Myrmica rubra (european fire ant)

Introduction to Myrmica rubra

Myrmica rubra is an exciting ant species that is found in large areas both in Europe and Asia. It can hurt a lot when they bite, they have large nests and two kinds of queens.
Lasius flavus workers. Sagehen Creek Field Station, California, USA. Photo: Alex Wild.

The appearance of Myrmica rubra

Worker: Length 4-5,5 mm. Orange-brown throughout the body with darker pigmentation on both head and abdomen. They have straight spikes in the backs with broad attachments. Somewhat elongated heads with a forehead line that goes along the upper parts of the antennae attachments.

Queen: Length: 5,5-6 mm. Very similar to the worker caste but a little bit bigger with darker shades. Can easily be mistaken for a worker but still has a larger thorax and abdomen fitting of an ant queen. It is somewhat unknown, but the species actually have two kinds of queens. The one a bit larger than the workers, and one the same size as them. These smaller queens are called microrubras.

Male: Length: 4-6 mm. Very dark, to the naked eye they have almost black bodies. They have long hairs along the tibia* and the first foot segment. The wings are transparent.


*) The tibia is the third segment of the leg, from the body. It is the equivalent of the human calves.


Myrmica rubra is found from the British isles all the way to the eastern parts of Siberia. The species is distributed throughout Scandinavia except for in the high mountain areas and the most northerns parts of the mainland. The species has also been found in North America (East coast). (2)

Nuptial flights

The nuptial flight of Myrmica rubra is partly done the classic way: flying away to mate and then settle down to found a new nest. (Read more about Winged Ants) The large queens mostly fly in august, but can also mate in or outside of the nest. The microrubra queens seems to prefer the latter.

myrmica rubra common red ant
Two Myrmica workers. Photo: Gary Alpert

Myrmica rubra habitat and nests

The European Fire Ant is often found in areas where few other ants would settle. For example: sand dunes, marshes, lakeside among others. But this doesn’t mean the rubras only settle there. The are actually quite versatile and distributed in most environments except for in very dense forests. They love to found nests in parks, gardens and by the side of fields.

Their colonies tend to get big with tens of thousands of workers with a large amount of queens. The microrubra queens are always found next to the larger queens. The species often have satellite nests and they like to settle in the ground in places like tufts of grass or under stones. Myrmica rubra really likes bog moss and can also be found nesting in murky wood or other grass or herb-vegetation. (3)


The lifespan of the queens is believed to be 2 years. The lifespan of the workers is not yet known. (4).

Myrmica rubra – from egg to ant



Myrmica rubra only has three castes: worker, queen and male. The queens are, as previously mentioned, divided into two categories, and larger and one smaller. The duties of the workers seems to depend on their age. Younger ants are allowed to stay in the nest and tend the nurseries and other important things. The older ants go outside to find food and to claim and defend the territory of the colony.


The species can keep cattle, just as Lasius niger and many other ant species, in form of aphids. The ants protect the aphids from dangers and in return they get are fed sweet nectar that the aphids produce.


The beetle Atemeles likes to settle down in Myrmica nests during the winter months. They actually spend their summers in Formica nests where they emerge from their previous form to adult beetles. When the winter comes they move to the Myrmica nests. Why? Because, unlike the Formicas, the Myrmicas keep a supply of food throughout the hibernation period. When the warm months returns, the beetle travels back to the Formica nests to lay eggs and begin the cycle anew.


Myrmica rubra can be quite difficult to keep in captivity. They need good and steady levels of humidity and a lot o protein. It can hurt a lot when they bite you.

Myrmica rubra information:

Phylum: Arthopoda

Subphylum: Hexapoda

Order: Hymenoptera

Superfamily: Vespoidea

Family: Formicidae

Subfamily: Formicinae

Tribus: Myrmicini

Genus: Myrmica

Naming: Myrmica rubra (Linnaeus, 1758)

Pronounciation: [Myrmíca rúbra]

Etymology: Myrmica from myrmex (gr.) = ant; suffix -icus (lat. form of gr. -ikos), ruber (lat.) = red

Common name: European fire ant, Common red ant


1. Per Douwes, Johan Abenius, Björn Cederberg, Urban Wahlstedt (2012) Nationalnyckeln “Steklar: Myror-getingar. Hymenoptera: Formicidae-Vespidae” p. 83

2. (4 March, 2018)

3. Per Douwes, Johan Abenius, Björn Cederberg, Urban Wahlstedt (2012) Nationalnyckeln “Steklar: Myror-getingar. Hymenoptera: Formicidae-Vespidae” p. 84

4. Bert Holldobler & Edward O. Wilson (1990) “The Ants” p. 169

5. Bert Holldobler & Edward O. Wilson (1995) “Journey to the ants” p. 138-141

Further reading

Myrmica rubra – Wikipedia

Myrmica rubra – AntWiki