THIS PAGE IS UNDERGOING EXTENSIVE REVISION AND THERE MIGHT BE DAILY CHANGES
Each sub-family, genus and species in this Catalogue is linked to the relevant page on this website, where available.
We’ve arranged the ants in subfamilies, in alphabetical order of those subfamilies present in Southern Africa.
DOLICHODERINAE: the Smelly ants [Stinkmiere].Often known as the ‘Odorous’ or ‘Smelly ants’, the subfamily includes 6% of known ant genera, and some of the world’s most invasive species. It’s fortuitous that alphabetical order allows us to deal with these ants near the start of our species descriptions, because some of them are the ants that many readers are most likely to find in their homes and gardens. All dolichoderines have eyes, usually quite large; there is a single node on the petiole, often overhung by the gaster and hard to see. The antennae are usually 12-segmented (scape + 11) and none of them have stings. They do, however, secrete defensive chemical compounds from the anal gland, especially when the ants are in attack mode against other ants. It is these compounds that give the ants their often-offensive but species-specific different smells – especially when crushed.
The Dolichoderinae are easy to confuse with the Formicinae; technically speaking, under a good microscope the tip of the dolichoderine gaster can be seen to be slit-like, whereas in Formicinae it is circular. For you and me, the dolichoderines have naked pupae, while most of the formicines pupate in cocoons.
Axinidris lignicola Snelling, 2007
Grandfather’s Wood Ant
Quite unlike the invasive hordes of many dolichoderines, our Wood ants or Axinidris are uncommon to rare. A. lignicola was collected by leading South African myrmecologist Hamish Robertson at Grootvadersbosch in 1995, and Robertson described the nest as being ‘in centre of small dead tree trunk c. 2.5 cm diam., 1 m above ground’. As a result in 2007 the taxonomist Snelling named these small, brown ants ‘lignicola’ (= ‘wood dwelling’). However, when we found these ants at Grootvadersbosch in 2014 they were living underground, in yellow, gravelly soil, on the forest edge. There were unconfirmed reports in 2016 that they had also been found in the Knysna area.
Our other Axinidris are A. tridens, the St Lucia wood ant, described in 1991 (3.7 mm, black with brown legs and antennae); while the Namib wood ant (A. namib) was first described in 2007 (3 mm, reddish brown with darker gaster). There are altogether 21 species in Africa; the oddest diagnostic for the genus is a curiously prominent tubercle or flange between the propodeal ‘bumps’.
Size: >3 mm. Head and body dark brown. Scape without hairs; pronotum with about 12 short and 6 longer hairs. Propodeal spines short and toothlike, with a distinct elevation between them. Gaster with erect and marginal pilosity.
----------------------------------------The Genus Linepithema – the Argentine Ants
[Iimbovane: Argentynse Miere]
Linepithema humile (Mayr, 1868)
In 1961 one of South Africa’s greatest entomologists, Sydney Skaife, described this ant as ‘the most pernicious ant in the world’. Argentine ants are probably the most widespread and economically-important ant-invaders on Earth. They have invaded every continent except Antarctica, and have been reported from more than 50 countries and 16 of the American states. The Northern Hemisphere plays host to three enormous super-colonies, with trillions of individual ants. In Africa they are in at least five countries and five South African provinces, and by no means only in the Western Cape as some have claimed.
Argentine ants have been in the Cape since the 1870s, when South American fodder was imported for British horses during the eastern ‘Frontier’ wars. They have spread to almost every town and settlement in the Western Cape, many farmlands and plantations, and even into some natural fynbos and strandveld: we’ve found them, for example, in the Kogelberg and at Stettynskloof Dam. They attack poultry, spoil food everywhere, and succour plant pests in orchards, etc. They could be devastating to the survival of many fynbos plant species, including some of our most iconic beauties, because they disrupt seed distribution by indigenous ants. They have adapted to live at altitude in many towns and provinces that are up to two thousand metres above sea-level, including in Gauteng and Lesotho. No one in Southern Africa knows exactly how widespread they are nor how damaging their future effects might be on the ecology and economy of our whole region. Ironically, their extraordinary ‘negative’ status compels us to give them more space than any other ant, including more than a thousand indigenous species!
The ants hail from swampy areas beside the Argentinian Paraná River, and several species of Linepithema live inconspicuous lives in several South American countries. Most of these species can be easily mistaken for each other, but only two have learned to spread by nest-budding, and so become world-wide threats. A sister species, Linepithema iniquum, the ‘hostile ant’, has established itself in Europe but is not yet found in Africa.
Several features make Argentine ants easy to identify, but they are also easily confused with some indigenous species – as we’ve described later. Argentine ants:
 run in trails; the much larger (5 mm) queens are often seen in the trails, too;
 are all the same size – about 2.5 to 2.8 mm long (not 3.5 mm as Arnold wrote in 1915);
 are always a uniform brown, with legs very slightly paler than their bodies;
 have an overall very fine, silvery pubescence that is noticeable against the light;
 smell like Parmesan cheese when crushed;
 swarm out of their nests carrying their brood when you’re watering your garden. No other local ants do this; in Argentine ants it’s an instinctive reaction to rising flood waters in the swampy, riverside habitats that they come from.
The colonies are large; the ants spread by budding – mated queens run out in the trails with the workers to good food sources, where they establish new branches of the colony. Vast, interlinked colonies that are highly resistant to eradication are thus established. Experiments have shown that in Cape Town the ants form one huge supercolony – ants from Muizenberg are readily accepted by nests in Bellville.
These ants have no stings, but secrete a disabling substance from their anal glands. They are able to overcome even the most aggressive of our indigenous ants. The spectacle of tiny 2.5 mm Argentines destroying our magnificent 18 mm sugar ants is heart-rending.
Well, if you’re an indigenous ant lover, of course.
--------------------------------------The Genus Ochetellus – the Copper-Bellied Ants
Ochetellus glaber (Mayr, 1862)
On 2nd January 2016 I reported a small, dark ant that I had never seen before, in my garden pot plants. That was the ‘first contact’ in the whole of Africa with Ochetellus, a Pacific region and Australasian ant genus that has become a world-wide ‘tramp’, from Hawaii to Florida to Sri Lanka and beyond. To be strictly correct we should refer to the ‘Ochetellus glaber Group’, because at the time of going to press CalAcad in California had confirmed the genus, but the precise species of our new invader was unknown. The ants are small, from 1.5 to <2 mm, and appear to the naked eye to be dull black. Under magnification the gaster is a lustrous, dark copper colour, hence the common name. They are probably Australian indigenes and may have evolved the typical invasives’ ability to form super-colonies by ‘budding’. How they arrived in the southern suburbs of Cape Town is being investigated; their long term effects are unknown. Their subtropical origins are clear: they only appear at temperatures above 15°C. Hopes that they might not survive the Cape winter were dashed when, after several unusually frosty mornings the copper-bellies re-appeared as soon as the sun came out. They also seem able to repel attacks by the ever-aggressive Argentine ants.
Reputed to smell like coconuts or rancid butter, these small, generally pale ants are widely distributed throughout the world, with 95 recognized species and 11 in our region. The name ‘tapinoma’ means ‘low position’ in Greek. They’re most easily identified by the apparent absence of a petiole.
Tapinoma arnoldi Forel, 1913
Arnold’s Coconut Ant
A typical tiny Tapinoma, Arnold recorded finding them in hollow Vachellia (Acacia) stems and in galls. Philip Herbst’s photos are of ants found by Ricky Taylor at Mtunzini, living in hollow Vachellia thorns. 38 African ants are named after George Arnold.
Size: 1.6–1.7 mm. Light brown to brown, the front of head, scapes, mandibles, tarsi, leg joints, petiole sometimes yellowish. Slightly shiny with very fine pubescence over the whole body. Eyes before midline of head; clypeus wider than long. Scape does not reach the backline of head; flagellum thickens to a distinct club. Mesosoma convex; declivity oblique and long, petiole flattened, gaster oval.
Tapinoma luteum (Emery, 1895)
Yellow Coconut Ant
Tapinoma albinase (Forel, 1910)
White-nosed Coconut Ant
Some other species: the yellow coconut ant is 2–2.5 mm long, pale matt yellow, a tree forager for nectar, etc.; the most widespread of the genus in our region. The rare white-nosed coconut ant is 2.5 mm long; it occurs on Table Mountain, the only WCP Tapinoma.
The other eight species in our region are even more obscure, with limited distribution in each case. Six of these occur in KwaZulu-Natal, six in Zimbabwe, three in Namibia, two in Botswana, and one in Mozambique. It’s only a matter of time before they are found in Swaziland, too.
Size: 2–2.5 mm or >2.5 mm. Anterior margin of clypeus entire, sometimes with deep median groove; multidentate mandibles; petiole depressed without scale; gaster overhangs, hides petiole; only 4 gaster tergites visible in dorsal view. Propodeum unarmed or blunt tubercles; eyes at or in front of midline.
The Genus Technomyrmex – the White-Footed Ants
This is an Old World genus of some 95 species, with 10 in our region. Most are well-behaved as far as humans are concerned, but the ‘Technomyrmex albipes group’ or ‘white-footed ants’ of four closely-related species has become widely invasive through-out the temperate regions of the world. All four have the ability to form supercolonies extremely quickly. Between workers and queens are a series of so-called ‘intercastes’ or egg-laying workers that run in the trails with the others; thus they can start a new branch of the colony almost anywhere. Worse, some of the workers are ‘ergatoid’ males able to mate with the worker-queens. The ants nest opportunistically under leaves, in roofs, in clothes cupboards, in electrical appliances (which they wreck), such as light switches, laptop computers, printers, and even in car electronics. Colonies produce large numbers of male and female reproductives in October/November, and these fly off to your neighbours’ houses and elsewhere, thus spreading the pesky ants far and wide.
The ‘white footed’ ant species are difficult to tell apart. World-famous myrmecologist Barry Bolton published a key to Technomyrmex in 2007 that emphasises the presence and position of erect hairs or setae in determining the various species. However, as Bolton himself noted, the setae are relatively easily rubbed off or lost in life.
The name Technomyrmex references Teckne, the Greek goddess of arts and crafts. Sadly, her ants smell rather like dog faeces when crushed ...
Technomyrmex pallipes Smith, 1876
This species is indigenous in our region; small colonies are found in many wild areas, but in disturbed areas such as roadsides (eg most of the N7) and old croplands they may form supercolonies, with both multiple and ergatoid queens. The ants have also become very invasive in homes in Cape Town and other areas of the Western Cape, KZN and Gauteng. They successfully drive Argentine ants out of homes; in the garden they may become engaged in endless warfare with their South American cousins.
Size: 2.0 to 2.5 mm long. Dark brown to black, antennae and mandibles brown- or red-yellow, legs pale yellow but darker between the joints. The eyes are large and in front of the midline of the head; a fine white pubescence covers the body. The gaster is long and pointed, almost half as long as the whole body, and overhangs and hides the petiole. Distinguish them from T. difficilis (see below) – the web site antkey.org says that both species have ‘(gaster) ... 4 dorsal plates, 6 ventral plates (versus 5 plates on both)’. T. pallipes has 2 pairs of short, stubby hairs behind the eye; T. difficilis has 1 pair of long, erect hairs; T. pallipes has 1–3 pairs of erect hairs on pronotum; T. difficilis has 1 pair. Finally, the hind tarsus of T. pallipes is not distinctly lighter in color than the hind femur, while in T. difficilis the hind tarsus is lighter in color than the hind femur.
Technomyrmex difficilis Forel, 1892
Difficult White-Footed Ant
Thought to have originated in Madagascar, the ‘Difficult white-footed ant’ (so-called to distinguish it from T. albipes, the ‘true’ white-footed ant) is said to be about 2.5 mm long, and very similar to T. pallipes above. The brilliant ant photographer and respected myrmecologist Alex Wild recorded this species at St Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal.
The name Ponerinae is apparently derived from the Greek ‘ponéros’ meaning ‘malice’, ‘depravity’ or ‘wickedness’, as in ‘having evil purposes and desires’. This seems a very harsh anthropomorphic judgement to pass on very small animals that only bite and sting to defend themselves against gigantic, callously murderous humans, but the name has stuck. Some have called them ‘primitive’ but Tony Rebelo coined the much more interesting term, ‘ringbum ants’. As Tony rightly said, it’s a name both memorable and descriptive. Some have suggested that the name ‘ponerine’ means ‘wretched’ or ‘miserable’ but I can find no justification for this anywhere.
Ponerines are most easily identified from other subfamilies by a gastral (abdominal) constriction between segments 3 and 4, resembling the constriction caused by a ring – much more prominent in some genera than in others. All ponerines have stings and all use them, some quite painfully. The ants are usually large, including the largest worker ants in our region, and most have eyes, but there are notable exceptions without these features. Most live in small colonies of a few dozen individuals, but once again there are a few notable exceptions. Many do not have easily-identifiable queens, relying upon ergatoid or ‘worker queens’, but males are generally common in the nests. Their larvae usually spin cocoons and in some genera these are dark chocolate brown rather than the pale beige-brown of the Formicinae. All are mostly carnivorous, hunting other insects and small invertebrates, often foraging alone or in twos and threes. Some species mount mass raids on termites or on other ants, however, and may form dense columns of marauders.
The Ponerinae subfamily is widespread around the tropical and sub-tropical world, and includes over 1 600 species from as small as 4 mm to a South American species that is well over 30 mm long. There are about 100 species in our region, in 20 genera.
Ponerines are not normally involved in the process known as myrmecochory, or ant distribution of seeds, although recently some evidence has emerged to suggest that some species might be distributors of some large-seeded Restionaceae. The myrmecochorous species in this plant family have hard, fibrous elaiosomes (the ‘fruit’ attached to the seed that the plant employs to attract ants). These do not seem to attract the sugar-loving formicine ants that distribute, for example, seeds of Proteaceae – but how the Restionaceae attract ponerines is unknown.
Diagnostic Features: (1) A constriction or ‘ring’ between abdominal segments 3 & 4; (2) the frontal lobes project and are pinched-in behind; (3) no postpetiole; (4) well developed sting; (5) pupate in cocoons.
The Genus Anochetus – the False Trapjaw Ants
Anochetus closely resembles Odontomachus, but are distinguished by (a) much smaller size; (b) the back of the head is not flat but is considerably indented; (c) the elongate mandibles end in an acute tooth; and (d) the petiole node is not pointed. Colonies contain about 100 individuals, usually in cryptic sites – rotten or hollow twigs, under bark, etc. Most forage after dark, and all certainly are predaceous, utilising a trap-jaw mechanism to seize prey and to ‘jump’ backwards. If attacked their general response is to feign death. There are 13 species in our region of which 11 are obscure and confined to ECP and KZN.
Anochetus levaillanti Emery, 1895
False Trapjaw Ant
Size: 5.2–6 mm. Head, mesosoma, petiole, rich dark red-brown; appendages paler; first gastral segment chestnut, the rest black. Overall fine pubescence, few hairs on gastral apex. Rear head deeply emarginate. Eyes large, grooved around. Mandibles 67% length of head, wider at apex, curving inward, two sharp teeth. Petiole node higher than propodeum, rounded above, not pointed as in Odontomachus.
The Genus Bothroponera – the Rugged Ringbum Ants
Bothroponera in our area are medium to large ants, black, brown or dark grey and usually strongly sculpted with punctures and striations. Although the genus is easy to recognize with the naked eye, the species are hard to tell apart without microscopic examination.
Diagnostic Features: Monomorphic; usually with well-developed eyes. 12-segmented antennae [scape + 11]; propodeum unarmed; petiole node large and thick. An obvious constriction between first and second gastral segments; sting short and blunt. Some species quite hairy; all in small colonies of a few dozen individuals, foraging singly or in small groups, hunting distressed or dead insects, etc.
Bothroponera cariosa Emery, 1895
Black Rugged Ringbum Ant
This is probably the most common Bothroponera in the wetter parts of our region. The name cariosa means ‘crumbly’ or ‘porous’ – most appropriate.
Size: 11 mm. Black with dark red appendages or joints, with all-over coarse punctures and striations. Clypeus produced, mandibles striate. Petiole wider behind than in front. Overall dull; pubescence long and recumbent; last two gastral segments not striated.
Bothroponera cavernosa (Roger, 1860)
Strandveld Rugged Ringbum Ant
Mainly restricted to the Cape west coast strandveld and Steenberg mountains, with subspecies elsewhere in Africa. Cavernosa means ‘full of hollows’ or ‘holes’ – lovely.
Size: 13 mm. Brownish black; extremities red, slightly shiny; all-over dense punctures. Clypeus arched; mandibles 6-7 dentate. Petiole higher than long. Overall slightly shiny; feeble pubescence; front legs densely clothed in golden hairs.
Bothroponera granosa (Roger, 1860)
Grainy Rugged Ringbum Ant
One of the largest of our Bothroponera species, the specific name means ‘grainy’. Our only pic is Ricky Taylor’s fine photo of a seldom-seen queen of the species, which might be the first of its kind ever published.
Size: 14 mm. Black; apex of gaster and tarsi rust-red; mandibles dark red. Fairly shiny with short golden overall pubescence; all-over dense punctures. Resembles B. cavernosa but has more pubescence and shallower, less-deep punctures. Petiole node rounded in front; broader behind; backward ventral tooth. Apices of gastral segments reddish.
Bothroponera laevissima (Arnold, 1915)
Clumsy Rugged Ringbum Ant
This species is relatively common up the West Coast, from the Peninsula northwards; the puncturation seems to become weaker from south to north. Found under stones and sometimes confused with Hagensia peringueyi subsp. saldanhae. The specific name could mean ‘very clumsy’ (which it isn’t really) or ‘very smooth’ (which it is certainly not).
Size: 12 mm. Black; antennae, leg joints, mandibles etc. dark red. Very shiny with finer, sparser punctures than other species; scanty pubescence, scanty blonde pilosity, denser on legs. Mandibles 7-dentate; eyes smallish. Node trapezoid, wider behind and wider than long; 1st and 2nd gastral segments very convex with strong constriction between. Legs long.
Bothroponera pumicosa (Roger, 1860)
Grey Rugged Ringbum Ant
Probably our best-known Bothroponera, with an unusual distribution. The ant has been recorded collecting elaiosome-bearing fruits of Restionaceae (Willdenowia sp.). The name pumicosa is very appropriate, meaning ‘resembling pumice stone’.
Size: 10.5 mm. Dark grey, mandibles, flagellum, legs etc. dark reddish-grey. Overall golden pubescence with gold pilosity especially on gaster and node. All-over punctures varying in density. Mandibles shiny, punctured. Eyes closer to midline than B. granosa. Node wider behind than in front, no ventral tooth.
Bothroponera berthoudi = Bothroponera strigulosa (Forel, 1901)
Uncommon; restored to species status by Joma & Mackay in 2013; not yet available.
10 mm; black, short golden pilosity, gaster dull. NCP LIM
Bothroponera kruegeri (Forel, 1910)
Nests under stones with several nest entrances, in forested habitats.
11–13 mm. Black. Mandibles, tarsi, gaster-apex chestnut brown. Gold pubescence.
KZN MPU LIM MOZ ZIM
Bothroponera pachyderma (Emery, 1901)
North to Sudan and west to Ghana. In gallery forest; the ants feign death when disturbed.
12–15 mm. Black or brown-black; slight golden pubescence, coarse sculpture, each tergite has a red spot.
Bothroponera soror (Emery, 1899)
North to Sudan, west to Guinea. Uncommon forest species; smell like cockroaches; colonies 25+ ants.
8 mm. Black, extremities dark chestnut red or paler. Hairs orange. LIM ZIM
Bothroponera strigulosa Emery, 1895
Very like B. pumicosa but gaster entirely dull, not shiny. ‘B. berthoudi’ is the same species.
10 mm. Black, brown extremities, very coarse punctures; pilosity golden. Gaster dull.
NCP KZN NWP LIM LES
Bothroponera umgodikulula [name not yet available] Joma & Mackay, 2013
Largest Bothroponera. Locality given by Joma & Mackay as “Bulhoek, Klawer-Clanw. at 32°10'0"S; 26°49'0"E” – which is most risible! Bulshoek, Klawer (WCP) is nearly 800 km west of Bulhoek!
16 mm. Black, extremities red.
Bulhoek, Whittlesea, ECP
A small genus, it has in the past been lumped with Euponera and later with Pachycondyla. There are two species, and four subspecies, of handsome, shiny dark ants that have less-obvious ‘ringbum’ constrictions than most other Ponerinae. The ants have very finely pitted integumenta, the pitting invisible to the naked eye. The leading edge of the pronotum above the ‘neck’ is strongly marginate, unlike the similar genus Megaponera. The petiole node is large and pointed; the gaster is sharply truncated in front, with a distinct tooth at the base of the first segment. Other distinctive characteristics are microscopic, and the species can be difficult to tell apart without practice. The common name is a direct translation of the name used by children in south and west coast fishing communities, reflecting the ants’ propensity to sting the unwary.
Hagensia peringueyi subsp peringueyi (Emery, 1899)
Black Hag Ant
The ants are diurnal foragers in bright sunshine, mainly in fynbos. They can be mistaken for Camponotus if not examined with care. There is an overlap with subspecies saldanhae (see below) in collection records, at Jacobsbaai (West Coast) and the Bontebok National Park, which suggests that one subspecies has been confused with the other; however, some of AntWeb’s location records need correction. We found this subspecies in the Kogelberg nesting in small colonies in soil (a few dozen ants), and foraging in pairs.
Size 11–12 mm. Black; fine, overall greyish pubescence. The gastral constriction is almost non-existent.
Hagensia peringueyi subsp saldanhae Arnold, 1951
Saldanha Hag Ant
Opinions differ on whether this is its own species, or a subspecies of H. peringueyi. The ants are diurnal, foraging in bright sunshine, mainly in Strandveld, where they nest under stones; very common in the Saldanha to St Helena Bay area. We found them at Cape Columbine and at Saldanha Bay in colonies of 100 or more individuals, with males.
Size 9–9.5 mm. Dark black-brown with fine, overall brownish pubescence. The gastral constriction is deeper and better defined than in the nominal subspecies.
Hagensia havilandi [not illustrated] (Forel, 1901)
Haviland’s Hag Ant
A strictly nocturnal, eastern species. Arnold writes: “(they) came out of their nests only after sunset. Many nests found on the sloping banks of the road on the seaward side of the bush. The entrance is a small hole about 5 mm wide ... there were at least two dozen workers in each nest.” There are also several poorly-defined subspecies.
Size 12.5–14 mm. Black with dark red mandibles and extremities; shiny without noticeable pubescence; gastral constriction not notable.
Paltothyreus [Pachycondyla] tarsatus: Foul or Stink ringbum ant.
17 – 22 mm ants; black, shiny skins with very faint yellow pubescence, reddish mandibles and tarsi; tarsi clothed beneath with dense golden hairs; hunt in pairs or small groups and emit a foul smell as a defensive tactic, or when wet.
Streblognathus aethiopicus: Primitive ringbum ant.
18 – 22 mm, dull black with shiny gaster and dense golden hairs on tarsi [lower legs]; no significant ‘ringbum’ constriction on gaster. Hamish Robertson showed that this species occurs only in the southern and eastern Cape.
Streblognathus peetersi: Peeters’ ringbum ant.
16 – 18 mm. As above but smaller, occurring from the Eastern Cape northwards. The southernmost specimens of this species are the smallest.
Plectroctena mandibularis: Ringbum millipede muncher.
15 – 20 mm ants; mostly jet black and shiny, with small eyes and large jaws; hunt singly or in pairs and prey primarily upon millipedes.
Megaponera [Pachycondyla] analis: Matabele ant.
Majors >15 mm; minors 9 – 10 mm; shiny black ants that run in very large swarms, attacking mainly termites; characteristic chocolate-brown cocoons. There is considerable variation in the species – the majors are often not as shiny as the minors, and sometimes the majors are only 11 – 12 mm.
Ophthalmopone [Pachycondyla] berthoudi: Berthoud’s bug-eyed ant
12 mm. Black with golden, velvety pubescence; dark reddish joints and base of tarsi and scape. Head very long, rounded behind; eyes very large, set well behind the midline of the head; legs long and thin. Very similar to the closely related O. hottentota, but the latter has eyes set further forward and the head is not so long. Both species are very fast runners, nesting under stones, etc., but O. hottentota is confined to the Eastern, Northern and Western Cape whereas O. berthoudi is more widespread.
Hagensia [Pachycondyla] peringueyi: Black hag ant.
10 – 11 mm ants with black, shiny skins all over, with a faint grey pubescence on gaster. Lack the ‘ringbum’ gaster constriction of other ponerines, can be confused with Camponotus. Usually solitary or in pairs.
Leptogenys intermedia: Common razor-jaw ant.
5 – 6 mm ants, jet-black to light brown with rust-red mandibles, tarsi and apex of gaster; smooth and shiny. ‘Ringbum’ constriction on gaster; ants run in trails and attack and eat termites, insects and other ants.
FORMICINAE: the Sugar or Pugnacious ants [= Balbyters / Malmiere]
From very large [<20 mm] to very small [<1.5 mm], the Formicinae are regarded as the most ‘advanced’ ants. They do not have stings but many are able to squirt formic acid from their gasters, as a defence. All Formicine ants pupate in cocoons. We have placed them here because Camponotus ants are the next in size, after some of the Ponerinae. There are eight genera on iSpot in this subfamily.
CAMPONOTUS: The Sugar ants or Balbyters
Camponotus is thought to be the largest genus of ants in the world, and is in considerable need of taxonomic revision. There are 92 species and 39 subspecies, in 15 sub-genera, in Southern Africa; however, nearly 20 species are so obscure that we may safely ignore them. In some parts of the world Camponotus species are commonly known as Carpenter ants, but here there are so few that burrow into wood that the common names ‘sugar ants’ or ‘balbyters’ are preferred. The latter is usually used for the very large, hairy species such as C. fulvopilosus.
‘Camponotus’ means ‘flat-backed’: almost all species have smoothly convex or flat dorsal alitrunks [ie upper thorax]. The following 26 Camponotus species all star on iSpot.
Camponotus etiolipes: Long-legged sugar ant.
Majors 18 – 20 mm, minors 15 – 16 mm. These are the largest Camponotus in our region, and the minors are almost as long as the majors, differing mainly in having very small heads. Pale to dark brown with paler legs and underparts; fast moving and usually forage alone. Eastern and northern areas.
Camponotus fulvopilosus: Tawny balbyter.
Majors 16 – 18 mm, mediae 12.5 mm, minors 10 - 11 mm.
One of the best-known ants of South Africa. Black or very dark red, gaster covered in dense hairs of a tawny [fulvous] colour, sometimes with a median patch without hairs; the majors have very large heads and all workers have very good eyesight, easily detecting human movement. The ants tend to forage in pairs or small groups and characteristically run with their gasters slightly raised. Freely squirt formic acid when alarmed.
Camponotus sexpunctatus: Eastern sugar ant.
Majors 16 – 18 mm, minors 10.5 – 12 mm. Black, underside dull red-ochre, petiole yellowish brown; a dull spot on the sides of each of the first three gastral segments; shiny. The minors have paler, reddish-brown heads.
Camponotus knysnae: Knysna sugar ant.
Majors 15 – 17 mm, mediae 12 mm, minors 10 – 11 mm. Majors are almost all black with paler undersides to red/ red ochre. Mediae have brown heads and thorax, gasters dark brown to black. Minors paler still with bases of legs etc almost pale yellow; otherwise brown with darker gaster.
Camponotus storeatus: Blonde balbyter.
Majors 15 – 16 mm, mediae and minors 12 – 11 mm. Head and thorax dark blood red, gaster black with dense hairs that are more whitish-cream coloured than the similar C. fulvopilosus, which has tawny-yellow hairs.
Camponotus maculatus: Spotted sugar ant.
Majors 13 – 17 mm, mediae 12 mm, minors 9 – 10 mm, minimae 7 – 8 mm. Possibly the most naturally-widespread ant in the world, it is a massively confused species with at least 8 subspecies and more than thirty synonyms or ‘species’ that are variously recognised or not recognised depending upon which continent you live on. Majors have pale orange to dark brown heads, paler legs, always with paler patches or ‘spots’ on the first three gaster segments; mediae and minors in a similar range of shades but generally paler than the majors; minimae sometimes pale yellow all over.
Camponotus mystaceus: Moustached sugar ant [gotta love that name].
Majors 14 – 15 mm, mediae and minors 12 to 9 mm. There are several subspecies based on obscure and contested criteria; it’s a pity that the iSpot dictionary insists on a subspecies, it would be more useful without. The ants are pale yellow with darker orange-brown heads and gasters, particularly in the majors. Under magnification a distinct ‘moustache’ or fringe of hairs can be seen on the clypeus, above the mandibles.
Camponotus petersii: Peters’ long-legged sugar ant.
Majors 14 – 15 mm; minors 11.5 – 12.5 mm. Black, dull, slightly shining with fine white pubescence. The bristly white hairs on the gaster are faintly reminiscent of Camponotus niveosetosus, but this species is much larger. Minors almost as large as majors but with smaller heads. In the iSpot dictionary the specific name says ‘petersi’, which is incorrect.
Camponotus detritus: Desert balbyter.
Majors 13 mm, minors 9 mm. Similar to C. fulvopilosus but noticeably smaller; head and thorax dark red, gaster black with cream-colored dense hairs, with glabrous patches on each segment; the ‘shoulders’ of the thorax are sharply squared off. Mostly Namibia.
Picture ©Sally Adam 2015 & reproduced with permission.
Majors >12 mm, mediae 10 mm, minors 8 mm. Glossy dark brown to black with paler legs and underparts. South and East coasts.
Camponotus guttatus: Zululand sugar ant.
Majors 12 mm, minors 8 mm. Rusty red with bicoloured gasters, anterior orange/red, posterior darker browner, with erect white pilosity on gaster.
Camponotus empedocles: Glossy sugar ant.
Majors 11 – 14 mm, mediae 8 mm, minors 7 mm. Very shiny black with dark brown appendages.
Camponotus eugeniae: Eugene’s long-legged sugar ant. Majors 11 – 12 mm, minors 9 mm. Very similar to C. petersii, but smaller; replaces C. petersii on the Highveld. Black, dull, slightly shining with fine white pubescence. Minors almost as large as majors but with smaller heads.
Camponotus sericeus: Shiny sugar ant.
Majors 10 – 12 mm, mediae and minors 6 – 8.5 mm. Black with shiny golden pubescence, especially on the gaster. The majors may have three simple eyes [ocelli] present between their compound eyes; middle and hind legs have dense black hairs. The nest entrance might be protected by a ‘tube’ of woven grass. Mostly Zimbabwe.
Camponotus baynei: Bayne’s sugar ant.
Majors >10 mm, mediae 8 mm, minors 6 – 7mm. Glossy black brown, pale yellow to orange legs and underparts; the minors are generally paler than the majors.
Camponotus arminius: St Lucia sugar ant.
Majors 10 mm, mediae 8 mm, minors about 6 mm. Black with fine tawny pubescence, especially on the gaster; subtropical in forested areas; east coast.
Camponotus rufoglaucus: Velvet sugar ant.
Majors 10 mm, mediae and minors 5 to 9 mm. Dark Burgundy red with darker, brownish gaster, especially the gaster covered in a fine, velvet-like pale yellow pubescence which is sometimes ‘worn’ in older individuals. The type locality is India and the local species is much contested and might turn out to be a different species.
Camponotus vestitus: Shimmering sugar ant.
Majors 10 mm, mediae 8 mm, minors 7 mm. Head, thorax and appendages yellow-red to dark brick-red; gaster dark brown with shimmering grey-gold pilosity arranged in bands, so that the ants closely resemble Anoplolepis custodiens and appear to imitate that ant.
Camponotus cinctellus: Shiny sugar ant.
Majors 9 mm, mediae 7 mm, minors 5.5-6 mm. Majors dull to shiny black or reddish black, with extensive, shining pilosity on the gaster, with a golden sheen; mediae and minors more reddish brown with similar pilosity.
Camponotus amphidus: Northern hairy sugar ant.
Mediae 7.5 to 9 mm. Dull black body with dark brown antennae and tarsi. Stiff, bristle-like pilosity on gaster, petiole flange and propodeum, a dull golden colour. Superficially similar to C. niveosetosus but larger and apparently lacking true majors and minors. Zimbabwe and Limpopo mountains.
Camponotus cuneiscapus: Orange sugar ant.
Majors 8 mm, minors 5.5 – 7.5 mm. Orange-brown ants with paler minors; the majors often have darker heads that are smaller than usual, more like media workers; the minors have narrower heads but are almost as large as the majors. The posterior half of the gaster might also be darker in some colonies.
Camponotus havilandi: Blackhead sugar ant.
Majors 8 mm, mediae 7 mm, minors 5-6 mm. Heads shiny dark red-brown, thorax darkish yellow brown fading to yellow at posterior of gaster; the minors sometimes have paler heads.
Camponotus niveosetosus: Hairy sugar ant.
Majors 8 mm, mediae 7 mm, minors 5.5 – 6 mm. Black with dark reddish brown antennae, tarsi [lower legs]; head and thorax dull, gaster slightly shiny with very distinctive erect snow-white pilosity or bristles. This is the mostly commonly-reported ant on iSpot.
Majors 8 mm, minors >5 to <5 mm. Shiny black with very little noticeable pubescence. Nests in wood, under bark and in hollow stems, mostly in fynbos. Camponotus werthi subsp skaifei is slightly smaller, but the majors have broader heads; it is the subspecies present in the Cape Peninsula and is recognized by all authorities except the iSpot dictionary ...
Camponotus brookei: Blockhead sugar ant.
Majors 7 mm, mediae 6.5 mm, minors 5 – 6 mm. Dark brownish to black with paler legs; minors are paler, often almost reddish; the major workers’ block-shaped heads are distinctive.
Camponotus bertolonii: Brown sugar ant.
Majors 7 mm, minors 5 mm. Shiny dark chocolate brown with paler legs, one of the few local Camponotus species that nests in [usually] rotten wood [in America they call Camponotus ‘carpenter ants’, although they are not true wood-borers ].
www.ispotnature.org/node/611493 [Graphic: needs redrawing]
POLYRHACHIS: Spiny sugar ants.
There are thirteen species in southern Africa. The generic means ‘many spines’; all species have spines, as many as four on the anterior and posterior ends of the alitrunk [thorax], and up to six on the petiole flange or node, often giving the ants a somewhat fearsome appearance. Six species have so far made the iSpot line up:
Polyrhachis schistacea: Savanna spiny sugar ant.
10 – 14 mm. Colour uniform dull black with numerous erect hairs, from white to black; overall greyish pubescence: in savanna, not forest. Heavily ‘armour plated’ thorax. Nests in soil or grass in savanna areas and is the only Polyrhachis that is widespread over most of the summer rainfall area and highveld. schistacea = slate-coloured
Polyrhachis gagates: Shiny spiny sugar ant.
11 – 13 mm. Black, head and thorax dull, gaster very shiny; pale grey pubescence but few erect hairs anywhere on body; two well-spread spines on petiole flange. Eastern coastal forests and estuaries only. gagates = jet black
Polyrhachis schlueteri: Silver spiny sugar ant.
8.5 – 9 mm. Colour black all over but the entire body is covered in a dense silvery, reflective pubescence which often makes these gorgeous ants look as though they are carved from silver or steel. Wilhelm Schlüter [1828–1919] was a German entomologist and biologist who set up a profitable business buying and selling specimens. Why he is so honoured is unknown.
Polyrhachis durbanensis: Durban spiny sugar ant.
6.7 – 7.3 mm. Black with brown appendages; fine grey pubescence all over. KZN only. The species name simply means ‘from Durban’.
Polyrhachis revoili: Revoil's spiny sugar ant.
6 – 6.5 mm. Erect hairs on scapes; fairly hairy all over; dark grey to black. KZN only. Revoil was a French zoological collector who first collected this species for science in Somalia in 1886.
Polyrhachis spinicola: Common spiny sugar ant.
6 – 6.5 mm. Dull black all over, but with reddish to brown leg-joints and antennae. Bulging eyes. Four spines on the petiole flange. This is the most widespread coastal and eastern species, living in trees, hollow thorns, etc etc from Port Elizabeth northwards up the east coast into Mpumalanga. spinicola = thorn-dwelling
ANOPLOLEPIS: Pugnacious ants or Malmiere.
One of the most widespread genera in Southern Africa, it includes surprisingly few species; three of these are very to fairly common and are very important in the process of myrmecochory, or the burial of fynbos seeds by ants. In all species in the subgenus Zealleyella there is a range of workers in continuous sizes from largest to smallest. In all species the gaster is darker than the thorax or head, and the smallest workers are darker than the largest. Five species take a bow on iSpot.
Anoplolepis custodiens: Large pugnacious ant.
Maximae 9.5 mm, through to minimae 3.5 mm. Larger workers sienna brown or dark brick red with dark brown gasters; silky reflective pubescence over all parts of the body; gaster has five rows of hairs piled in different directions, refracting light and giving the gaster a bright, checkered appearance. Super-aggressive and attack on contact. Very widespread, but less common in fynbos.
Anoplolepis fallax: Pallid pugnacious ant.
Maximae 9 mm through to minimae 3.5 mm. Smaller paler version of A custodiens, whose brick-red parts are pallid yellow in this species. Indeed. some dispute that it is a separate species at all. Behaviour similar to A custodiens.
Anoplolepis rufescens: Chestnut pugnacious ant.
Maximae 8 mm through to minimae 3 mm. Paler chestnut-brown than A custodiens and lacking the shining pubescence and refractive hairs on gaster; also slightly smaller. Behaviour similar to its larger cousin.
Anoplolepis steingroeveri: Small pugnacious ant.
Maximae 7 mm through to minimae 2.5 mm. Smaller and darker than A. custodiens and A. rufescens, either lacking refractive pubescence on gaster or present in a much simplified form, lacking the ‘checkered’ result. Much more common in fynbos than A custodiens; widespread; the species found at higher altitudes is often considerably darker in colour than at the coast. As super-aggressive as A custodiens. Difficult to photograph due to rapid movements.
Anoplolepis gracilipes: Yellow crazy ant.
5 – 6 mm. Placed in the subgenus Anoplolepis where the workers are all more or less the same size; this very invasive species has been reported from Durban and Kalk Bay harbours but does not seem to have established itself in SA yet. Ants are yellow with darker abdomens, rapid moving with long legs in dense swarms, and have wiped out most of the microfauna in the Pacific islands.
OECOPHYLLA: The Tailor ants
This is a strange genus of two species only, one Asian, one African. Known everywhere as ‘tailor ants’, these subtropical tree-dwelling ants uniquely ‘sew’ the leaves of trees together with silk to form their nests.
Oecophylla longinoda: Long-node tailor ant.
Majors 7 mm, minors 4 mm. The ants are rusty red or pale chestnut coloured, quite shiny, with yellowish red antennae and legs; large black eyes and powerful mandibles. The large gap between the petiole scale and the gaster vaguely resembles the double-node of the Myrmicinae subfamily. There are several subspecies and some disagreement about whether these should be elevated to species rank or not.
AGRAULOMYRMEX, ACROPYGA, LEPISIOTA, PLAGIOLEPIS: These are all very small ants but are placed here because they are all Formicinae.
LEPISIOTA: The Small black ants
This is an extremely widespread genus, with twenty species and ten subspecies in our region. The taxonomy is in something of a mess and needs revision. One species, L capensis, has rapidly evolved over the past few decades from a fairly insignificant ant living in small colonies in the veld to a large-scale invader of homes and gardens, living in super-colonies that spread by ‘budding’. To complicate matters, there are five subspecies in L. capensis. All Lepisiota can be instantly identified by two characteristics:
1. They have two blunt spines or tubercles on the propodeum, or posterior segment of the thorax – you need a good lens to see these; and
2. If the ants are small and black and their pupae are in cocoons, then they are always Lepisiota ... but – there’s always an exception that proves the rule. The uncommon little Plagiolepis fuscula is small and black, too [see below] ... and also pupates in cocoons. However, they are dull black, never as shiny as Lepisiota.
There are three species on iSpot so far:
Lepisiota incisa: Spiny-scale black ant.
3 – 3.5 mm. All shiny black. Two propodeal tubercles as above; teeth on petiole flange are elongated into long spines. This species has also shown a tendency to move from small colonies of a few hundred ants to interlinked super-colonies.
Lepisiota capensis: Common small black ant.
2.5 - 3 mm [L. capensis subsp minuta are <1.5 mm]. All shiny black. Two propodeal tubercles as above; two points or teeth on the petiole flange. Either small colonies under stones or large interlinked colonies around buildings, gardens, etc with ants running in trails.
Lepisiota crinita: Hairy small black ant.
2.5 mm. Black, but clothed abundantly in bristly white hairs. Two propodeal tubercles as above; two points or teeth on the petiole flange.
Our picture is not good but it’s all we have; the black ant in the second pic is the best.
AGRAULOMYRMEX: The Field ants
This is an uncommon genus with only two described species [one Zimbabwean, one South African] and another 10 – 12 awaiting classification. Small, brown, rare.
Agraulomyrmex meridionalis: Southern field ant.
2.2 mm. Dark brown with elongated gaster, almost as long as the head and thorax; hairy with large eyes. Look a lot like Monomorium, but if there are cocoons in the nest they are Agraulomyrmex. West Coast to Citrusdal only.
ACROPYGA: The Forest sugar ants
These are tiny, yellow forest ants with minute eyes, and three African species [only one in our region]. Uncommon and rarely seen.
Acropyga arnoldi: Yellow forest sugar ant.
2 mm. Translucent yellow with tiny eyes and largish gasters. The presence of cocoons in the nest distinguishes them from small Monomoriums.
In any alphabetical list of all the 20 000+ ant species in the world, this one always comes first!
PLAGIOLEPIS: The Restless ants
This is a widespread genus of generally tiny ants, with 16 species in our region. The antennae have 11 segments [10 + scape]; they were once bundled with Anoplolepis and Lepisiota in a single genus. One our smallest ants [1.2 mm] is a Plagiolepis. Only four species have featured on iSpot:
Plagiolepis brunni: Brunn’s restless ant;
1.3 – 1.7 mm. All over honey to honey-red, gaster with faint browner bands, more marked at the sides; an African ‘tramp’ ant in forest areas, north to Eritrea and also in West Africa
Plagiolepis deweti: De Wet’s restless ant.
2.5 mm. Shiny dark brown with paler legs and yellowish brown antennae. Presence of cocoons in nest distinguishes it from other small brown ants.
Plagiolepis fuscula: Black restless ant
2 mm. Shiny or slightly shiny black or dark red, the extremities paler; petiole scale very thin and forward inclined. From the WC, EC and KZN
Plagiolepis vanderkeleni subsp tricolor: Two-tone restless ant
1.6 – 1.9 mm. Head, thorax and petiole yellowish red; gaster dark brown to black; legs paler. Inhabits eastern montane forests.
DORYLINAE: the Driver or Army ants.
This subfamily has three genera in our region, of which the most common is Dorylus. Several peculiar characteristics separate the subfamily from all the rest of our local ants:
1. The workers are intensely polymorphic, with a huge range of sizes; in some species this can be from 1.5 to 12 mm; they are all completely blind and have no eyes at all
2. The males are enormous; often known as ‘sausage flies’ they are well-known everywhere for their habit of flying into lights at night [they look fearsome but are completely harmless]
3. The queens are similarly enormous; wingless and blind, they have huge sausage-shaped gasters and lay eggs on an enormous scale.
There are thirteen species and five subspecies of Dorylus in our region but only one has been positively identified on iSpot.
Dorylus helvolus: Red driver ant.
Maximae 9 mm; minimae 1.5 mm with a continuous range of sizes in between. Brilliant red to yellow-red in colour. All workers blind: lack eyes altogether. Ants march in dense columns through leaf-litter, etc, in dull weather or on cool evenings. They are nomadic and the entire colony swarms continuously to the next food source. The ants are intensely aggressive and attack on contact; they have powerful mandibles and the maximae can easily draw human blood.
www.ispotnature.org/node/468240 [Drone or male]
MYRMICINAE: the Double-waisted ants.
This is by far the largest subfamily of ants in the world, with a large number of genera and, of course, even more species. There are 23 genera in our region, of which 14 have so far hit the iSpot headlines.
All Myrmicinae are instantly recognizable by the ‘double-jointed waist’ that characterises the entire subfamily. In other ants the [simplified] body configuration is head-thorax-o-gaster, where -o- represents the petiole or waist with its single node. In Myrmicine ants, however, the config is head-thorax-o-o-gaster, and it is this ‘double’ -o-o- petiole with two nodes that is characteristic. All Myrmicinae have naked pupae, ie the larvae do not spin cocoons. As in the sub-families above, the genera below are arranged from largest to smallest.
CAREBARA: the Thief ants.
These curious ants nest in the walls of termitaria, from whence they raid the termite’s food supply and feed on their eggs and nymphs. Although the workers are minute, from 1.5 to 2.5 mm, pale yellow and completely blind, the queens are by contrast relatively enormous, reaching up to 24 mm or more. On their mating flights the alate females fly out with several tiny workers clinging to their fur, and these workers tend the first eggs and larvae of the new colony. There are 22 species in our region, with two so far on iSpot [queens]. You are, of course, much more likely to notice the winged queens [alate females] than the workers.
Carebara junodi: Red African thief ant.
Workers 1.7 – 1.9 mm; queens 23 mm. The head and thorax of the queen [female] is rusty red, the gaster dark brown, with several longitudinal bands of dark brown on the thorax. Winged females often found with tiny yellow workers attached.
Carebara vidua: Black African thief ant.
Workers 1.6 – 2 mm; queens 24 mm. Head, thorax and abdomen black with tufts of dense black or yellowish hairs; gaster black to dark red to reddish brown. Winged females often found with tiny yellow workers attached.
MESSOR: the Harvester ants.
Very polymorphic ants with maximae often more than twice as large as the minimae, they are all seed gatherers with a basket-like ‘beard’ beneath the head that is apparently used to carry sand; in most species the underground nests are characterised by a distinct cone, often perfectly circular, of sand around the nest entrance. There are eight species in our region; however, one of these [M. incisus] is so obscure that only a single male has ever been found. Four species have featured on iSpot.
Messor striatifrons: Rugged harvester ant.
Maximae 12 mm to minimae 6 mm. The species is most easily separated from M. capensis by the head-shape: the sides of the head are convex and the whole is thus less ‘blocky’. Colour medium to dark brown all over, with gaster often darker; mandibles dark brown to red; under magnification the head is finely wrinkled or striated. Most common in drier areas.
Messor capensis: Common harvester ant.
Maximae 11 mm to minimae of 5 mm. Dark brown to black with shiny gasters; heads large and block-shaped; often seen in evenings and mornings in long trails returning to their nests with seeds and other vegetable matter. If you disturb the trail [eg by stamping on the ground] the ants freeze into immobility.
Messor piceus: Small black harvester ant.
Maximae 10 mm to minimae 7 mm. Colour black with black pilosity [the hairs on M. capensis are white]. Smaller than M. capensis and the range of polymorphs is not as great. Some consider this to be merely a variant of M. capensis ....
Messor decipiens : Deceptive harvester ant
Maximae 9 mm to minimae 4.5 mm. The majors have red heads and dark red alitrunk [thorax], while the gaster might be darker still. The minors may be black all over. The heads of the majors are wider by up to 20% than they are long.
M. decipiens occurs in the central/eastern provinces of South Africa [KZN, Mpumalanga, Free State and Limpopo] as well as Botswana, Lesotho and Zimbabwe.
The specific name ‘decipiens’ means ‘deceiving’; and Bolton has suggested that this ant, with M. piceus, is merely a variety of M. capensis, and not a different species, so the name might be appropriate.
OCYMYRMEX: the Hotrod ants.
Slim, long-legged ants that generally prefer hot, dry sandy habitats, they are possibly the fastest ants on record, dashing around at hotrod speeds in apparently random directions but in reality seeking heat-stressed insects. As in the genus Messor they have a ‘basket’ or ‘beard’ of stiff bristles under the head, which they apparently use to clear sand grains from their nests. No Ocymyrmex queens have ever been found; the genus apparently has solely ‘ergatoid’ queens or mated workers, that closely resemble the workers themselves. There are no less than 30 species in our region but only two have starred on iSpot – we apparently need faster shutter speeds, you iSpotters.
Ocymyrmex velox: the Large hotrod ant.
10 to 11 mm. Head red brown, thorax darker, gaster light red-brown or even orange to yellow. Very fast runner; mainly in Namibia and Angola.
Ocymyrmex barbiger: the Bearded hotrod ant.
6.5 mm. Red-brown with darker thorax and black gaster. Very long legs, very fast, etc etc.
MYRMICARIA: the Droptail ants [Hanggatmiere].
Uniquely amongst all ants, Myrmicaria have antennae with only 7 segments [scape + 6]. They also always have characteristic drooping gasters that point downwards towards the ground, hence the common name. They have large eyes, prominent propodeal spines, prominent stings, and often create trails when foraging. There are 14 species in our region with four subspecies; five have been identified on iSpot so far.
Myrmicaria baumi: Red droptail ant.
8 to 9.5 mm. Dark red-brown, abdomen dark brown, legs and antennae almost black with black pilosity. Prefers drier, semi-desert habitats
Myrmicaria natalensis: Natal droptail ant.
6.5 – 7.7 mm. Head, thorax and petiole dark red to brownish red; gaster, legs and antennae darker brown to almost black; shiny. This is a savanna ant and despite the specific and common names is widespread across Southern Africa. The colonies are often very large.
Myrmicaria faurei: Faure’s droptail ant.
6.5 to 7 mm. Black and shiny all over, with considerable striation or 'wrinkles' on head and thorax. The long, downward-curving spines on the propodeum are definitive for the species, which typically occurs along the northern Drakensberg escarpment and similar habitats.
Myrmicaria nigra: Black droptail ant.
5.5 mm; dark brownish black, the legs and antennae might be paler. Pale yellow hairs, not always obvious; often very shiny. This is the only Myrmicaria in the Western Cape but is otherwise fairly widespread. Slow and bumbling in appearance, they nest in the ground with frequently a loose mound of detritus packed around the nest entrance. Some west coast specimens might be a little larger, up to 6.5 mm, where the colonies are often quite large.
Myrmicaria laevior: Shiny droptail ant. 4 mm. Shiny reddish brown with paler legs; gaster can be darker, very little pilosity or pubescence. Prefers wooded habitats on the east coast.
ATOPOMYRMEX: Tree ants.
There is only one species in our region:
Atopomyrmex mocquerysi: Two-tone tree ant.
Majors 8 mm; mediae 6 mm; minors 4 mm. Head and thorax dark red, petiole, gaster and legs black, antennae reddish brown; all shiny with little or no pubescence. There is little difference in the shape of majors, mediae and minors. Slow moving tree-dwellers from the KZN coast and into Zimbabwe. The iSpot dictionary currently misspells the generic and species names as one word.
PHEIDOLE: the House ants.
A huge genus in the New World, there are 76 species in Africa, and these are in such a profound taxonomic mess that this total is probably completely wrong. To illustrate the problem, there are to date 26 recognised species in our area, with no less than 32 subspecies! Pheidole minor workers closely resemble Tetramorium or Solenopsis, but are always readily identifiable by the presence of majors with ridiculously disproportionate, huge heads. These are seldom ‘soldiers’ in defence of the colony – they’re usually the first to disappear when you turn over a stone. Instead their function seems to be cutting up food, cracking open seeds, etc. iSpotters have so far pinned down pinned down seven of our local species.
Pheidole crassinoda: Namib house ant.
Majors 7 mm, minors 4 mm: all dark reddish brown with paler legs; the majors have slightly elongated heads.
Pheidole megacephala: Big-headed house ant.
Majors 5 to 5.5 mm; minors 2.5 to 3 mm. Major’s heads appear almost ‘circular’ compared to the rectangular nature of many other species; reddish brown with darker gaster; two yellowish spots on either side of the first gaster segment. Minors are similarly coloured but with paler heads. The species is widespread in our region, from where it is thought to have originated. It is now a worldwide ‘tramp’ or invasive species, causing some economic and environmental damage in some areas. It has evolved the ability to form super-colonies and has become a substantial pest/invader of many human habitations and towns.
Pheidole aspera: Hairy house ant.
Majors 5 mm, minors 3 mm. Both castes are yellowish-brown with darker, almost to black heads, with distinct yellowish pilosity over the whole body.
Pheidole akermani: Akerman's house ant
Majors 5 mm, minors 2.6 mm. Gaster dark brown, extremities and rear of heads redder; legs red-brown, slight yellowish pilosity. Only in KZN.
Pheidole capensis: Brown house ant.
Pheidole strator subsp. fugax: Lowveld house ant
Majors >4 – 4mm; minors 1.8 – 2mm. The majors are reddish and paler than the minors, which can be quite dark brown; both shiny with prominent yellow pilosity. Generally nest under tree bark; in Mpumalanga, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Pheidole kitschneri: Kitschner’s house ant
Majors 3.5 mm; minors 2.5mm. Majors and minors brownish, translucent yellow. There are two shallow ridges down the alitrunk, with weakly-developed propodeal spines. Confined to KZN.
SOLENOPSIS: the Fire ants.
Some Solenopsis are monomorphic, but both our species here are polymorphic, with a considerable range of sizes between maximae and minimae. The antennae are ten segmented with a two-segmented club [cf the similar-looking Monomorium, which has a three-segmented club]. There are four species with three subspecies in our region; iSpot has found two.
WARNING: Solenopsis have powerful stings which they use freely; the venom is a particularly harmful one which can cause anaphylactic shock in some humans.
Solenopsis geminata: Red fire ant.
Maximae 6 mm; minimae 2.4 mm. Colour varies widely, from reddish to brownish yellow. This highly invasive alien species has fortunately not yet made much of an impact in our region: it has caused havoc elsewhere. Here it has been found in East London and Durban, but not apparently our other coastal cities [yet].
Solenopsis punctaticeps: Yellow fire ant.
Maximae 4 mm down to minimae of 1.8 mm. Dirty yellow to yellow-red in colour with darker abdomens. The ants seem to remain underground for prolonged periods, only emerging in the dullest of weather.
CATAULACUS: the Sculpted tree ants.
Another curious genus in which the slow-moving ants appear to be armoured, having rugged skins with numerous projecting ‘teeth’ from the sides of the head and thorax, with a pair of spines on the propodeum. Most species are black with paler or yellowish legs and antennae; viewed from above, only the first segment of the gaster is visible. There are seven species in our region, with two so far on iSpot.
Cataulacus intrudens: Savanna sculpted tree ant.
Workers 4 – 5 mm. Black with dark rusty red legs and scape; sparsely hairy and extremely rugged skin.
Cataulacus wissmannii: Mangrove sculpted tree ant.
3.5 mm, occasionally larger. Smaller than C. intrudens, with larger and flatter eyes; black with brown legs, flagellum and mandible; scapes and tarsi [lower legs] reddish-yellow. Clothed all over in short hairs.
CREMATOGASTER: the Cocktail ants.
A very large genus with hundreds of species spread around the world. In our area there are 6 sub-genera with 48 species and 44 subspecies, of which only a paltry seven have made it on to iSpot. However, that’s not entirely your fault: the genus is in possibly the worst taxonomic mess of all ant genera [except Pheidole?] and it is extremely difficult to ID these ants from photos alone. Of the roughly 160 obs of Crematogaster on iSpot, more than half have not been identified below genus level.
Crematogaster have 10 or 11-segmented antennae, with well-developed eyes set at or just behind the midline of the head. Most species have two prominent propodeal spines, and the heart-shaped gasters are absolutely characteristic of the genus. Moreover, because of the construction of the petiole nodes all species are able to ‘cock their tails’, ie lift their gasters vertically above their heads as a defensive gesture. Many have stings and many release offensive substances when they so raise their gasters. Most species live both in the ground and in rotten wood and/or in carefully constructed ‘carton’ nests, made of well-chewed vegetable matter stuck together with saliva. Some species live under bark or in the thorns of savanna trees – it is somehow gratifying that the African species Crematogaster acaciae will never have its name stolen by Australians.
Crematogaster melanogaster: Brown cocktail ant.
4.5 – 5.5 mm. Head, thorax and petiole brick to dull red; gaster black and fairly shiny; legs dark reddish brown. Fairly hairy [under magnification]; large eyes; propodeal spines narrower than C castanea. Occurs primarily in drier areas, west coast and Karoo. Apologies for fairly average photos.
Crematogaster peringueyi: Black cocktail ant.
<4 mm - 5.5 mm [the size variation is considerable but not in the same nest]. Black with dark brown extremities; considerable pubescence but ants appear shiny, especially the gaster. This is the most common species in the southern half of our region; the west coast varieties tending to be larger and blacker than the south coast. Ants run in trails and are very aggressive, biting on contact; their carton nests in bushes and shrubs are a common feature in the coastal vegetation.
Crematogaster castanea: Red cocktail ant.
>4 mm. Orange to reddish heads with darker gasters, often with paler areas on the anterior gaster segments. This is a massively confused, confusing and disputed species with no fewer than 97 described varieties, races and subspecies, and we have no doubt that some of the IDs on iSpot will be changed at some stage. In the meantime, when in doubt and it’s reddish, call it castanea – you probably won’t be wrong. Generally tree-dwelling in the moister eastern interior and coastal areas of the region, up into the tropics.
Crematogaster oscaris: Oscar’s cocktail ant. 3.5 - 4 mm.
Body black, mandibles, antennae and legs blackish brown; sparse yellowish pubescence. The prominent, slightly out-and-up-turned propodeal spines and the distinct constrictions between the three segments of the antennal club are distinctive of the species, which seems to be confined to Namibia; they often build very large carton nests.
Crematogaster natalensis subsp braunsii: Small golden cocktail ant.
3 – 3.5 mm. Head yellowish brown, thorax ochreous red, gaster reddish brown. Widespread in KZN down to the Cape, at higher altitudes under stones. Only one obs on iSpot.
Crematogaster orobia: Matroosberg cocktail ant.
2.5 – 3.5 mm. Black with dark brown extremities; gaster nearly as long as head and thorax combined. Occurs at altitudes of 900m+ throughout the Cape, under stones. Two obs on iSpot; photos poor but there is a graphic too.
Crematogaster transvaalensis: Small black cocktail ant.
2.4 – 2.8 mm. Dark brown to pitch black with brown legs and antennal club; mandible, antennae and tarsi reddish yellow. The gaster is large, almost as long as head and thorax combined. Despite the name they are widespread except in desert areas, the fynbos tending to host the ‘hammi’ variety which is often smaller and darker than others. If born-frees don’t understand the species name, well ... ask your parents. Apologies for poor quality of the only photos so far on iSpot.
TETRAMORIUM: Fierce or Garden ants.
The monomorphic Tetramorium is probably the hardest genus of all to define simply. Every ‘defining’ characteristic is shared with at least one other genus. Most are small and fairly obscure ants with 11 or 12 segmented antennae and at least one pair of spines on the propodeum. Many species have a distinctly thickened first and/or second petiole node, and this might be the best starting point in identification of most species. Almost all species, too, have distinctly ‘wrinkled’ or grooved faces. Nevertheless, this is the largest genus in our region with at least 102 species, yet we have collectively iSpotted just four of these.
Tetramorium signatum: Feigning fierce ant.
4.5 – 5 mm. Blackish brown with dark red legs, antennae and mandibles; petiole nodes notably thick. Head proportionately large to gaster. Prefers drier areas especially in the west; this ant notably feigns death by curling up in a ‘foetal’ position when accosted. They seem to be harvesters and are often seen carrying seeds, etc.
Tetramorium setuliferum: Red fierce ant
4 – 5 mm; red to red-brown, very fine adpressed silvery hairs give legs a shiny appearance; robust rounded heads. Widespread except in the Western Cape.
Tetramorium sericeiventre: Black garden ant.
3 mm to 4 mm [but not in same colony]. Head and thorax usually dull red but can be yellowish to almost black; gaster shiny black. Four spines on the propodeum, two dorsal, two ventral. Lives in small colonies in the ground; freezes when accosted by other ants. The species T. quadrispinosum has been absorbed into this species, thus swapping one unspellable scientific name for an even worse one.
Tetramorium angulinode: Fat-waisted fierce ant.
2.7 mm. Black with brown mandibles, antennae and upper limbs, with an overall white pilosity; abdomen smooth and shiny. Both petiole nodes are thickened and oval to cuboid. Northern parts of our region.
MERANOPLUS: the Cautious or Furry ants.
Small, very furry, slow-moving ants in which the upper segments of the thorax are fused into a shield-like plate with a distinct margin or shelf which, at the posterior end, overhangs the propodeal spines. The ants resemble smaller versions of Cataulacus, with which they were once lumped; all are brown to dark brown; the antennae are 9-segmented [scape + 8]. Seven species recorded from our area; iSpot has two so far.
Meranoplus peringueyi: Hairy cautious ant.
3 – 4.2 mm. Dark brown to almost black and very woolly; the overall shape is superficially similar to Crematogaster until you get right up close. Small colonies under stones.
Meranoplus inermis: Spineless cautious ant.
2 – 2.5 mm. Medium to dark brown, the gaster is often darker than the rest. The common name is not a judgement call on the ant’s courage, but refers to the fact that this is the only Meranoplus that lacks distinct spines on the propodeum.
MONOMORIUM: the Timid ants.
Monomorphic [all same size] ants that are surprisingly common, yet often overlooked. They resemble ants in the genus Tetramorium, and also Pheidole minor workers, but all Monomorium have no spines on the propodeum, and most have smooth heads; the antennal ‘club’ has three segments, which separates Monomorium from Solenopsis, which only has 2-segmented clubs. Monomorium are generally small and timid, quietly keeping to themselves, with a few notable exceptions. There are 77 species in our region, of which a paltry 12 have been noticed by iSpotters.
Monomorium excelsior: Large brown timid ant.
3.2 – 3.5 mm. Dark brown all over and very shiny; although first recorded at 2200m in the Matroosberg, it is widespread down to sea-level.
Monomorium albopilosum: Carrion timid ant
3 – 3.5 mm; elongate; head/alitrunk dark reddish brown; head/alitrunk closely punctured and dull; gaster shining or slightly shining with blueish sheen; legs shiny; fine white pilosity. Gaster pilosity semi-erect. Legs long and slender. All provinces except Western Cape.
Monomorium junodi: Junod’s timid ant
3 – 3.5 mm; elongate; head/alitrunk dark reddish brown; head/alitrunk closely punctured and dull; gaster shining or slightly shining, dark brown; legs shiny; fine white pilosity. Gaster pilosity semi-erect. Legs long and slender. All provinces except Western Cape. Very similar to M albipilosum above but without the overall pilosity
Monomorium fridae: Friday's fierce timid ant.
3 – 3.2mm. Uniform brown to dark brown. Occurs in large colonies in drier areas where it builds a mound of loose detritus around the nest entrance; intensely aggressive when disturbed, hence the apparently contradictory name.
Monomorium havilandi: Haviland's timid ant.
2.5 mm. Black, mandibles reddish; antennae and legs rusty brown; head and gaster shiny.
Monomorium pharaonis: Pharoah ant.
2.5 mm. Yellow-orange, with the apex of the gaster a darker brown. A world-wide invader, it has been recorded in Cape Town since 1860 but has become uncommon; found mostly in the ‘leafy suburbs’ near Newlands.
Monomorium australe: Southern timid ant.
2.4 mm. Reddish brown with darker gaster; mandibles etc slightly paler. There can occasionally be a range of sizes in the same nest, with minimae down to 1.8 mm. Occurs in drier areas.
Monomorium macrops: Teardrop-eyed timid ant.
2 mm. Reddish brown with darker gaster; legs paler. Very large, tear-drop-shaped eyes; in shady places in drier areas.
Farmer’s timid ant
1.8 mm. Very pale legs and mandibles, dark brown body with coarse pilosity on gaster. Very tiny ants that are seldom noticed.
Monomorium xanthognathum: Yellow-jaw timid ant. 1.8 mm. Pitch black with yellow-red mandibles; legs dark brown; all polished and shiny. Cape Peninsula.
www.ispotnature.org/node/571901 [may be an incorrect ID]
Monomorium rhopalocerum: Small yellow timid ant.
1.7 mm. Translucent pale yellow, shiny. Almost identical in appearance to Syllophopsis modesta but with slightly larger eyes.
www.ispotnature.org/node/607755 [Graphic: needs improvement]
Monomorium torvicte: Tiny brown timid ant.
1.5 – 1.6 mm. Tiny, brown to dark brown ants with small eyes.
MELISSOTARSUS : The Bee-legged ants.
These are uncommon and bizarre little ants that live permanently under the bark or in the heartwood of various shrubs. There are two species in our area, but these may turn out to be one after all.
Melissotarsus emeryi: Bee-legged boring ant
Only known to occur living in the proteaceous Leucospemum praemorsum, which occurs in a few scattered populations (with up to several thousand plants) in the Clanwilliam / Nieuwoudtville areas, and further north near Hondeklipbaai. Small [3 mm] yellow-brown ants that never emerge from their burrows and bizarrely walk with four legs down and two on the roof of their tunnels. They live on the secretions of coccids (mealy bugs) which the young queens probably introduce into the shrubs after their mating flights.
Western and Northern Cape, KZN, Mpumalanga and Zimbabwe.
SYLLOPHOPSIS: the Minute timid ants
This small genus of very small ants was only recently erected as an African genus, when several almost-blind Monomorium ants were moved into the genus. They are all very small, pale yellow and with compound eyes that consist of a single facet only.
Syllophopsis modesta: Modest minute timid ant. 1.6 – 1.7 mm. Yellow, smooth and shining; rectangular head with tiny, single-facetted eyes. The iSpot dictionary is always slow to update, so the following are still listed there as ‘Monomorium modestum’.
www.ispotnature.org/node/642106 [Graphic: needs improvement]
AENECTINAE: the False army ants
This monogeneric sub-family was raised by Bolton in 1990, when it was decided that the genus Aenictus was inappropriately placed in the Dorylinae sub-family. The name comes from the Latin ‘aenigma’, meaning ‘puzzling’ or ‘ambiguous’. For a long time the genus was known only from winged male specimens; indeed, there are several species that are still only known from a handful of male specimens, no workers ever having been collected.
AENICTUS: The False army ants
Aenictus, the ‘enigma ants’, are eyeless, ground-dwelling ants that occur across the Old World, from Africa into China and down to Australia. Mostly tropical, there are 181 described species, with 37 of these in Africa. There are several species awaiting description, but there are also a number of obscure species that might be combined in future.
The African species are all specialised predators of other ants, especially eggs, larvae and pupae. The colonies are very large and prey species are overcome by sheer weight of numbers. Raids are mounted upon nearby ant colonies, when large numbers of workers attack and assist each other in collecting and removing their prey. The columns of attacking and/or triumphantly returning ants resemble the habits of army ants such as Dorylus, hence the common name, ‘False army ants’ (‘True’ army ants move in nomadic columns that attack and consume anything edible that they find along the way). Columns move half-concealed through leaf litter, etc; it is not known whether the nests are permanent, or whether the ants are occasionally nomadic – the latter seems probable.
Most species are very small (>2mm) to medium-small (>5mm), another feature which distinguishes them from true army ants. The antennae are 10-segmented [scape + 9], with a shortened, often curved scape; no eyes; much reduced clypeus bringing the antennal sockets very close to the front of the head; two-segmented petiole creates a superficial resemblance to ants of the Myrmicinae sub-family. In most species there are ventral processes on the petiole nodes.
The genus is reputed to be monomorphic [all ants same size or shape] but this is doubtful as some species have major workers that have different head shapes and colouring than the minors. In fact, most of our local species are polymorphic, with a smooth gradation from the minors to the (differently shaped) majors.
There are ten species from our region, of which four are so obscure that only males have ever been found; these are not dealt with here, but for the record they are
Two species are recorded on iSpot:
Aenictus eugenii: Eugene’s false army ant
The workers are 3.7 to 4.0 mm long, larger and much darker-coloured than the very similar A. rotundatus, and varying less in size than the workers of that species. The head and alitrunk are a bright chestnut red with a lighter coloured gaster. The legs are yellowish red, and the sides of the alitrunk and the mandibles are a brownish red.
We presume that the species is named after the famed naturalist, Eugene Marais (1871 – 1936); whom Emery met as a young man.
Fantastic pics by Wynand Uys are on iSpot at:
Aenictus rotundatus: Golden false army ant
The workers range from 2.3 to 3.8 mm in length. How such a wide range – where the majors are nearly twice as large as the minors – can be described as ‘monomorphic’ is ridiculous, especially as the majors have wider heads and are darker in colour than the minors. In fact the species is polymorphic, with a continuous range of sizes from largest to smallest. The body colour is golden red, with some ants having a paler basal gaster segment. There is a long, yellowish and rather sparse pilosity on the petiole and gaster, and less regular and scantier, on the head, scape and alitrunk.
Major workers’ heads are as wide as they are long, while minors’ heads are about 20% longer than wide.
“Rotundatus’ means ‘rotund’ or ‘round-shaped’ and presumably refers to the shape of the major workers’ heads.
Fairly good pics by Ricky Taylor, which I erroneously originally identified as Solenopsis puntaticeps, are on iSpot at
PSEUDOMYRMICINAE: the Slender ants.
There is only one African genus in this small subfamily: Tetraponera. These are all slender, elongated ants with relatively short legs and often with large eyes, with strong stings that they do not hesitate to use. All live in dead wood or hollow stems, eg the dead stems of Iridaceae such as Watsonea, Aristea, etc. There are twelve species in our region, with five on iSpot.
Tetraponera natalensis: Natal slender ant.
7 – 8 mm. Yellow/red with darker apex to gaster; eyes large, set on or slightly behind the midline of the head; the thoracic area has a distinct margin. Commonest in grasslands where in lives mainly under tree bark and has taken to the invasive Acacia mearnsii [Black wattle]. The commonest subsp is caffra, which some think should be re-instated as a separate species [Tetraponera caffra, Santschi 1914]
Tetraponera emeryi: Emery’s yellow slender ant.
4 – 4.5 mm. Yellow all over; eyes medium, set before the midline of the head. Widespread over the whole country, in hollow stems and twigs.
Tetraponera ambigua: Small yellow slender ant.
4 – 4.5 mm. Yellow to yellow-red all over, the apex of the gaster a little darker. Large eyes, set on or behind the midline of the head. North and eastern parts of our region, on trees or nesting in hollow twigs.
Tetraponera braunsi: Brauns’ slender ant
4 – 4.4 mm. The ants are black with reddish or orange appendages; the eyes are not angled but in line with the head. The head shape is distinctive, ‘bulging’ slightly behind the eyes.
The type variety braunsi is found in the Willowmore area and down to the South Coast.
The variety equidentata is also black but is smaller, workers at 3.5 – 4 mm, than braunsi and occurs mainly in the Western Cape.
The subspecies durbanensis has workers that are 3.8 – 4 mm long and are entirely dark ochreous yellow, with the head, alitrunk and gaster smooth and shining. As the name implies they occur mainly in the Durban area.
Tetraponera clypeata: Black slender ant.
3.5 to 4 mm. Black all over, legs dark brown; antennae reddish yellow but brown towards the base; very shiny. Widespread but especially in fynbos, nesting in hollow stems and dead wood.
If you have any suggestions for improvements or changes to this catalogue please post your comments ...