The Texas red harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus (F. Smith) is a large red ant. The workers are about ¼” long. In many areas people call them “red ants”.
Despite its name, this ant is distributed widely across the western United States. Its range extends from Louisiana to Arizona. It is found as far north as Kansas and eastern Colorado.
The red harvester ant is a ground-nesting ant. The workers make a nest in an open area. They clear away the vegetation in a circle around the nest opening. Scientists think this may be so that the sun can keep the nest warm and dry. The underground tunnels and chambers can extend deep into the ground.
Red harvester ants seem to prefer nesting in cultivated soil. They will nest in pastures and their nesting can affect the grazing of livestock. The workers gather seeds and their activities can damage crops like oats and wheat. The workers will also gather seeds from alfalfa, Johnson grass, and Bermuda grass.
Red harvester ants are also pests in urban lawns. The ants cause damage to the grass when they nest in playgrounds, golf courses, and athletic fields. Besides the damage to the grass, the ants pose a risk of stinging the people who use the fields and lawns. Homeowners usually keep a close watch on children and pets when they are outdoors.
Scientists fear that the numbers of red harvester ant colonies may be decreasing. They wonder if that decline might be related to the decline in the numbers of the Texas Horned Lizard. The red harvester ant has been the lizard's primary food.
The red harvester ant workers are very aggressive when the nest is disturbed. They can deliver a painful sting. People who are sensitive to insect venom should be careful when they are near nests of red harvester ants.