Pheidole desertorum

AntWiki: The Ants --- Online
Pheidole desertorum
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Myrmicinae
Tribe: Attini
Genus: Pheidole
Species: P. desertorum
Binomial name
Pheidole desertorum
Wheeler, W.M., 1906

Pheidole desertorum casent0005736 profile 1.jpg

Pheidole desertorum casent0005736 dorsal 1.jpg

Specimen Label


P. desertorum occurs to at least 1700 m in a wide range of desert habitats, including mesquite or acacia-dominated bajadas, rocky slopes, and desert grasslands. The colonies construct large crater nests with single entrance holes. Helms (1995) reports that colonies in southeastern Arizona are large, at maturity comprising 2,500–25,000 workers and one to multiple queens, and often occur in multiple nests. Foragers, mostly minors but with a few majors also present, are active outside the nest at night and following rains. On diet, Stefan Cover (personal communication) has stated from extensive personal experience, “Contrary to previous reports in the literature (Davidson 1977a, b; Whitford 1978), P. desertorum is an aggressive predator and scavenger, not a granivore. Seeds are only rarely collected, and then in small quantities.” Most colonies produce reproductives each year, which are extremely sex-biased from colony to colony. Winged reproductives have been found in nests from early June to late August. According to Helms, mating flights occur prior to sunrise in the late summer, following rainfall. Males form aerial swarms into which the winged queens fly; mating then occurs on the ground, after which the queens fly away in search of nest sites. Colonies are usually founded by single queens, but occasionally by small groups. Droual (1983) has described the remarkably efficient maneuvers of nest defense and evacuation by desertorum colonies under attack by army ants (Neivamyrmex nigrescens). Droual and Topoff (1981) have demonstrated that emigrations to new nest sites also occur at a high frequency even under apparently stable environmental conditions. (Wilson 2003)

At a Glance • Replete Workers  


The majors of this species are easily recognized by the long scapes, which extend nearly to the posterior lateral corners, or even past the corners. The dorsum of the head is rugose, the regions between the rugae are mostly shining, although they may be somewhat granulose. (Mackay and Mackay 2002)

Also see the description in the nomenclature section.

Keys including this Species


Abundant from western Oklahoma and Texas west to southern Utah, Nevada, and California, and south into northern Mexico. (Wilson 2003)

Latitudinal Distribution Pattern

Latitudinal Range: 40.403853° to 26.15896°.

Tropical South

Distribution based on Regional Taxon Lists

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

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.

Estimated Abundance

Relative abundance based on number of AntMaps records per species (this species within the purple bar). Fewer records (to the left) indicates a less abundant/encountered species while more records (to the right) indicates more abundant/encountered species.


Wheeler's (1906) account of this species included the following: "The types of this species, comprising several specimens of each of the above described phases, were taken at Fort Davis, Texas (5400 feet), during June,. 1902. It forms rather populous colonies under stones or in rough crater nests, often in very dry spots in the desert, and like Ph. dentata is highly carnivorous. I have taken it also at Ash Fork, Prescott, Phoenix, and Tucson, Arizona (May, 1905). In Prescott one of the colonies was found nesting in a dry pine log. In both soldiers and workers from this locality the epinotal spines are very short, almost absent in the worker."

Regional Notes

New Mexico

Mackay and Mackay (2002) - Habitat Sagebrush, desert scrub, arid grasslands, black grama grassland, fluff grass habitat, to oaks, pinyon-juniper, and ponderosa pine forests, up to 1600 meters in eleva-tion. Biology Nests are found under stones in areas of rocky loam and coarse sand, as well as gravel. These ants are very alert, fast and aggressive when the a large nest is disturbed. Brood was found in nests in March, April, August, and September, reproductives in August. This species may be polygynous, as multiple, dealate females are found in nests. This is a very common species in New Mexico, especially in arid ecosystems.


Wheeler and Wheeler (1986) - Araeoschizus sp. (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae) (det. T.J. Spilman) was taken from a nest in Kyle Canyon (Oark Co.) 4,800 ft.

Flight Period

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


Association with Other Organisms

Explore-icon.png Explore: Show all Associate data or Search these data. See also a list of all data tables or learn how data is managed.

This species is a host for the eucharitid wasp Orasema simulatrix (a parasite) (Carey et al., 2012; Baker et al., 2019; Universal Chalcidoidea Database) (primary host).



Images from AntWeb

Pheidole desertorum casent0005737 head 1.jpgPheidole desertorum casent0005737 profile 1.jpgPheidole desertorum casent0005737 dorsal 1.jpgPheidole desertorum casent0005737 label 1.jpg
Worker. Specimen code casent0005737. 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.

  • comanche. Pheidole desertorum var. comanche Wheeler, W.M. 1906d: 339 (s.w.) U.S.A. Junior synonym of desertorum: Creighton, 1950a: 178.
  • desertorum. Pheidole desertorum Wheeler, W.M. 1906d: 337 (s.w.q.m.) U.S.A. Taber & Cokendolpher, 1988: 95 (k.). Senior synonym of comanche, maricopa: Creighton, 1950a: 178. See also: Wilson, 2003: 284.
  • maricopa. Pheidole desertorum var. maricopa Wheeler, W.M. 1906d: 339 (s.w.) U.S.A. Junior synonym of desertorum: Creighton, 1950a: 178.

Type Material

TEXAS: Ft. Davis, Jeff Davis Co., 1650 m, col. W. M. Wheeler. Museum of Comparative Zoology - as reported in Wilson (2003) Unless otherwise noted the text for the remainder of this section is reported from the publication that includes the original description.


From Wilson (2003): Similar to Pheidole hyatti, Pheidole portalensis, Pheidole vistana; see also Pheidole ariel, Pheidole sitiens and Pheidole skwarrae, distinguished from these and other members of the fallax group as follows.

Major: slender; yellow; antennal scapes very long, slightly exceeding the occipital corner; humerus subangular in dorsal-oblique view; propodeal spines short and slender in side view; a loose rugoreticulum extends from the lateral margins of each frontal lobe to the eye; central half of the dorsum of the head, mesopleuron, propodeum, and waist foveolate and opaque; the rest of the body smooth and shiny.

Minor: slender; yellow; antennal scape very long, exceeding the occipital corner by almost half its length; occiput greatly narrowed, its profile concave in full-face view, but lacking nuchal collar.

MEASUREMENTS (mm) Lectotype major: HW 1.36, HL 1.42, SL (scape missing), EL 0.28, PW 0.64 (Portal, Arizona, major, HW 1.36, SL 1.32). Paralectotype minor: HW 0.58, HL 0.82, SL 1.10, EL 0.22, PW 0.40.

COLOR Major: reddish yellow except for gaster, which is yellowish brown.

Minor: concolorous reddish yellow.

Pheidole desertorum Wilson 2003.jpg

Figure. Upper: lectotype, major (antennae missing; companion outline of full-face view of head shows antennal scape of major from Portal, Arizona, to illustrate scape). Lower: paralectotype, minor. Scale bars = 1 mm.


  • 2n = 20, karyotype = 20M (USA) (Taber & Cokendolpher, 1988).


L desertorum, of the wastelands (deserts). (Wilson 2003)


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
  • Allred D. M. 1982. Ants of Utah. The Great Basin Naturalist 42: 415-511.
  • Allred, D.M. 1982. The ants of Utah. Great Basin Naturalist 42:415-511.
  • Andersen A. N. 1997. Functional Groups and Patterns of Organization in North American Ant Communities: A Comparison with Australia. Journal of Biogeography. 24: 433-460
  • 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.
  • Cole A. C., Jr. 1937. An annotated list of the ants of Arizona (Hymen.: Formicidae). [part]. Entomological News 48: 97-101.
  • Cole A. C., Jr. 1942. The ants of Utah. American Midland Naturalist 28: 358-388.
  • Cole A. C., Jr. 1953. Studies of New Mexico ants. V. The genus Pheidole with synonymy (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science 28: 297-299.
  • Cover S. P., and R. A. Johnson. 20011. Checklist of Arizona Ants. Downloaded on January 7th at
  • Dattilo W. et al. 2019. MEXICO ANTS: incidence and abundance along the Nearctic-Neotropical interface. Ecology
  • Des Lauriers J., and D. Ikeda. 2017. The ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California, USA with an annotated list. In: Reynolds R. E. (Ed.) Desert Studies Symposium. California State University Desert Studies Consortium, 342 pp. Pages 264-277.
  • DuBois M. B. 1985. Distribution of ants in Kansas: subfamilies Ponerinae, Ecitoninae, and Myrmicinae (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Sociobiology 11: 153-1043
  • DuBois M. B. 1985. Distribution of ants in Kansas: subfamilies Ponerinae, Ecitoninae, and Myrmicinae (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Sociobiology 11: 153-1044
  • DuBois M. B. 1985. Distribution of ants in Kansas: subfamilies Ponerinae, Ecitoninae, and Myrmicinae (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Sociobiology 11: 153-1045
  • DuBois M. B. 1985. Distribution of ants in Kansas: subfamilies Ponerinae, Ecitoninae, and Myrmicinae (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Sociobiology 11: 153-1046
  • DuBois M. B. 1985. Distribution of ants in Kansas: subfamilies Ponerinae, Ecitoninae, and Myrmicinae (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Sociobiology 11: 153-1047
  • DuBois M. B. 1985. Distribution of ants in Kansas: subfamilies Ponerinae, Ecitoninae, and Myrmicinae (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Sociobiology 11: 153-1048
  • DuBois M. B. 1985. Distribution of ants in Kansas: subfamilies Ponerinae, Ecitoninae, and Myrmicinae (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Sociobiology 11: 153-1049
  • Eastlake Chew A. and Chew R. M. 1980. Body size as a determinant of small-scale distributions of ants in evergreen woodland southeastern Arizona. Insectes Sociaux 27: 189-202
  • Gregg, R.T. 1963. The Ants of Colorado.
  • Johnson R. Personnal Database. Accessed on February 5th 2014 at
  • La Rivers I. 1968. A first listing of the ants of Nevada. Biological Society of Nevada, Occasional Papers 17: 1-12.
  • Mackay W. P., and E. E. Mackay. 2002. The ants of New Mexico (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 400 pp.
  • Mackay, W., D. Lowrie, A. Fisher, E. Mackay, F. Barnes and D. Lowrie. 1988. The ants of Los Alamos County, New Mexico (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). pages 79-131 in J.C. Trager, editor, Advances in Myrmecololgy.
  • Moody J. V., and O. F. Francke. 1982. The Ants (Hymenoptera, Formicidae) of Western Texas Part 1: Subfamily Myrmicinae. Graduate Studies Texas Tech University 27: 80 pp.
  • 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.
  • Roeder K. A., and D. V. Roeder. 2017. The Pheidole (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of Oklahoma: new species records and distributional notes. Check List 13(2): 2071.
  • Sanders N. J., J. Moss, and D. Wagner. 2003. Patterns of ant species richness along elevational gradients in an arid ecosystem. Global Ecology & Biogeography 12: 93–102.
  • Smith M. R. 1936. A list of the ants of Texas. Journal of the New York Entomological Society 44: 155-170.
  • Taber S. W., and J. C. Cokendolpher. 1988. Karyotypes of a dozen ant species from the southwestern U.S.A. (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Caryologia 41: 93-102.
  • Van Pelt, A. 1983. Ants of the Chisos Mountains, Texas (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) . Southwestern Naturalist 28:137-142.
  • 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, G.C. and J. Wheeler. 1985. A checklist of Texas ants. Prairie Naturalist 17:49-64.
  • Whitford W. G. 1978. Structure and seasonal activity of Chihuahua desert ant communities. Insectes Sociaux 25(1): 79-88.
  • Wilson, E.O. 2003. Pheidole in the New World: A Dominant, Hyperdiverse Genus. Harvard University Press