Myrmecocystus testaceus

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Myrmecocystus testaceus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Formicinae
Tribe: Lasiini
Genus: Myrmecocystus
Subgenus: Myrmecocystus
Species group: testaceus
Species: M. testaceus
Binomial name
Myrmecocystus testaceus
Emery, 1893

Myrmecocystus testaceus casent0005423 profile 1.jpg

Myrmecocystus testaceus casent0005423 dorsal 1.jpg

Specimen labels


Myrmecocystus testaceus begin preparing for foraging shortly before sunset, gathering in abundance at the nest entrance. Within a few minutes of sunset the workers exit in a rush of many workers, forming a notable mass exodus from the nest.

At a Glance • Replete Workers  


A member of the testaceus group of the Myrmecoystus subgenus Myrmecocystus .

Key to Myrmecocystus subgenus Myrmecocystus species.

Worker - Numerous fully erect hairs on dorsal surfaces and appendages; HW not exceeding 1.4 mm; dorsal face of propodeum flat, juncture with oblique posterior face angulate; metanotal suture not depressed. Female - Penultimate segment of maxillary palp broadest basad of middle; femur and tibia with erect hairs on extensor surfaces; HW less than 2.0 mm. Male - Scape and tibia with erect hairs; hind wing without fringe hairs; some occipital hairs exceeding maximum diameter of lateral ocellus. (Snelling 1976)

Keys including this Species


United States, Mexico. Southern Washington to northern Baja California, Mexico, east to Idaho and Utah.

Latitudinal Distribution Pattern

Latitudinal Range: 47.033333° to 30.05°.

Tropical South

Distribution based on Regional Taxon Lists

Nearctic Region: United States (type locality).
Neotropical Region: Mexico.

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.

Estimated Abundance

Relative abundance based on number of AntMaps records per species (this species within the purple bar). Fewer records (to the left) indicates a less abundant/encountered species while more records (to the right) indicates more abundant/encountered species.


In Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Nevada this species is found in Sagebrush Steppe; in Nevada it also enters Pinon-Juniper Woodland. Habitats in California range from Coastal Sagebrush to Sagebrush Steppe, with the preponderance of the records from chaparral areas. In elevation testaceus ranges from 1400' to 6900'; in southern California the range is from sea level to 4300'. The bulk of the southern California records are from stations below 4000'.


Snelling (1976): Leonard (1911) observed this species (reported as mexicanus mojave) at Pt. Loma, California. According to his report the species is nocturnal, tends aphids and obtains nectar directly from several plants. Aestivation for a period of several days during exceptionally hot weather was reported. Leonard also obtained repletes from nests at Pt. Loma. Wheeler (1912) noted that nests were found near Claremont, Calif., in hard, dry soil, along roads and paths, that entrances 1/4" x 3/4" in diameter were surmounted by craters from 4"-8" in diameter.

Rather than nocturnal, as reported by Leonard, this ant is probably better characterized as crepuscular. Workers begin to assemble at the nest entrance about 15-20 minutes prior to sunset and may completely block the entrance with their heads. Foraging begins within a few minutes of sundown and immediately before the onset of active foraging the interior of the crateriform tumulus may become completely blanketed with ants. At the proper moment, the mass of ants departs from the crater, as nearly simultaneously as possible, each ant proceeding individually. Within a few minutes after the exodus begins, the area around the nest, for up to a meter, is virtually covered with ants. Dispersal into surrounding areas and vegetation, however, is rapid and at a distance of four meters the ants are widely scattered.

For about an hour after this initial exodus of foragers, individual ants continue to leave the nest at irregular intervals. The total number of ants departing during this hour is much less than that of the initial group. Within about 15 min. of the onset of foraging activities, workers begin to return and thus continue for about two, rarely as many as four, hours. Apparently all individuals who will be foraging depart within the first hour following onset of activities, and all return within four hours.

During the period of foraging activity, non-foraging workers may be engaged in excavation. Soil particles are carried to the surface. Since this species often nests in areas of clayey soil nearly devoid of small pebbles, it follows that the crateriform tumuli do not always consist of such material. In the chaparral of southern California the tumuli are built up of soil particles which are aggregated into small pellets. Such pellets are carried to the top of the crater and dropped over the side. These pellets disintegrate fairly rapidly through weathering and must constantly be replaced. In areas in which the soil includes coarse sand and small pebbles, the tumuli are constructed of these materials and are less subject to wind and rain damage.

The sexual forms are present in the nests in southern California in early spring and mid autumn, and fly following rains during these seasons. The flights take place in late afternoon. Shortly before the flight, workers emerge from the nest in large numbers and run out over an area up to one meter from the nest. Up to fifteen minutes before the flight, males emerge sporadically; some run about on the surface near the nest, a few take flight and alight on vegetation up to ten meters from the nest. The exit of the females is preceded by another outpouring of workers and more males. Females emerge and take flight, usually from the rim of the crater. Mating takes place in the air or on vegetation near the nest.

In more northern areas the males and females are present during late spring and early summer, less commonly during the fall months. According to Cole (l934b) alates are present throughout June and July near Twin Falls, Idaho.

Flight Period

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



MCZ ENT Myrmecocystus testaceus hef4.jpgMCZ ENT Myrmecocystus testaceus hal2.jpgMCZ ENT Myrmecocystus testaceus had2.jpgMCZ ENT Myrmecocystus testaceus lbs.JPG
. Owned by Museum of Comparative Zoology.



Myrmecocystus christineae

Myrmecocystus pyramicus

Myrmecocystus (near mexicanus 01)

Myrmecocystus melanoticus

Myrmecocystus navajo

Myrmecocystus (near mexicanus 02)

Myrmecocystus testaceus

Myrmecocystus testaceus

Myrmecocystus (near navajo)

Myrmecocystus creightoni

Myrmecocystus perimeces

Myrmecocystus hammettensis

Myrmecocystus arenarius

Myrmecocystus lugubris

Myrmecocystus tenuinodis

Myrmecocystus colei

Myrmecocystus tenuinodis

Myrmecocystus (near mendex 05)

Myrmecocystus (near colei)

Myrmecocystus kathjuli

Myrmecocystus wheeleri

Myrmecocystus (near mendax 01)

Myrmecocystus (near placodops 01)

Myrmecocystus (near placodops 02)

Myrmecocystus semirufus

Myrmecocystus (near mendex 02)

Myrmecocystus koso

Myrmecocystus (near placodops 02)

Myrmecocystus (near melliger)

Myrmecocystus (near mendax 03)

Myrmecocystus (near mendax 04)

Myrmecocystus yuma

Myrmecocystus flaviceps

Myrmecocystus (SON-1)

Myrmecocystus depilis

Myrmecocystus (near mimicus-flaviceps 01)

Myrmecocystus intonsus

Myrmecocystus (near mimicus-flaviceps 02)

Myrmecocystus (near mimicus-flaviceps 03)

Myrmecocystus nequazcatl

Myrmecocystus romainei

Myrmecocystus (near kennedyi-romainei)

Myrmecocystus kennedyi

Myrmecocystus kennedyi

Myrmecocystus (near kennedyi)

Based on van Elst et al. (2021).


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

  • testaceus. Myrmecocystus melliger var. testaceus Emery, 1893i: 667 (w.) U.S.A. Snelling, R.R. 1976: 136 (q.m.). Junior synonym of semirufus: Creighton, 1950a: 449. Revived from synonymy, raised to species and senior synonym of mojave: Snelling, R.R. 1969a: 6. Senior synonym of idahoensis: Snelling, R.R. 1976: 135.
  • mojave. Myrmecocystus mexicanus subsp. mojave Wheeler, W.M. 1908d: 360 (w.) U.S.A. Wheeler, W.M. 1912d: 180 (q.m.); Wheeler, G.C. & Wheeler, J. 1968: 213 (l.). Raised to species: Creighton, 1950a: 448; Smith, M.R. 1951a: 856. Junior synonym of testaceus: Snelling, R.R. 1969a: 6.
  • idahoensis. Myrmecocystus mexicanus subsp. idahoensis Cole, 1936b: 118 (w.q.m.) U.S.A. Junior synonym of mojave: Creighton, 1950a: 448. Revived from synonymy and raised to species: Smith, M.R. 1951a: 854. Junior synonym of testaceus: Snelling, R.R. 1976: 135.

Unless otherwise noted the text for the remainder of this section is reported from the publication that includes the original description. This species has had an unfortunate taxonomic history. Emery described Myrmecocystus testaceus as a variety of melliger, rather than of mexicanus, to which it is closely related and which it greatly resembles. A few lines before this description he had enumerated the characteristic differences in mandibular dentition, eye size and color which separate the two species, so it may not be argued that he was ignorant of these differences. Emery's original error is, however, no excuse for what followed.

When he treated Myrmecocystus in 1908, Wheeler had a cotype of testaceus, now in the AMNH; the specimen is well preserved and clearly exhibits the essential characteristics of testaceus. He assigned to this name a few specimens from Claremont. The Claremont specimens are uniformly reddish, not at all yellowish as in the type, the eyes are small and the mandibles possess seven teeth. His reasons for assuming these Claremont specimens to be conspecific with the cotype of testaceus were never stated. Even more remarkably, he regarded testaceus as a variety of semirufus, also described by Emery from San Jacinto, on the basis of supposed intermediate specimens taken at Phoenix, Arizona and Needles, California. That specimens taken several hundred miles from the only known, at that time, area of sympatry could be intermediates is difficult to accept.

The difficulties were compounded, for in the same paper Wheeler described mojave as a subspecies of mexicanus. The type locality of mojave is Ontario, California. While correctly recognizing that this ant was related to mexicanus, Wheeler did not recognize that it was, in fact, conspecific with the testaceus cotype.

Material identified by Wheeler during subsequent years in various collections indicate that he apparently never realized the error. Cole (1936) described idahoensis as a variety of mexicanus from Idaho. This name was recognized by Creighton (1950) to be the same as mojave and was correctly synonymized. Creighton seems not to have studied the testaceus cotype; on the basis of the supposed intermediates between semirufus and testaceus, he placed testaceus in synonymy.

I have seen the cotype of testaceus; it is certainly conspecific with Wheeler's mojave, and not at all related to semirufus. At the same time, the uniformly reddish ant established by Wheeler as testaceus was found not to be conspecific with true testaceus. This species I described (1971) as wheeleri.

This ant most closely resembles mexicanus but is smaller (HW>1.5 mm in largest specimens) and more robust. In testaceus the pronotal width is 0.35-0.46 times Weber's Length, which barely overlaps the range of mexicanus (PW 0.30-0.37 x WL). The metanotum is distinctly impressed in mexicanus, not at all in testaceus. The juncture of the basal and posterior faces of the propodeum is sharply rounded or subangulate in testaceus and the propodeum is higher than long.



Snelling 1976 figs. 308-315

Snelling (1976) - Measurements. HL 0.83-1.40 (1.34); HW 0.63-1.33 (1.19); SL 1.03-1.70 (1.53); WL 1.30-2.17 (2.10); PW 0.47-0.90 (0.83).

Head: Longer than broad to as broad as long, CI 72-100 (92); distinctly shorter than scape, SI 116-143 (122). In frontal view, margins straight, subparallel in smallest workers, slightly convex in largest; occipital margin flat, with broadly rounded lateral angles. Eye large, 1.05-1.40 (1.09) x first flagellomere; OMD 1.00-1.45 (1.42) x EL. Mandible with eight, rarely nine, teeth.

Thorax: Moderately stout, PW 0.35-0.46 (0.46) x WL. Mesonotum, in profile, usually abruptly declivitous behind, rarely forming continuous slope to metanotum; metanotal suture not depressed. Propodeum higher than long, dorsal face flat or slightly convex, separated from posterior face by broadly rounded angle.

Petiole: In profile, narrowly cuneate, crest usually rounded, rarely sharp; in frontal view, crest entire or slightly depressed in middle.

Vestiture: Head, thorax and first three terga with abundant fine, appressed pubescence; fourth tergum with sparser, but still conspicuous pubescence. Head with numerous erect hairs, malar area in frontal view with more than 10 fully erect hairs; occipital hairs rather uniform, longest equal to about 0.5 x MOD; eye with sparse, very short hairs. Erect thoracic hairs longest on pronotum, densest on mesonotum and dorsum of propodeum, sparsest on metanotum; longest pronotal hairs subequal to longest occipital hairs. Petiolar node with ten or more erect hairs on crest. Terga with numerous erect hairs (not exceeding 0.015 mm) on first three segments, longer on remaining segments and on sterna. Erect hairs numerous on appendages, including extensor surfaces of all femora; least numerous on posterior face of scape.

Integument: Front of head moderately shiny, with abundant fine punctures, frontal lobes more densely and coarsely punctate; frontal triangle polished, with a few extremely fine punctures; clypeus polished and impunctate along midline; on each side, less shiny, lightly shagreened and with scattered coarse punctures. Mandible coarsely striate and shiny. Integument otherwise lightly to moderately shagreened, moderately shiny.

Color: Light yellowish to light brownish or reddish yellow, head sometimes darker than thorax; when light brownish, appendages paler.


Snelling (1976) - Measurements. HL 1.62-1.87; HW 1.63-1.96; SL 1.57-1.82; EL 0.53-0.96; OMD 0.53-0.72; WL 3.45-4.20; PW 2.05-2.50.

Head: Slightly longer than broad to slightly broader than long, CI 98-107; a little shorter than to a little longer than scape, SI 90-102. Head broadest at level of lower eye margin, sides in frontal view slightly convergent toward mandibular insertion; occiput distinctly convex in frontal view, sometimes slightly angulate in middle, lateral angles well rounded. Eye large, 1.23-1.45 x first flagellomere; OMD 1.00-1.34 x EL; OOD 2.6-4.0 x OD; IOD 2.2-3.7 x OD. Mandible with eight teeth, often with two or three denticles attached to basal and/or penultimate teeth. Penultimate segment of maxillary palp slender, broadest basad of middle.

Thorax: Robust, PW 0.56-0.69 x WL. In profile, scutum flattened behind, continuous with anterior part of scutellum, occasionally depressed below level of anterior margin of scutellum. Propodeum entirely declivitous, without basal, horizontal face.

Petiole: In profile, narrowly cuneate, apex sharp; in frontal view, crest deeply, angularly incised.

Vestiture: Pubescence about as described for worker, but dense on fourth tergum, longer on head.

Cephalic hairs about as described for worker, longest occipital hairs distinctly less than 0.5 x MOD. Scutum and scutellum with scattered erect hairs, up to 0.20 mm, arising from coarse punctures; pleura with scattered longer hairs. Propodeum with numerous shorter hairs (less than 0.15 mm) on upper half. Petiolar scale with numerous erect hairs along sides and crest. Discs of terga with sparse subdecumbent to erect hairs, progressively longer on succeeding segments; sterna with hairs sparser, longer. Appendages with numerous erect hairs, including dorsa of all femora; inner face of fore femur with few or no erect hairs, when present they are fine and restricted to apical half or less. Wings without fringe hairs on apical or posterior margins.

Integument: Front of head shiny between abundant fine punctures; punctures denser on frontal lobes; frontal triangle polished, with numerous micropunctures; clypeus slightly shiny, with impunctate median line, otherwise closely and coarsely punctate with roughened interspaces.

Pronotum closely micropunctate; scutum with abundant fine punctures and scattered coarser punctures, parapsis densely punctate, punctures coarser than fine punctures of disc; scutellum with sparse, very fine punctures; pleura closely punctate, punctures about equal to those of parapsis. Propodeum lightly shagreened and with close, fine punctures. Terga slightly shiny, closely micropunctate.

Color: Medium to dark brown; appendages light brownish yellow. Wings faintly brownish, veins and stigma medium to dark brown.


Snelling (1976) - Measurements. HL 0.80-1.07; HW 0.75-1.07; SL 0.83-1.13; EL 0.32-0.43; OMD 0.15-0.27; WL 1.67-2.43; PW 1.03-1.56.

Head: A little longer than broad to a little broader than long, CI 91-104; slightly to much shorter than scape, SI 104-125; in frontal view, sides straight, slightly convergent toward mandibular insertions; occiput, in frontal view, strongly convex, without distinct lateral angles. Eye large, OMD 0.43-0.69 x EL; OOD 2.2-3.0 x OD; IOD 2.7-4.0 x OD. Mandible with one or more preapical teeth.

Thorax: Stout, PW 0.55-0.68 x WL. Propodeum with distinct horizontal basal face, rarely with sharply sloping basal face which is hardly separable from posterior face.

Petiole: Node, in profile, cuneate, crest angular; in frontal view, crest flat or slightly convex.

Vestiture: Erect hairs sparse on head, those of occiput short (up to 0.10 mm), much less than 0.5 x MOD; hairs of malar area shorter than those of occiput. Longest scutal hairs about equal to those of occiput; scutellar hairs longer, up to 0.16 mm; pleural hairs sparse, about equal to those of scutum. Propodeum with scattered short, erect hairs on basal and lateral faces. Petiolar node with scattered short, erect hairs on sides and crest. Terga with sparse subdecumbent to erect hairs, longer on succeeding segments, those on disc of second segment up to 0.13 mm; sterna with hairs longer. Appendages with abundant erect hairs. Wings without fringe hairs on apical or posterior margins.

Integument: Head moderately shiny, lightly shagreened, with obscure close micropunctures. Scutum slightly shiny, densely shagreened, with scattered fine punctures; scutellum shinier, punctures more obscure. Pleura shinier, with scattered obscure, coarse punctures. Terga moderately shiny, with abundant micropunctures.

Color: Medium to dark brownish (appearing blackish to unaided eye), appendages light brownish. Wings slightly yellowish tinged, veins and stigma light brownish yellow.

Type Material

Snelling (1976):

Described from an unknown number of cotypes from San Jacinto, Calif. Lectotype, by present designation: cotype worker agreeing with the above general description and parenthetical particulars: San Jacinto, Calif., Nov. 14, collection T. Pergande, in National Museum of Natural History (No. 54070). Lectoparatypes in American Museum of Natural History and Museo Civico di Storia Naturale, Genoa.

M. mexicanus subsp. mojave Wheeler: Described from "two dozen" cotypes from Ontario, Calif. Lectotype, by present designation: cotype worker (HL 1.17; HW 1.03; SL 1.50; WL 1.70; PW 0.77; CI 89; SI 129) agreeing with above general description: Ontario, Calif.: coil. J. C. Bradley, in AMNH. Lectoparatypes in AMNH, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Museum of Comparative Zoology.

M. mexicanus subsp. idahoensis: Described from an undesignated number of specimens from Hollister, Idaho. Holotype worker in LACM; paratypes (all castes) in LACM, USNM.


References based on Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics

  • Adams T. A., W. J. Staubus, and W. M. Meyer. 2018. Fire impacts on ant assemblages in California sage scrub. Southwestern Entomologist 43(2): 323-334.
  • Allred D. M. 1982. Ants of Utah. The Great Basin Naturalist 42: 415-511.
  • Allred, D.M. 1982. The ants of Utah. Great Basin Naturalist 42:415-511.
  • Beck D. E., D. M. Allred, W. J. Despain. 1967. Predaceous-scavenger ants in Utah. Great Basin Naturalist 27: 67-78
  • Cole A. C., Jr. 1936. Descriptions of seven new western ants. (Hymenop.: Formicidae). Entomological News 47: 118-121.
  • Dattilo W. et al. 2019. MEXICO ANTS: incidence and abundance along the Nearctic-Neotropical interface. Ecology
  • Des Lauriers J., and D. Ikeda. 2017. The ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California, USA with an annotated list. In: Reynolds R. E. (Ed.) Desert Studies Symposium. California State University Desert Studies Consortium, 342 pp. Pages 264-277.
  • Fernandes, P.R. XXXX. Los hormigas del suelo en Mexico: Diversidad, distribucion e importancia (Hymenoptera: Formicidae).
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  • La Rivers I. 1968. A first listing of the ants of Nevada. Biological Society of Nevada, Occasional Papers 17: 1-12.
  • Mallis A. 1941. A list of the ants of California with notes on their habits and distribution. Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Sciences 40: 61-100. 
  • MontBlanc E. M., J. C. Chambers, and P. F. Brussard. 2007. Variation in ant populations with elevation, tree cover, and fire in a Pinyon-Juniper-dominated watershed. Western North American Naturalist 67(4): 469–491.
  • Ostoja S. M., E. W. Schupp, and K. Sivy. 2009. Ant assemblages in intact big sagebrush and converted cheatgrass-dominates habitats in Tooele County, Utah. Western North American Naturalist 69(2): 223–234.
  • Snelling R. R. 1976. A revision of the honey ants, genus Myrmecocystus (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Science Bulletin 24: 1-163
  • Snelling R. R. 1982. A revision of the honey ants, genus Myrmecocystus, first supplement (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Sciences 81: 69-86
  • Snelling, R.R. 1982. A revision of the honey ants, genus Myrmecocystus, first supplement (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Sciences 81(2):69-86
  • Staubus W. J., E. S. Boyd, T. A. Adams, D. M. Spear, M. M. Dipman, W. M. Meyer III. 2015. Ant communities in native sage scrub, non-native grassland, and suburban habitats in Los Angeles County, USA: conservation implications. Journal of Insect Conservervation 19:669–680
  • Vásquez-Bolaños M. 2011. Lista de especies de hormigas (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) para México. Dugesiana 18: 95-133
  • Wheeler G. C., and J. Wheeler. 1986. The ants of Nevada. Los Angeles: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, vii + 138 pp.
  • Wheeler W. M. 1908. Honey ants, with a revision of the American Myrmecocysti. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 24: 345-397.