Over 60 ant species have been documented in White Pine County, Nevada, and 23 of these have been found in the park. Many more species likely occur in the park but have yet to be documented. Close inspection of the ground and plants in almost any corner of the park will reveal ants.
Although often seen as annoyances, ants play important roles in almost all ecosystems, including those in and around Great Basin National Park. In the Great Basin, ants are important predators of other small insects and invertebrates, and they turn over and aerate the soil as much as or more than earthworms. They are also major consumers and dispersers of seeds, especially the aptly named harvester ants, of which two species are local.
Harvester ants (genus Pogonomrymex) are also infamous for their painful stings. Although many ants bite with their powerful mandibles when agitated, some ants also stings like wasps or bees. Stinging ants first bite their victims to gain leverage for pressing their stingers through exoskeletons or skin, followed by injection of venom. Harvester ant venom is the most toxic venom known, and is three to twelve times more potent than bee and wasp venoms, depending on the ant species. Although ant stings can be painful, you are very unlikely to experience one without deliberately disturbing a colony.
Ants of Great Basin National Park and White Pine County, Nevada
*Species identified within Great Basin National Park.
Wheeler, G. C. and J. N. Wheeler. 1986. The Ants of Nevada. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles.
Baggs, J. E. 1993. Annotated bibliography of biological collections from Great Basin National Park: Volume I (Flora) and Volume II (Fauna). Cooperative Park Studies Unit, UNLV, Las Vegas.
Did You Know?
One of the major ecological threats to the sagebrush-dominated Great Basin ecosystem is the introduction and spread of dozens of species of non-native plants. The most important of these, cheatgrass (or downy brome) covers the largest area: 25 million acres, one-third of the area of the Great Basin.