The Anti-Hero

Kelly’s Field Notes

Common Name: Pavement ants

Family: Formicidae

Genus and Species: Tetramorium caespitum (Also of note, Tetramorium impurum and Tetramorium immigrans). Currently, in North America, there are 10 species. The Tetramorium complex is currently undergoing a revision where Tetramorium caespitum may be as many as 7 species (Ellison, et al., 2012)! Taxonomy can be very busy at times.

Description: Pavement ants are tiny! Workers are 2.5mm - 3mm (about 1/8 to 3/16 inch long), while queens and reproductive males are twice that size. All the workers are the same size and look the same. Pavement ants are distinguished from other ants by the two small spines on their thorax in front of the “waist” and their very wrinkly faces. They range in color from a dark brown to black.

Life Cycle:

In early Summer reproductive males and queens come together in swarms (Ellison, et al., 2012). After they mate the queens find a safe place to dig (sometimes between pavement slabs), drop their wings, and get to work laying eggs. These eggs produce workers, which are all non-reproductive females. It takes about 2 months for the eggs to hatch (Bruder and Gupta, 1972).

Like other ants, pavement ant workers will care for the eggs and larvae, keeping them clean and feeding larvae. They are generalist foragers, but you will frequently see them going for sweet things such as fruit or dropped candy. They can even be found protecting aphids and harvesting their honeydew as food (Katayama, et al., 2003). Honeydew is the waste of the aphid which is high in sugars. They will head out fairly far from their nests for such a tiny ant, as far as 9 meters (30 ft).

Pavement ants live a fairly long time. Queens can live between 15-20 years and workers about 5 years.

Super Powers:

  • Power in numbers! They form large colonies, containing over 10,000 workers (Ellison, et al., 2012). Their colonies can stretch underground for 5.5 m - 6m.

  • War! Pavement ants will fight unrelated colonies for territory and resources (Ellison, et al., 2012). The losing colony will be raided for eggs, and the ants that hatch from the spoils will become workers for the new colony. Any of the dead will be used as food, regardless of whether they were part of the winning or losing colony.

  • The buddy system - pavement ants will attempt to rescue each other from dangerous situations (Kriete, 2014)!

Pavement Ants in Culture:

  • Pavement ants are one of the most commonly encountered ants in the United States (Vitone and Lucky, 2017)!

  • They pre-exist the use of pavement in the U.S. The first true Portland cement was produced in the U.K. about 1824. The first application of asphalt paving took place in Newark, N.J in 1870 (Davis, 2022).

  • Easy pets for your ant farm, do very well in captivity!

Book Recommendations:

Ellison, Aaron M., et al. A field guide to the ants of New England. Yale University Press, 2012.

Hölldobler, Bert, and Edward O. Wilson. The superorganism: the beauty, elegance, and strangeness of insect societies. WW Norton & Company, 2009.


Bruder KW, Gupta AP. 1972. Biology of the pavement ant, Tetramorium caespitum (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 65: 358-367.

Davis, John. (2022). “The Asphalt Industry from the 1800s to World War II.” Asphalt Magazine, Retrieved July 2022, from

Ellison, Aaron M., et al. A field guide to the ants of New England. Yale University Press, 2012.

Katayama, Noboru, and Nobuhiko Suzuki. "Bodyguard effects for aphids of Aphis craccivora Koch (Homoptera: Aphididae) as related to the activity of two ant species, Tetramorium caespitum Linnaeus (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) and Lasius niger L.(Hymenoptera: Formicidae)." Applied Entomology and Zoology 38.3 (2003): 427-433.

Kriete, Alexis. Exploring the Link Between Rescue Behavior and Experience in the Pavement Ant, Tetramorium sp. E. Diss. 2014.

Vitone, T and Lucky, A. (2017). pavement ant - Tetramorium caespitum (Linnaeus). University of Florida - Creature Feature. Retrieved July 2022, from