Tetraponera rufonigra

Tetraponera rufonigra

     This species is also known as the ‘Arboreal Bicolor Ant’. It is one of the most feared ants in Thailand due to its very painfull sting, and is well known amongst the locals - who call it the 'Bullet Ant.'

     The workers of this species are about 10-12 mm and have a very slender body with short legs. The head, abdomen and top portion of their legs are black and their thorax / petiole are orange-red.       

     The queens are slightly larger than the workers at about 13-15 mm. In Northern Thailand the alates are produced in January / February which is at the end of the cold season. The females and males are a similar size suggesting mating takes place on the ground or on nearby shrubs.

     The new queens form colonies independently and can frequently be seen outside their foundation chamber foraging. Each colony usually has only one queen and colonies seem to vary in size from about 300 - 800 workers. Occasionally vigorous colonies in ideal conditions will accept a second or even a third queen, but colonies with more than one queen are rarely found in the wild. Young queens are however known to group together to found colonies, although after foundation they will frequently divide taking some workers and brood with them.

     For the first year after a colony is established the queens are not given much attention and tend to act like normal workers, but once a colony is well established with a good force of workers the queens become more swollen, and the workers become much more attentive.

     Established colonies can usually be found nesting in old dead hardwood which is extremely difficult to get into, and the entrance to their nest is often very small with just enough room for a worker to squeeze in, hence the colony is well protected from predators. In looking for a place to create a nest the new queens will utilize passages left by other insects such as wood borers, and then as the colony increases in size, they will slowly over time carve out larger chambers.

     Their natural habitat is seasonal tropical forests where they create nests in old dead tree stumps, but they can also be found near human habitation where they will nest in posts and beams. Where no suitable wood is present, they will nest in the hollow stems of woody plants.

     In captivity they seem to take to most types of artificial nest and if given a spoonful of earth they will produce a mud / saliva mix to reduce to size of the entrance so just a single worker can fit through. Because of their natural instincts they respond very well if kept in artificial nests which are carved out of wood.

     This species is particularly adapted to an arboreal existence and is a very good climber. They prefer to forage over trees and large shrubs but can also be found foraging over the ground. They have large compound eyes and very good eyesight, and will dart to the far side of twigs or branches when approached. It is mostly a day active species which starts to forage as the temperature rises in the morning.

     They are very territorial against their own kind and workers will instantly attack any workers from other colonies. They are aggressive predators and in the wild feed on other ant’s alates, small insects, sugary excretions and termites.

     They respond well to captivity but are best housed in a set up that mimics their natural arboreal habitat, with plenty of branches to forage along. You should also remember that they are very good at climbing so their enclosure needs to have a good cover to prevent escapes.

     The locals treat this species with great respect and do not disturb them as they have a very painful sting, which they will use at the slightest hint of threat. The stings effect is likened to a wasp sting and will often be followed by a painful swelling for several hours. Hence the common name of ‘The Asian Bullet Ant’. Because of this we are restricting sales of this species to customers over 18 years of age.


     Summary: This is an attractive species that responds well to captivity, but they should be treated with caution because they can give a painful sting.