Big-headed ants, also known as Coastal Browns, or Brown Coastal are a major nuisance ant species in Western Australia.
They are an urban pest and are often seen in lawns and in brick paving which they tend to undermine.
The presence of two very different-sized ‘castes’ (types determined by their function) of worker ants, that is:
Smaller ‘minors’ — 2 to 3mm long
A larger ‘major’ caste — 3.5 to 4.5mm long, which has a very obvious, much larger head and which makes up about 1% of the population.
The ‘major’ caste of worker ants are not primarily soldiers for defence. Instead, their powerful jaws are used for cutting up large pieces of food into small pieces which can more easily be transported back to the nest by the more numerous minors.
There are multiple queens in the nests which are interconnected. New colonies are formed by budding whereby one or more queens with attendant workers leave an existing nest and walk to a nearby location. Rarely are new nests established by flying, mated queen ants.
While these ants can sting, the sting does not cause discomfort to people. Big-headed ants are particularly active in late summer, autumn and early winter.
They nest outside in the ground and only occasionally invade buildings when populations outside are very high. However, invasions of buildings can be severe.
These ants prefer meat or fat/oil-based foods.
Big-headed ants can form ‘super-colonies’ when their interconnected nests act as a single colony.
Infestations of big-headed ants are characterized by lines of inter-connected holes and small mounds of excavated soil. Excavations can be so extensive that brick paving is destabilised and the roots of plants and the lawn can become so aerated that the plants subsequently die by drying out. Often the small worker ants are hard to see, but food put out for pets can become covered in ants.
Look for two distinctly different-sized ants on a food source, with the larger worker ants having a disproportionately larger head.