Australian Journal of Zoology Australian Journal of Zoology Society
Evolutionary, molecular and comparative zoology

Foraging ecology of the thermophilic Australian desert ant, Melophorus bagoti

Barbara Muser A , Stefan Sommer B , Harald Wolf A and Rüdiger Wehner B C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Department of Neurobiology, University of Ulm, Albert-Einstein-Allee 11, D-89081 Ulm, Germany.

B Institute of Zoology, University of Zürich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, CH-8057 Zürich, Switzerland.

C Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Journal of Zoology 53(5) 301-311
Submitted: 25 May 2005  Accepted: 31 August 2005   Published: 11 November 2005


The paper describes the foraging ecology of the Australian desert ant, Melophorus bagoti, a thermophilic, diurnal scavenger with ground-nesting colonies. Overlapping foraging ranges, low foraging success rates, and intercolony aggression suggest intense competition for food between colonies. Daily foraging starts when soil surface temperatures approach 50°C. Workers search individually and collect predominantly dead insects. Occasionally, they consume plant secretions. Foraging activity peaks on mid-summer days. On cloudy days the onset of foraging is delayed, and the foraging activity is low. Ants do not forage on rainy days. Typically, workers start their above-ground activities with a few short exploration runs. On average, they perform one foraging run on the first day of their outdoor lives. With age they gradually increase foraging site fidelity and daily foraging effort. Individual foraging efficiency is low at the beginning but grows with experience. However, due to a high mortality rate and, hence, high forager turnover, average rates of foraging success for a colony remain rather low. The outdoor activity gradually decreases towards the end of summer and appears to stop completely during the winter months.


We thank Ben D. Hoffmann and two anonymous referees for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript, and the Parks and Wildlife Commission, Northern Territory, for permission to work in the West MacDonnell National Park, Australia. Financial support came from the Swiss National Science Foundation and the G. and A. Claraz Foundation (both grants to RW).


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