This is a small dark brown / blackish ant that has a faint bluish flash in bright light. Its common name arises from its characteristic erratic and rapid movement. The workers are 2-3 mm in size and are notable for their very long legs and antennae. They do not have a sting but bite and eject a small amount of formic acid onto the wound. The queens are larger than the workers at about 6 mm and very prolific.
This species is highly adaptable in its nesting habits and can live in both very dry and very wet areas. They are opportune nesters preferring to make use of ready-made cavities such as hollow trees, under loose bark, in rotten wood, under logs or stones, among rubbish and under undisturbed debris like mounds of leaves. They have also adapted to nest in many man made environments such as inside buildings and even on ships.
Paratrechina originated in the tropics of Africa. It is a tropical species of ant and has spread to regions around the world and is now present in North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Australasia. Because of its ability to live in disturbed and artificial habitats such as inside buildings it has been able to spread northwards to Estonia and Sweden and southwards to New Zealand.
The ants will utilize a wide range of food including seeds, dead insects, honeydew, plant secretions, fruit and a range of household scraps. In buildings they collect crumbs and the insect corpses found under lights. Large food items will be moved by several ants working together.
New colonies will produce alates within a year, and on a warm damp evening the males will emerge from the nest and mill about on the ground. Then as the females emerge, they will mate with them just outside the nest either on the ground or on nearby vegetation. Many of the fertilized queens will then re-enter their mother nest, although a few will also fly off to start their own colonies.
Rather than expand into a very large single colony they will continually send out ‘colonizing units’ of queens and a few hundred workers to create new sub colonies nearby. This enables them to take over new territory and food sources. These sub colonies are all connected and can form linked super colonies with hundreds of queens and thousands of workers.
With its ability to breed very quick and to utilize many different food sources it is able to invade and colonize new habitats very quickly, and will overcome their opponents by sheer numbers.
One reason why this species has been so successful in colonization is that the new queens are able to mate with their siblings without showing any of the normal negative effects of inbreeding. Although the fertile queens produce workers through normal sexual means, their daughter queens are her genetic clones and the males are all the genetic clones of her original mate. The male and female gene pools thus remain completely separate and this has allowed them to become one of the most widespread invasive species in the tropics.
In summary: Because of its adaptable nesting habits it will take to almost any kind of artificial nest, and as they take a wide range of foods it is easy to feed. They will also breed quickly and produce alates within a year, and unlike many other species the alates will mate in the out world and then re-enter the colony.