Green Ants of Australia & why they’re busy little rainforest builders

Green tree ants are essential builders in the rainforest. They’re like the worker bees of the ant world. The native forest of Thala Beach Nature Reserve is a thriving habitat for these insects.

If you thought life was busy,  you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a green ants nest in full defense mode! They clamber all over the tree containing their nest and protect it from invaders with a fervour and ferocity only to be attributed to the Mongul hordes. These ants are often found in the fruiting trees of Tropical North Queensland . When an unsuspecting forager tries to help themselves to some tasty fruit, they find themselves attacked by a formidable miniature army of slicing and slashing mandibles – and who could blame them! Their bite is not very painful but several ants attacking simultaneously can be a touch uncomfortable.

Green Ants in North Queensland, Australia
Green Ants in North Queensland, Australia

The nests are large and built by sticking the leaves at the end of branches together to create a sort of globular home. Most of the nest construction and weaving is conducted at night with major workers weaving towards the exterior of the nests and minor workers weaving within the interior. A mature colony of green tree ants can hold as many as 100,000 to 500,000 workers and may span as many as 12 trees and contain as many as 150 nests. Green ant colonies have one queen and a colony can live for up to eight years. Minor workers usually remain within the egg chambers of the nest tending the larvae, whereas major workers defend the colony territory, assist with the care of the queen and forage.

Now the numbers don’t always have it. There are sneaky spiders like the Salticid spiders, or jumping spiders, as they are sometimes referred to, which have excellent eyesight and are only active during daylight, weaving a protective silken cocoon to spend the night in. Interestingly, this spider does not look like green ants but instead the fiendish arthropod chemically mimics green tree ants, effectively disguised as an ant it sneaks into the green ants nest, bluffs it’s way into the nursery and feeds on their larvae. Green ants don’t have good vision and circumnavigate their surroundings by scent, smelling everything with their antennae. Consequently, the ants think the spider is another ant and ignore its presence within the nest.

Now is it any wonder green ants are pretty intolerant of any invasion into their territory.

As you wander around Thala’s native forest keep an eye out for these busy little critters. Look up into the trees and you’ll likely spot their telltale nests.