All ants live in social colonies, with a queen, female workers and, for a time, males for reproduction. But unlike most ant species, Polyergus lucidus, found in meadows in the eastern U.S., has an extremely specialized way of rearing its young. A queen of Polyergus lucidus invades the nest of a different species, kills their queen, cloaks herself in the host queen’s scent—and then becomes the new queen. Worker ants also kidnap members of the other ant species to raise their offspring for them.

Researchers say it can take years for a colony to become established—and once it’s gone, it likely will not return. Their colonies require large territories, but there is dwindling ideal habitat in which to create such underground homes. In Florida, for instance, barely three percent of the longleaf pine forests where the ants are found is intact, so continued protection of lands such as those in Apalachicola National Forest is key.

Shining Amazon ant
Polyergus lucidus
0.2–0.3 inches (4–7.7 mm), with queens larger
Vulnerable (iucn)
Ecological Role
Social parasite
AMNH Specimen Number
AMNH_IZC 00177686 and AMNH_IZC 00177688
New York, U.S.