Story: Ants

New Zealand has only 11 known native species of ant – by comparison, Australia has about 1,200. The most common is the southern ant, which gathers and stores plant seeds. But the most bothersome are not natives. The white-footed ant invades houses in search of food, and the aggressive Argentine ant displaces local species.

Story by John Early
Main image: Worker ants and pupae

Story summary

All images & media in this story

Like wasps and bees, ants are social insects that live in colonies.

Life cycle

There are four stages:

  • egg
  • larva
  • pupa
  • adult.

Only the queen ants lay eggs. Fertilised eggs produce female ants, and unfertilised eggs produce males.


Some colonies (or nests) have about 100 ants, while others have hundreds of thousands. Colonies consist of males, queen ants and workers. They all have different jobs to keep the colony growing.

The males and queens have wings, and fly in swarms. After mating, the queens drop to the ground and chew off their wings. Then they dig a hole where they lay their eggs and start a new colony.

The workers are females, without wings.


Worker ants feed the larvae, finding dead bugs and other solid food. But adult ants feed only on liquid, for instance nectar or the juice of fruit. They also squeeze liquid from their prey (including live and dead bugs).

Native New Zealand ants

Because ants prefer living in countries with a warmer climate, New Zealand has only 11 native species. They are often found in the forests.

Southern ant

This is the most common native ant. Some are orange, others are black. They live in most habitats, such as forest, open grassland, rotting logs and gardens. They gather plant seeds, storing them as food in their nests.

Striated ant

Like the southern ant, this one lives in many habitats. There is evidence that it captures live native snails, for food. Its head and body are striated – marked with lines.

Problem ants

New Zealand has about 28 foreign ant species, which have come mostly from Australia. They are carried by ships or planes to New Zealand, and live in the warmer northern regions. Several are pests around the house, and some could harm the environment.

White-footed house ant

You may have seen trails of these ants on house walls. They are seeking water and food, and their nests have several thousand workers.

Argentine ant

These light brown ants cause damage worldwide. They live in open areas rather than dense forest, and in the cities. Because they build huge colonies and eat a wide range of food, they can harm the habitat and threaten the survival of other species.

They seek food indoors, and if you disturb a nest they swarm over your arms and legs. They bite, but cannot sting.

How to cite this page:

John Early, 'Ants', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 April 2024)

Story by John Early, published 24 September 2007, updated 3 August 2015