Novomessor cockerelli

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Novomessor cockerelli
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Myrmicinae
Tribe: Stenammini
Genus: Novomessor
Species: N. cockerelli
Binomial name
Novomessor cockerelli
(André, 1893)

Aphaenogaster cockerelli castype00622 profile 1.jpg

Aphaenogaster cockerelli castype00622 dorsal 1.jpg

Specimen Label


A common and abundant species in some parts of its range, and the most common member of the genus in New Mexico. Nests are usually found in the soil with the entrance surrounded by a circle of pebbles with a diameter of about 50 cms. Even nests under stones usually have the entrance surrounded by pebbles. Most nests are found in rocky soil, although they may nest in sandy soils, even dunes. Individual foragers are usually found during early morning and late afternoon or evening, and occasionally during the night. Foraging occurs throughout the day during the cool part of the year or even on cloudy days during the summer. These ants are omnivorous. Prey usually consists of dead or dying insects, parts of plants and seeds. This species is very aggressive, but cannot sting; the bite is very fastidious when large numbers are attacking.


This ant is easily distinguished, as it is a large, elongate species with long legs and two well-developed spines on the propodeum. The metanotal suture is poorly marked on the dorsum of the mesosoma. Its elongate head usually distinguishes it from the closely related Novomessor albisetosus, although the two species can be difficult to separate. It can be easily separated from the similar Mexican species, Novomessor ensifer, by the lack of the constricted neck.

Keys including this Species


Latitudinal Distribution Pattern

Latitudinal Range: 35.80055556° to 21.7°.

Tropical South

Distribution based on Regional Taxon Lists

Nearctic Region: United States.
Neotropical Region: Mexico (type locality).

Distribution based on AntMaps


Distribution based on AntWeb specimens

Check data from AntWeb

Countries Occupied

Number of countries occupied by this species based on AntWiki Regional Taxon Lists. In general, fewer countries occupied indicates a narrower range, while more countries indicates a more widespread species.


Known from habitats including Creosotebush scrub, the most arid of habitats, fluff grass, open areas with annuals, usually at elevations below 1500 m.

Nests are usually found in the soil with the entrance surrounded by a circle of pebbles. Even nests under stones usually have the entrance surrounded by pebbles. Most nests are found in rocky soil, although they may nest in sandy soils, even dunes. Individual foragers are usually found during early morning and late afternoon or evening, and occasionally during the night. Foraging occurs throughout the day during the cool part of the year or even on cloudy days during the summer. These ants are omnivorous. Prey usually consists of dead or dying insects, parts of plants and seeds. This species is very aggressive but cannot sting. (Mackay and Mackay 2002)

Wheeler and Wheeler (1986) summarized previous published accounts about the biology of these ants:

"In the dry deserts of western Texas, I have seen ... cockerelli bring its larvae and pupae out onto the large crater of the nest about 9 P.M. and carry them leisurely to and fro" (W.M. Wheeler, 1910:69). He also (1910:178) saw straggling workers "returning from all directions to their nests just as the cold December twilight was setting in. Each worker bore in her slender jaws a fellow worker that she had picked up while on her way home.

"It is unlikely that anyone who has seen the nests of these insects could have failed to be impressed with their extraordinary coarseness of construction. There is not a single feature of the nest which does not appear abnormally large in view of the size of the insects themselves. The irregular central opening of the nest may be three or four inches across. Through this one looks down into a steeply descending, roughly constructed tunnel which more nearly resembles a rat's burrow than the entrance to an ant's nest. Around the central opening the insects ordinarily build a disc of very coarse gravel mixed with excavated soil. This disc may be six feet in diameter.... Toward the center of the disc there is often a thicker pile of soil and gravel which has been formed into a rude crater" (Wheeler and Creighton, 1934:346-347).

"There is little structural modification and practically no trophic adaptation which would mark them as well developed xerophiles" (Wheeler and Creighton, 1934:344).

"During the summer months the foraging activities of these insects begin late in the afternoon and continue through the night hours.... As a rule by the middle of the morning the workers have returned to the nest where they remain during the midday hours. When foraging the workers do not form files. Each stalks slowly about in a deliberate manner, which gives it a ludicrous air of bland solemnity. It may be doubted if these insects are capable of quick movement since, even when disturbed, their best efforts at speed are neither rapid nor sustained. The workers show no particular preference for seeds since, in addition to these, they gather small bits of plant tissue, pieces of fruit, and the disarticulated parts of insects. The latter are probably secured from insects which are dead or in a moribund condition since the slow movements ... would scarcely permit successful predatism. Little if any of the various substances brought into the nest are stored there" (Wheeler and Creighton, 1934:346-347).

Nevada, Wheeler and Wheeler (1986) - We have 10 records from 7 localities. All are in the Hot Desert in the southern tip of the state. Nest entrances huge and irregular, 12-50 mm across and surrounded by a disc or low crater or half-crater of gravel about 60 cm in diameter (see Fig. 22). Workers bit but did not sting. R.C. Bechtel collected nymphs of Arenivaga sp. (Orthoptera: Polyphagidae) at Searchlight (Clark Co.) in a nest.

Blind Snakes

A blind snake found in Texas by Alex Wild.

Ted Pavlic reports that he finds the Texas blind snake, Leptotyphlops dulcis, while evacuating Novomessor cockerelli nests in Arizona. Although the Novomessor are pretty good at defending and evicting some pretty terrible invaders, like giant centipedes, and although they evacuate when other blind predators, like Neivamyrmex, invade, they don't seem to mind the blind snakes at all. Another colleague says she has seen them in Pogonomyrmex nests as well.

Flight Period

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec


Life History Traits

  • Queen number: monogynous (Frumhoff & Ward, 1992)
  • Queen type: winged (Frumhoff & Ward, 1992) (queenless worker reproduction)
  • Mean colony size: 350 (Holldobler et al., 1978; Beckers et al., 1989)
  • Foraging behaviour: mass recruiter (Holldobler et al., 1978; Beckers et al., 1989)



MCZ-ENT00523755 Aphaenogaster cockerelli hef.jpgMCZ-ENT00523755 Aphaenogaster cockerelli hal.jpgMCZ-ENT00523755 Aphaenogaster cockerelli had.jpgMCZ-ENT00523755 Aphaenogaster cockerelli lbs.jpg
. Owned by Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Images from AntWeb

Aphaenogaster cockerelli castype00622 head 1.jpgAphaenogaster cockerelli castype00622 profile 1.jpgAphaenogaster cockerelli castype00622 dorsal 1.jpgAphaenogaster cockerelli castype00622 label 1.jpg
Syntype of Aphaenogaster sonoraeWorker. Specimen code castype00622. Photographer April Nobile, uploaded by California Academy of Sciences. Owned by CAS, San Francisco, CA, USA.
Aphaenogaster cockerelli casent0005723 head 1.jpgAphaenogaster cockerelli casent0005723 profile 1.jpgAphaenogaster cockerelli casent0005723 dorsal 1.jpgAphaenogaster cockerelli casent0005723 label 1.jpg
Worker. Specimen code casent0005723. Photographer April Nobile, uploaded by California Academy of Sciences. Owned by UCDC, Davis, CA, USA.


The following information is derived from Barry Bolton's Online Catalogue of the Ants of the World.

  • cockerelli. Aphaenogaster (Ischnomyrmex) cockerelli André, 1893b: 150 (w.) MEXICO (Chihuahua) (date of publication (31).vii.1893).
    • Type-material: syntype workers (number not stated).
    • Type-locality: Mexico: Chihuahua, Montezuma (T.D.A. Cockerell).
    • Type-depository: MNHN.
    • [Misspelled as cocquerelli by Emery, 1915d: 73, Emery, 1921f: 67.]
    • Wheeler, W.M. & Creighton, 1934: 350 (q.m.); Wheeler, G.C. & Wheeler, J. 1960b: 10 (l.).
    • Combination in Stenamma (Ischnomyrmex): Forel, 1901c: 128;
    • combination in Novomessor (Novomessor): Emery, 1921f: 67;
    • combination in Aphaenogaster: Brown, 1974b: 47;
    • combination in Novomessor: Emery, 1915d: 73; Demarco & Cognato, 2015: 8.
    • Status as species: Forel, 1899c: 60; Forel, 1901c: 128; Wheeler, W.M. 1910g: 565; Emery, 1915d: 73; Emery, 1921f: 67; Wheeler, W.M. & Creighton, 1934: 352; Cole, 1937a: 101; Enzmann, J. 1947b: 151 (in key); Creighton, 1950a: 156; Smith, M.R. 1951a: 799; Cole, 1953e: 243; Smith, M.R. 1958c: 119; Smith, M.R. 1967: 352; Wheeler, G.C. & Wheeler, J. 1972b: 239; Brown, 1974b: 47; Hunt & Snelling, 1975: 21; Hölldobler, et al. 1976: 32; Hölldobler, et al. 1978: 163; Smith, D.R. 1979: 1360; Snelling, R.R. & George, 1979: 74; Dlussky, 1981a: 48; Bolton, 1982: 340; Wheeler, G.C. & Wheeler, J. 1986g: 36; Bolton, 1995b: 68; Mackay & Mackay, 2002: 73; Ward, 2005: 65; Demarco & Cognato, 2015: 8; Mackay & Mackay, 2017: 455 (redescription).
    • Senior synonym of sonorae: Forel, 1901c: 128; Wheeler, W.M. & Creighton, 1934: 352; Creighton, 1950a: 157; Smith, D.R. 1979: 1360; Bolton, 1995b: 68; Mackay & Mackay, 2017: 455.
    • Distribution: Mexico, U.S.A.
  • sonorae. Aphaenogaster sonorae Pergande, 1893: 34 (w.) MEXICO (Sonora) (date of publication 6.xi.1893).
    • Type-material: 4 syntype workers.
    • Type-locality: Mexico: Sonora, Hermosillo (G. Eisen & C.D. Haines).
    • Type-depository: USNM.
    • Combination in Novomessor: Emery, 1915d: 73;
    • combination in Novomessor (Novomessor): Emery, 1921f: 67.
    • Status as species: Forel, 1899c: 59; Emery, 1915d: 73; Emery, 1921f: 67; Enzmann, J. 1947b: 151 (in key).
    • Junior synonym of cockerelli: Forel, 1901c: 128; Wheeler, W.M. & Creighton, 1934: 352; Creighton, 1950a: 157; Smith, D.R. 1979: 1360; Bolton, 1995b: 73; Mackay & Mackay, 2017: 455.Unless otherwise noted the text for the remainder of this section is reported from the publication that includes the original description.


Andre 1893. Page 150.
Andre 1893. Page 151.


References based on Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics

  • Alatorre-Bracamontes, C.E. and M Vasquez-Bolanos. 2010. Lista comentada de las hormigas (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) del norte de México. Dugesiana 17(1):9-36
  • Bestelmeyer B. T., and J. A. Wiens. 2001. Local and regional-scale responses of ant diversity to a semiarid biome transition. Ecography 24: 381-392.
  • Cover S. P., and R. A. Johnson. 20011. Checklist of Arizona Ants. Downloaded on January 7th at
  • Creighton W. S. 1955. Studies on the distribution of the genus Novomessor (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Psyche (Cambridge) 62: 89-97.
  • Dattilo W. et al. 2019. MEXICO ANTS: incidence and abundance along the Nearctic-Neotropical interface. Ecology
  • Fernandes, P.R. XXXX. Los hormigas del suelo en Mexico: Diversidad, distribucion e importancia (Hymenoptera: Formicidae).
  • Johnson R. A., and C. S. Moreau. 2016. A new ant genus from southern Argentina and southern Chile, Patagonomyrmex (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Zootaxa 4139: 1-31.
  • Johnson R. Personnal Database. Accessed on February 5th 2014 at
  • Johnson, R.A. 2000. Reproductive biology of the seed-harvester ants Messor julianus (Pergande) and Messor pergandei (Mayr) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Baja California, Mexico. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 9(2):377-384.
  • La Rivers I. 1968. A first listing of the ants of Nevada. Biological Society of Nevada, Occasional Papers 17: 1-12.
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  • Mackay W. P., and E. E. Mackay. 2002. The ants of New Mexico (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 400 pp.
  • McDonald D. L., D. R. Hoffpauir, and J. L. Cook. 2016. Survey yields seven new Texas county records and documents further spread of Red Imported Fire Ant, Solenopsis invicta Buren. Southwestern Entomologist, 41(4): 913-920.
  • Michigan State University, The Albert J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection. Accessed on January 7th 2014 at
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  • Nielsen, M.G. 1986. Respiratory rates of ants from different climatic areas. Journal of Insect Physiology 32(2): 125-131
  • O'Keefe S. T., J. L. Cook, T. Dudek, D. F. Wunneburger, M. D. Guzman, R. N. Coulson, and S. B. Vinson. 2000. The Distribution of Texas Ants. The Southwestern Entomologist 22: 1-92.
  • Sanders, N.J. and D.M. Gordon. 2002. Resources and the flexible allocation of work in the desert ant, Aphaenogaster cockerelli. Insectes Sociaux 49:371-379
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  • Van Pelt, A. 1983. Ants of the Chisos Mountains, Texas (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) . Southwestern Naturalist 28:137-142.
  • Vasquez Bolanos M., and J. Escoto Rocha. 2018. Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of Aguascalientes. Investigacion y Ciencia 24(68): 36-40.
  • Vásquez-Bolaños M. 2011. Lista de especies de hormigas (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) para México. Dugesiana 18: 95-133
  • Wheeler G. C., and J. Wheeler. 1986. The ants of Nevada. Los Angeles: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, vii + 138 pp.
  • Wheeler W. M., and W. S. Creighton. 1934. A study of the ant genera Novomessor and Veromessor. Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 69: 341-387.
  • Whitford W. G. 1978. Structure and seasonal activity of Chihuahua desert ant communities. Insectes Sociaux 25(1): 79-88.
  • Whitford W.G., Zee J.V., Nash M.S., Smith W.E. and Herrick J.E. 1999. Ants as Indicators of Exposure to Environmental Stressors in North American Desert Grasslands. Environmental Monitoring and Assesment. 54: