Msstate Logo


Polyergus lucidus Mayr 1870

by Joe A. MacGown, uploaded 21 July 2009, updated 25 July 2014

Polyergus lucidus, full face view of a worker (photo by Shannon Hartman,
Polyergus lucidus, profile view of a worker (photo by Shannon Hartman,
Polyergus lucidus, dorsal view of a worker (photo by Shannon Hartman,

Polyergus workers can be easily recognized by their large size (approximately 4.0 - 7.7 mm long), yellowish-red to dark reddish-brown coloration, presence of three small ocelli, and sickle-shaped (falcate) mandibles with minute serrations on inner borders. Additionally characteristics of the genus are: eye convex, longer than wide, situated more than its greatest diameter from the mandibular base; frontal carina short, frontal area triangular, weakly defined; clypeus wider than long; mesosoma with distinct promesonotal suture; propodeum bluntly rounded where declivity meets base; petiole erect, thickened anteroposteriorly, more convex anteriorly than posteriorly, superior border blunt and subtruncate.

Polyergus species are obligatory or true slave-making ants. In nest founding, the female enters a nest of the host species, eventually kills the rightful queen, and uses the host workers to tend her brood. Polyergus colonies conduct slave raids on nests of various species of Formica, and workers of the host are taken and used by the Polyergus colony to feed and rear the brood and excavate the nest. Polyergus workers are incapable of surviving without slaves. In laboratory colonies, a colony without slaves will starve to death even when plentiful food is available. (Hedlund, 2007; King and Trager, 2007).

Polyergus lucidus is a shiny red colored species with a northern distribution that ranges as far south as Missouri and the Carolinas. The species name "lucidus" means shiny.

Taxonomic History (from Trager 2013, Bolton 2014)
Polyergus lucidus Mayr, 1870: 952 (w.q.m.). Wheeler & Wheeler, 1968: 214 (l.); Wheeler, 1903: 659 (gynandromorph). Subspecies of Polyergus rufescens: Forel, 1886: 200; Emery, 1893: 666. Revived status as species: Dalla Torre, 1893: 214; Wheeler, 1917: 465; Smith, 1947: 152; Creighton, 1950: 557. Senior synonym of Polyergus montivagus: Creighton, 1950: 557.

Identification (from Smith 1947 and Trager 2013)
Worker Measurements (in mm) from Trager 2013 (for more comprehensive measurements, see Trager's paper). (N=38) HL 1.40–1.76 (1.59), HW 1.38–1.76 (1.53), SL 1.19–1.36 (1.27), WL 2.32–2.86 (2.49), TL 5.72–7.12 (6.40).Color, reddish, with the posterior border of the last 4 segments of the gaster and the appendages infuscated. Head, mesosoma, petiole and gaster shining (except meso- and metapleura). Head subrectangular to narrowly subtrapezoidal, 1.06 times longer than wide, cheeks slightly concave, sides of head converge above eyes, occipital border feebly emarginate; vertex with 10-16 macrosetae (up to 24 in some specimens); scape long, 1.13 times length of interocular distance, not reaching vertex by 1–2 times the maximum width of scape, and gradually enlarged as toward the apex. Pronotum with 1-8 erect setae (up to 12 in some specimens). Mesonotum weakly convex in profile view.

This species can be separated from P. montivagus by its infuscation at the apex of gaster and erect hairs on the occipital lobes, both of which are lacking in P. montivagus. It can be distinguished from P. longicornis by its shorter antennal scapes, which are less than 1.2 times as long as the interocular distance in P. lucidus, but more than 1.4 times as long in P. longicornis; in P. lucidus, the head and alitrunk are shining, whereas, in P. longicornis, the body is opaque. Polyergus longicornis differs from P. breviceps by having much longer scapes, scapes in P. breviceps are not as long as interocular distance; by not having the antennal scapes terminating in a club (scapes in P. breviceps enlarged distally forming a club); and by having sparse pubescence on the gaster, whereas, pubescence on gaster of P. breviceps is dense).

Biology and Economic Importance
Polyergus lucidus has a widespread distribution from Ontario, Canada and southern New England, south to the Carolinas and Missouri. The host for P. lucidus appears to be Formica incerta, which has a similar distribution, with both species tending to nest in meadows, balds, tallgrass prairies, and similar habitats (Trager 2013).

This species poses little in the way of economic importance, as is rarely encountered. However, if provoked or handled worker can inflict a somewhat painful bite.

Distribution (from Trager 2013 and MEM records)
USA: Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

CANADA: Ontario.

Literature Cited

Creighton, W. S. 1950. The ants of North America. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology 104:1-585.

Dalla Torre, K. W. 1893. Catalogus Hymenopterorum hucusque descriptorum systematicus et synonymicus. Vol. 7. Formicidae (Heterogyna). Leipzig: W. Engelmann, 289 pp.

Emery, C. 1893. Beiträge zur Kenntniss der nordamerikanischen Ameisenfauna. Zoologische Jahrbücher. Abteilung für Systematik, Geographie und Biologie der Tiere 7:633-682. 

Forel, A. 1886. Études myrmécologiques en 1886. Annales de la Société Entomologique de Belgique 30:131-215.

Hedlund, K. S. 2007. The Ants: North America Catalog: Genus Polyergus. (accessed 6 June 2008).

Ipser, R. M., M. A. Brinkman, W. A. Gardner, and H. B. Peeler. 2004. A survey of the ground-dwelling ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Georgia. Florida Entomologist 87 (3): 253-260.

King, J. R. and J. C. Trager. 2007. Natural history of the slave making ant, Polyergus lucidus, sensu lato in northern Florida and its three Formica pallidefulva group hosts. 14 pp. Journal of Insect Science 7: 42, available online:

Mayr, G. 1870b. Neue Formiciden. Verhandlungen der Kaiserlich-Königlichen Zoologisch-Botanischen Gesellschaft in Wien 20:939-996

Smith, M. R. 1947. A Study of Polyergus in the United States, based on the workers (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). The American Midland Naturalist 38: 150-161.

Trager, J. C. 2013. Global revision of the dulotic ant genus Polyergus (Hymenoptera: Formicidae, Formicinae). Zootaxa 3722 (4): 501–548.

Wheeler, W. M. 1903. Some new gynandromorphous ants, with a review of the previously recorded cases. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 19:653-683.

Wheeler, W. M. 1917. A list of Indiana ants. Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science 26:460-466.

Wheeler, G. C.; Wheeler, J. 1968. The ant larvae of the subfamily Formicinae (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): supplement. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 61:205-222.


AntWeb Images