Southern wood ant

Southern Wood Ant

Southern Wood Ant ©Ross Hoddinott/2020VISION

Southern Wood Ant

Southern Wood Ants ©Ross Hoddinott/2020VISION

Southern wood ant

Scientific name: Formica rufa
The most common wood ant is the southern wood Ant, or 'red wood ant', which is found in England and Wales. An aggressive predator, it plays a vital pest control role in our woodlands.

Species information


Length: up to 1cm

Conservation status

Listed as Near Threatened on the global IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

When to see

January to December


The southern wood ant, also known as the 'red wood ant' or 'horse Ant', is an aggressive predator, equipped with large, biting jaws and the ability to spray formic acid in defence. It feeds on a wide variety of invertebrates, which the workers collect from the area surrounding their colony. Southern wood ants build large nests out of soil, twigs, leaves and pine needles. They can be found in open, sunny spots in both coniferous and broadleaved woodland, as well as on heathland and moorland. Colonies can sometimes number up to half a million individuals comprising non-reproducing female workers, a queen (or queens) that produces eggs, and males that mate with the queen. In spring, a generation of sexual males and females is raised, which take to the air to mate. Fertilised females then shed their wings and disperse to form new colonies.

How to identify

The southern wood ant is a large ant with an orange-and-black body, dark head and large mandibles. There are several species of wood ants in the UK, which can be very difficult to tell apart.


Mainly found in Southern England and Wales, but occurs as far north as Cumbria and Northumberland.

Did you know?

There are a number of species of wood ant in the UK. The southern wood ant is found in Southern England and Wales, but can appear much further north. The northern wood ant, the Scottish wood ant and the rare, narrow-headed ant can all be found in Scotland, although the northern wood ant pops up over the border in Cumbria and Northumberland.