Red Harvester Ant Queen: Photo by Alex Wild Photography
Pogonomyrmex barbatus is a species of red harvester ant so named for its diet that consists of seeds collected from nearby plants. The ants leave the hulls of seeds outside their tunnels and grind the seeds into a gruel with their mandibles for storage in underground chambers. The ants benefit nutritionally from the fats and other nutrients that are part of the seed in an elaiosome. Since the rest of the seed is not eaten, it may survive and germinate. Therefore the plants benefit by having their seeds dispersed. Foraging ants rely on chemical signals that alert other outgoing ants to the location of a lucrative seed producing plant. Red harvester ant colonies are highly cooperative and organized with respect to roles. There are worker castes and reproductive castes plus the queen that may produce eggs for anywhere from a single year to decades.