The Allegheny mound ant (Formica exsectoides Forel) is a field ant that found on the refuge. It ranges along the Atlantic Coast of North America from Nova Scotia to Georgia. Although they are not highly regarded by some people, they are a fascinating and even arguably beneficial species.
Unlike most field ants, they can have multiple queens. Their tunnels can reach three feet below ground level and their mounds reach up to four feet high. The tunnels can be complex and may link several mounds.
They are noted for killing woody vegetation up to about 40 feet away from their mounds. They do this by injecting formic acid into the plants. But, according to the Maine State Extension Service, this damage is minor in comparison to the role of a pest control that they perform.
Allegheny mound ants have been observed scavenging upon honeydew produced by aphids and leafhoppers, dead vertebrates and arthropods, and seeds; and preying upon most small arthropods they encounter. They also prey on caterpillars, beetles, treehoppers, grasshoppers, crickets, wasps and flies.
On the refuge, they also help to spread certain plant species like the Dwarf Dandelion (Krigia virginica (L.) Willd.) and the Canada Toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis (L.) D.A. Sutton.) The ants harvest the seeds of these plants and feed on a fat-rich accessory in the seeds called an elaiosome.
Then they discard the still viable seed next to their mound. On the refuge, you can see this behavior in action. The photos seen here are from the Dwarf Dandelion which were seeded by the ants next to their mounds.
The ants are aggressive when disturbed and will bite. Their bite is irritating, but not harmful.
When taking pictures on the refuge, I have had more than a few encounters with this fascinating critter.
REFERENCE: Insects – 195-Beneficial Insect Series 1: Allegheny Mound Ant, Fact Sheet No. 195, UMaine Extension No. 2005, http://umaine.edu/blueberries/factsheets/insects/195-allegheny-mound-ant/