Atta cephalotes (Linnaeus 1758)

Formicidae, Hymenoptera, Insecta, Arthropoda, Animalia

worker face view

worker lateral view

worker face view

worker lateral view


southern Mexico to Brazil and Bolivia.


Side of worker mesosoma with at least small patch smooth and shiny; color red orange; major workers enormous, with tuft of red wooly hair on face.

Natural History

This is the most common species of Atta in Costa Rica and it is found throughout the country at mid to low elevations. It occurs in wet or dry forest habitats and prefers clearings and forest edges. In the lowlands it is most common in agricultural areas and young second growth forest but can also occur in mature closed-canopy forest. At higher elevations it is increasingly restricted to open, highly insolated areas. For example, in the Monteverde area large nests of A. cephalotes occur in pastures around the community, at about 1400m elevation, but not in adjacent forest. Residents observe that nests are becoming more abundant and occurring at ever higher elevations, perhaps related to increased development and climate change.

Atta cephalotes has subterranean refuse dumps where spent fungus substrate is deposited. This is in contrast to A. colombica, which has conspicuous refuse dumps on the surface.

Nuptial flights occur during predawn hours and are synchronized across colonies in a population. Massive emergences occur sporadically during the year. On mornings following nuptial flights trails and clearings are sprinkled with the large queens and males, most of them being eaten by ants and other predators.

Page author:

John T. Longino, The Evergreen State College, Olympia WA 98505

Date of this version: 8 October 2003.
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