Harpegnathos venator

Harpegnathos venator

     This is one of the most popular and well-known exotic species. They are a good size attractive ant, with large eyes, long sickle shaped jaws and the ability to jump.

     This species can be found in Northern Thailand inhabiting remote undisturbed forested areas. It is classed as a primitive ant and forms small colonies of between 50 to around 200 workers. They are mostly active during the day, hunting small insects such as spiders, crickets, flies, termites etc. When they are out hunting and find prey, they have the interesting habit of wagging their abdomens, almost as if they are excited having found their prey. The workers have very long scythe shaped jaws, and after seizing their prey quickly deliver a sting which renders the victim immobile. It is then taken back to the nest to be consumed, however if they already have enough food the prey will be left stored in a chamber, frozen by the sting, and eaten at a later date.

     The workers are between 12-15 mm in size and have very large eyes giving them very good vision for hunting. At times when you are observing them, they will give the intimidating impression that they are staring back and watching you. They also have the fascinating ability to jump! This action has three purposes: they use this ability to help catch their prey, to escape from possible predators, and to attack when their nest is disturbed. The average distance covered in a jump is 8-10 cm, nearly ten times their size!

     Queens are a similar size to the largest workers but can be distinguished by their larger sturdier thorax and in their attitude as the leader of the colony, often with subordinate workers facing them in a submissive posture.

     Colonies produce alates of both sexes and these leave the nest to mate, and then the fertilized queens will search for a suitable place to start a colony. They can start a colony on their own or will join together with other founding queens to form a colony together. They will leave their nesting chamber to search for food during colony foundation, but once workers emerge, they will then stay in the nest.

     This species will also frequently produce gamergates (mated fertilized workers); however, these gamergates are inhibited from laying eggs while a functioning queen is present. If the colonies queen dies then a gamergate will take over the egg laying. Hence colonies of this species are in effect immortal. Colonies that are headed by gamergates will notably also frequently produce normal winged alates.

     They are a ground nesting species and construct simple nests consisting of a single entrance often surrounded by a mound of earth, leading to two or three large chambers a short distance beneath the surface. Colonies raise a small amount of brood at a time, which depending on availability of food and temperature can take two months to mature.

     In captivity their nest enclosure should ideally be kept between 24-28 °C, however in the winter months the night temperature can be allowed to fall to 15 °C for short periods. They like humid conditions inside their nest of around 70-80% RH, but in providing this humidity try and avoid condensation droplets. Ideally their foraging area should follow the conditions of their natural habitat and be humid at night, but less so during the day.

     They need small live insects to feed on, but because colonies are not large do not need a lot of food. A good measure of whether to feed or not is to observe the workers. If the workers are all inside the nest then they probably have enough food – if many workers are outside in the foraging area it is time to feed them.

     We find they respond well in artificial nests with access to a natural landscaped foraging area. The ideal foraging area should have a shallow layer of humus type base medium, and be landscaped with some small branches, a few pieces of bark and some dead leaves. Food can simply be dropped into the area and the ants will enjoy hunting for it as they would in their natural wild habitat. They do not like and will not respond well in the bare plastic set ups sold by some vendors.


     Because of their requirement for live food, preferred environmental conditions, and the fact that colonies grow in size slowly - they are not recommended for beginners to the hobby.

     However, for hobbyists with experience of keeping exotics this species unique body structure and interesting actions make them a novel addition to collections.