Hairy wood ant (Formica lugubris)

Hairy wood ants on nest
Loading more images and videos...

Hairy wood ant fact file

Hairy wood ant description

GenusFormica (1)

The hairy wood ant (Formica lugubris) can be distinguished from the other wood ants by the possession of a fringe of hairs that reaches down to the eyes (4). It is also more northern in its UK distribution (5). The wood ants are the largest of the British ants, all of which are reddish in colour and have a single segment forming the 'waist' (4). Reproductive females (queens) and males are larger than the workers, and have well-developed thoraxes and wings (which separate from the body after mating). Males have obvious sex organs that protrude from the abdomen (4).

Queens length: 12 mm (2)
Workers length: 10 mm (2)

Hairy wood ant biology

Wood ants are carnivorous, and workers carry a wide variety of prey back to the nest along well-defined trails that extend throughout the territory (4). Food taken to the nest is destined for the brood, the workers suck sugary sap from plants and also tend aphids for the sugary 'honey dew', which they exude from the anus (4).

All wood ant nests are constructed in a way that maximises the amount of sunlight falling onto the mound. Due to the heat produced by the workers and the thatching (which helps to conserve heat) the nests are warmer than the surrounding soil (4). At the beginning of spring each year, special eggs are produced; unfertilised eggs develop into males and the eggs that become queens are fed more than those that are destined to become workers. During June, usually on a warm humid day, huge numbers of winged reproductive males and females leave the nest and engage in a mating flight. After mating the male soon dies, the queen sheds her wings, and a new colony is established (4). Occasionally the queen may 'take-over' a southern wood ant (Formica rufa) colony, by killing the resident queen and slowly building up a colony of F. lugubris while the host workers die (4).


Hairy wood ant range

In the UK, the hairy wood ant has a range that reaches from the Scottish Highlands, and upland parts of the north of England to mid-Wales (3). Elsewhere it is known from the northern Palaearctic region and mountainous parts of central and southern Europe and Asia (3).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Hairy wood ant habitat

The impressive mound-nests of the hairy wood ant are constructed in sunny locations on the edges of woodland rides and glades (5), and at the edges of scrub (5).


Hairy wood ant status

The hairy wood ant is classified as Local in Great Britain (3) and listed in the IUCN Red List as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Hairy wood ant threats

The hairy wood ant has been affected by habitat loss caused by urban and industrial development, agricultural intensification and forestry (3). In remaining woodlands, a move away from traditional management practices, and new stocking regimes have often caused scrub invasion which results in a decrease in the sunny rides or clearings favoured by this ant (3).


Hairy wood ant conservation

A Species Action Plan has been produced to guide the conservation of the hairy wood ant in the UK under the auspices of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. This plan aims to maintain the current range of the hairy wood ant (3). Some populations occur within Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and National Nature Reserves (NNRs) (3).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
The UK Biodiversity Action Plan for this species is available at UK BAP.
There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.


Information authenticated by Bryan Pinchen (independent ecologist).



In arthropods (crustaceans, insects and arachnids) the abdomen is the hind region of the body, which is usually segmented to a degree. In crustacea (e.g. crabs) the limbs attach to the abdomen; in insects the limbs are attached to the thorax (the part of the body nearest to the head) and not the abdomen. In vertebrates the abdomen is the part of the body that contains the internal organs (except the heart and lungs).
Feeding on flesh.
Palaearctic region
The region that includes Europe, the part of Asia to the north of the Himalyan-Tibetan barrier, North Africa and most of Arabia.
The footpaths and access tracks which run through and divide blocks of trees in woodland. Many rides contain a mixture of rich flora and structure, and provide different habitat conditions for a range of wildlife.
Part of the body located near the head in animals. In insects, the three segments between the head and the abdomen, each of which has a pair of legs.


  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
  2. Skinner, G. (1987) Ants of the British Isles. Shire Natural History, Shire Publications Ltd, Aylesbury.
  3. UK Biodiversity. Species Action Plan (Jan 2002):
  4. Skinner, G. (1998) British wood-ants. British Wildlife, 10 (1): 1-8.
  5. Pinchen, B.J.P. (2003). Pers. Comm.

Image credit

Hairy wood ants on nest  
Hairy wood ants on nest

© Roger Key

Dr Roger Key
Tel: +44 (0) 1845 567 292


Link to this photo

Arkive species - Hairy wood ant (Formica lugubris) Embed this Arkive thumbnail link ("portlet") by copying and pasting the code below.

Terms of Use - The displayed portlet may be used as a link from your website to Arkive's online content for private, scientific, conservation or educational purposes only. It may NOT be used within Apps.

Read more about



MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite Arkive images and videos and share them with friends.

Play the Team WILD game:

Team WILD, an elite squadron of science superheroes, needs your help! Your mission: protect and conserve the planet’s species and habitats from destruction.

Conservation in Action

Which species are on the road to recovery? Find out now »

Help us share the wonders of the natural world. Donate today!


Back To Top