a pathogen) (Espadaler & Santamaria, 2012).

Life History Traits

  • Queen number: facultatively polygynous
  • Mean colony size: 34,600 (Breen, 1979) (5 nests examined by Breen (1979), with range of 10,000-70,000)
  • Maximum colony size: 70,000 (Breen, 1979)
  • Foraging behaviour: trunk trail (Rosengren, 1971; Breen, 1979; Beckers et al., 1989)






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

  • lugubris. Formica lugubris Zetterstedt, 1838: 449 (m.) NORWAY. Junior synonym of rufa: Nylander, 1856b: 60; Emery & Forel, 1879: 450; Wheeler, W.M. 1913f: 425; Emery, 1925b: 253; Stitz, 1939: 328. Revived from synonymy and status as species: Yarrow, 1955a: 5; Betrem, 1960b: 77; Dlussky, 1967a: 91; Dlussky & Pisarski, 1971: 180; Baroni Urbani, 1971c: 218; Kutter, 1977c: 271; Gösswald, 1989: 19; Kupyanskaya, 1990: 198; Atanassov & Dlussky, 1992: 274. Senior synonym of congerens: Yarrow, 1955a: 5; Dlussky, 1967a: 91; Radchenko, 2007: 36; of nylanderi, santschii: Yarrow, 1955a: 5; of montana Sadil: Samsinak, 1964: 157; of unicolor: Dlussky, 1967a: 91; Dlussky & Pisarski, 1971: 180. Material of the unavailable name tir referred here by Yarrow, 1955a: 5.
  • congerens. Formica congerens Nylander, 1846a: 906 (w.) FINLAND. Nylander, 1849: 30 (m.); Foerster, 1850a: 17 (q.). Junior synonym of pratensis: Emery & Forel, 1879: 450; Nasonov, 1889: 17; Wheeler, W.M. 1913f: 428; Forel, 1915d: 57; Emery, 1916b: 256; Müller, 1923: 142. Revived from synonymy: Betrem, 1953: 324. Junior synonym of lugubris: Yarrow, 1955a: 5; Dlussky, 1967a: 91; Radchenko, 2007: 36.
  • alpina. Formica rufa var. alpina Santschi, 1911j: 349 (w.) ITALY. [Junior primary homonym of alpina Wheeler, above.] Replacement name: santschii Wheeler, 1913f: 428. Raised to species: Bondroit, 1918: 59.
  • santschii. Formica rufa var. santschii Wheeler, W.M. 1913f: 390 (in key). Replacement name for alpina Santschi, 1911j: 349. [Junior primary homonym of alpina Wheeler, W.M. 1909e: 85.] Junior synonym of lugubris: Yarrow, 1955a: 5.
  • nylanderi. Formica rufa var. nylanderi Bondroit, 1920a: 145 (q.) FRANCE. [Also described as new by Bondroit, 1920b: 300.] Junior synonym of lugubris: Yarrow, 1955a: 5; Seifert, 1996: 200.
  • unicolor. Formica pratensis subsp. unicolor Ruzsky, 1926: 110 (w.) RUSSIA. [First available use of Formica rufa subsp. pratensis var. unicolor Ruzsky, 1914b: 102; unavailable name.] Junior synonym of lugubris: Dlussky, 1967a: 91.
  • montana. Formica rufa var. montana Sadil, 1953b: 198, fig. 1 (q.) CZECHOSLOVAKIA. [Unresolved junior primary homonym of montana Wheeler, W.M., above.] Junior synonym of lugubris: Samsinak, 1964: 157.



  • n = 26, 2n = 52 (Finland; Switzerland) (Hauschteck-Jungen & Jungen, 1976; Rosengren et al., 1980).


  • Atanassov, N.; Dlussky, G. M. 1992. Fauna of Bulgaria. Hymenoptera, Formicidae. Fauna Bûlg. 22: 1-310 (page 274, Revived from synonymy and status as species)
  • Baroni Urbani, C. 1971c. Catalogo delle specie di Formicidae d'Italia (Studi sulla mirmecofauna d'Italia X). Mem. Soc. Entomol. Ital. 50: 5-287 (page 218, Revived from synonymy and status as species)
  • Beckers R., Goss, S., Deneubourg, J.L., Pasteels, J.M. 1989. Colony size, communication and ant foraging Strategy. Psyche 96: 239-256 (doi:10.1155/1989/94279).
  • Bernasconi, C., Cherix, D., Seifert, B., Pamilo, P. 2011. Molecular taxonomy of the Formica rufa group (red wood ants) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): a new cryptic species in the Swiss Alps? Myrmecological News 14: 37-47.
  • Betrem, J. G. 1960b. Ueber die Systematik der Formica rufa-gruppe. Tijdschr. Entomol. 103: 51-81 (page 77, Revived from synonymy and status as species)
  • Boulay, R., J. Coll-Toledano, A. J. Manzaneda, and X. Cerdá. 2007. Geographic variations in seed dispersal by ants: are plant and seed traits decisive? Naturwissenschaften. 94(3):242-246.
  • Breen, J. 1979. Worker populations of Formica lugubris Zett. nests in Irish plantation woods. Ecological Entomology 4: 1-7.
  • Cherix, D. 1983. Intraspecific variations of alarm pheromones between two populations of the red wood ant Formica lugubris Zett. (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Mitteilungen der Schweizerischen Entomologischen Gesellschaft or Bulletin de la Societe Entomologique Suisse. 56:57-65.
  • Cherix, D. 1991. Red wood ants. Ethology, Ecology and Evolution. 1:165.
  • Cherix, D., D. J. C. Fletcher, D. Chautems, W. Fortelius, G. Gris, L. Keller, R. Rosengren, E. L. Vargo, and F. Walter. 1993. Attraction of the sexes in Formica lugubris Zett (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Insectes Sociaux. 40(3):319-324. doi:10.1007/BF01242368
  • Cherix, D. and R. Rosengren. 1980. Estimation de la fidélité sur pistes et de l'âge des fourrageuses chez Formica lugubris Zett. dans le Jura suisse par la méthode de coloration au spray. Pages 61-69 in D. *Cherix, editor. Écologie des insectes sociaux. (L'Union Internationale pour l'Etude des Insectes Sociaux, Section française, Compte Rendu Colloque Annuel, Lausanne, 7-8 Sept. 1979). UIEIS Section Française, Nyon. xv + 160 p.
  • Collingwood, C. A. 1979. The Formicidae (Hymenoptera) of Fennoscandia and Denmark. Fauna Entomol. Scand. 8:1-174.
  • Dlussky, G. M. 1967a. Ants of the genus Formica (Hymenoptera, Formicidae, g. Formica). Moskva: Nauka Publishing House, 236 pp. (page 91, Senior synonym of congerens, Senior synonym of unicolor)
  • Dlussky, G. M.; Pisarski, B. 1971. Rewizja polskich gatunków mrówek (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) z rodzaju Formica L. Fragm. Faun. (Warsaw) 16: 145-224 (page 180, Revived from synonymy and status as species, Senior synonym of unicolor)
  • Emery, C. 1925d. Hymenoptera. Fam. Formicidae. Subfam. Formicinae. Genera Insectorum 183: 1-302 (page 253, Junior synonym of rufa)
  • Emery, C.; Forel, A. 1879. Catalogue des Formicides d'Europe. Mitt. Schweiz. Entomol. Ges. 5: 441-481 (page 450, Junior synonym of rufa)
  • Ellis, S. and E. J. H. Robinson. 2015. The Role of Non-Foraging Nests in Polydomous Wood Ant Colonies. PLoS ONE. 10(10):e0138321. 17 pp. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0138321
  • Espadaler, X., Santamaria, S. 2012. Ecto- and Endoparasitic Fungi on Ants from the Holarctic Region. Psyche Article ID 168478, 10 pages (doi:10.1155/2012/168478).
  • Finnegan, R.J. 1975. Introduction of a predacious red wood ant, Formica lugubris (Hymenoptera:Formicidae), from Italy to eastern Canada. The Canadian Entomologist 107:1271-1274.
  • Goropashnaya, Anna V.; Fedorov, Vadim B.; Pamilo, Pekka 2004. Recent speciation in the Formica rufa group ants (Hymenoptera, Formicidae): inference from mitochondrial DNA phylogeny. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 32(1): 198-206 (mtDNA sequence data)
  • Gösswald, K. 1989. Die Waldameise. Band 1. Biologische Grundlagen, Ökologie und Verhalten. Wiesbaden: AULA-Verlag, xi + 660 pp. (page 19, Revived from synonymy and status as species)
  • Gris, G. and D. Cherix. 1977. Les grandes colonies de fourmis des bois du Jura (groupe Formica rufa). Mitteilungen der Schweizerischen Entomologischen Gesellschaft or Bulletin de la Societe Entomologique Suisse. 50:249-250.
  • Kupyanskaya, A. N. 1990a. Ants of the Far Eastern USSR. Vladivostok: Akademiya Nauk SSSR, 258 pp. (page 198, Revived from synonymy and status as species)
  • Kutter, H. 1977c. Hymenoptera, Formicidae. Insecta Helv. Fauna 6: 1-298 (page 271, Revived from synonymy and status as species)
  • Novgorodova, T. A. 2015b. Organization of honeydew collection by foragers of different species of ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): Effect of colony size and species specificity. European Journal of Entomology. 112:688-697. doi:10.14411/eje.2015.077
  • Nylander, W. 1856b. Synopsis des Formicides de France et d'Algérie. Ann. Sci. Nat. Zool. (4) 5: 51-109 (page 60, Junior synonym of rufa)
  • Pamilo, P., D. Chautems, and D. Cherix. 1992. Genetic differentiation of disjunct populations of the ants Formica aquilonia and Formica lugubris in Europe. Insectes Sociaux. 39(1):15-29. doi:10.1007/BF01240528
  • Passera, L., L. Keller, A. Grimal, D. Chautems, D. Cherix, D. J. C. Fletcher, W. Fortelius, R. Rosengren, and E. L. Vargo. 1990. Carbohydrates as energy source during the flight of sexuals of the ant Formica lugubris (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Entomologia Generalis. 15:25-32.
  • Punttila, P., Kilpeläinen, J. 2009. Distribution of mound-building ant species (Formica spp., Hymenoptera) in Finland: preliminary results of a national survey. Annales Zoologici Fennici 46: 1–15.
  • Rosengren, R., D. Chautems, D. Cherix, W. Fortelius, and L. Keller. 1994. Separation of two sympatric sibling species of Formica L. ants by a behavioural choice test based on brood discrimination. Memorabilia Zoologica. 48:237-249.
  • Rosengren, R. and D. Cherix. 1981. The pupa-carrying test as a taxonomic tool in the Formica rufa group. Pages 263-281 in P. E. Howse and J. L. Clément, editors. Biosystematics of social insects. Systematics Association Special Volume No. 19. Academic Press, London. 346 p.
  • Rosengren, R., K. Vepsäläinen, and H. Wuorenrinne. 1979. Distribution, nest densities and ecological significance of wood ants (the Formica rufa group) in Finland. Bulletin Section Regionale Ouest Paleartique / West Palaearctic Regional Section Bulletin, Organisation Internationale de Lutte Biologique Controle les Animaux et les Plantes Nuisible / International Organization for the Biological Control of Noxious Animals and Plants. II-3:181-213.
  • Samsinák, K. 1964. Zur Kenntnis der Ameisenfauna der Tschechoslowakei (Hym.). Cas. Cesk. Spol. Entomol. 61: 156-158 (page 157, Senior synonym of montana Sadil)
  • Stitz, H. 1939. Die Tierwelt Deutschlands und der angrenzenden Meersteile nach ihren Merkmalen und nach ihrer Lebensweise. 37. Theil. Hautflüger oder Hymenoptera. I: Ameisen oder Formicidae. Jena: G. Fischer, 428 pp. (page 328, Junior synonym of rufa)
  • Walter, F., D. J. C. Fletcher, D. Chautems, D. Cherix, L. Keller, W. Francke, W. Fortelius, R. Rosengren, and E. L. Vargo. 1993. Identification of the sex pheromone of an ant, Formica lugubris (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Naturwissenschaften. 80(1):30-34. doi:10.1007/BF01139755
  • Wheeler, W. M. 1913i. A revision of the ants of the genus Formica (Linné) Mayr. Bull. Mus. Comp. Zool. 53: 379-565 (page 425, Junior synonym of rufa)
  • Yarrow, I. H. H. 1955a. The British ants allied to Formica rufa L. (Hym., Formicidae). Trans. Soc. Br. Entomol. 12: 1-48 (page 5, Revived from synonymy and status as species, Senior synonym of congerens, Senior synonym of nylanderi and santschii, Material of the unavailable name tir referred here)
  • Zetterstedt, J. W. 1838. Insecta Lapponica. Sectio secunda. Hymenoptera. Lipsiae [= Leipzig]: L. Voss, pp. 317-475. (page 449, male described)