Thursday, 14 June 2012

Some Ants of Bangalore (and South India)

Having finally got hold of the Indian ant book – On a trail with Ants a handbook to the Ants of India, by Ajay Narendra and Sunil Kumar M, it took me a while to get started on identifying ants. I recently had the pleasure of interacting with both the authors, initially with Sunil Kumar at Lalbagh and later with Ajay Narendra at a fascinating talk he gave on his research work. Below are some of the common ant species I was able to capture from Lalbagh Bangalore (and a few from Kerala).
I intend this to be a continuing post and will update this as I encounter more species. The species currently covered are:

  1. Odour Ant (Tapinoma melanocephalum)
  2. White-footed Ghost ant (Technomyrmex albipes)
  3. Yellow Crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes)
  4. Giant Honey Ant (Camponotus irritans)
  5. Common Godzilla ant (Camponotus compressus)
  6. Golden Backed ant (Camponotus sericeus)
  7. Weaver ant (Oecophylla smaragdina)
  8. Black Crazy ant (Paratrechina longicornis)
  9. Deceptive Serrated Ant (Cataulacus taprobanae)
  10. Common Broad Acrobat Ant (Crematogaster subnuda)
  11. Silky Shield Ant (Meranoplus bicolor)
  12. Pharaoh Ant (Monomorium pharaonis)
  13. Short-legged Hunchback Ant (Myricaria brunnea)
  14. Spiny Harvester Ant (Pheidole watsoni)
  15. Common Red Fire Ant (Solenopsis geminata)
  16. Greater Striated Bispinous Ant (Diacamma ceylonese)
  17. Jumping ant (Harpegnathos salator)
  18. Procession ant (Leptogenys processionalis)
  19. Polished Leaf-border ant (Tetraponera allaborans)
  20. Arboreal Bicolored Ant (Tetraponera rufonigra)
Odour Ant (Tapinoma melanocephalum):
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Also called as the Ghost ant, this tiny species ( 1.5 –2mm) is easily recognized by black head, contrasting with its translucent yellowish-white abdomen. They are called odour ants due to the unpleasant odour they secrete, when crushed, resembling rotten coconuts.
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They can be found both inside buildings and outside. They can usually be seen in long trails leading from the nest, which are communal and host several queens.
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They are generally absent from undisturbed evergreen forests and their presence is indicative of human activity. They may occur in the fringes of forests though.
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White-footed Ghost ant (Technomyrmex albipes):
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This is a small, black ant with whitish legs, 2.5-3mm in length. They have a head which is longer than broad and the gaster is oval. They are commonly found foraging along branches and trunks of trees and shrubs that have nectars and/or sap-sucking insects that produce honeydew. They are mostly encountered on cut flowers.
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This ant can commonly be found foraging in kitchens, bathrooms, and building exteriors. They feed on both sweet things as well as insects.
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Nests are built within flower pots, below stones or bark or even in electric boards and switches.
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Yellow Crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes):
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Another crazy ant, so named for its fast, haphazard movements. They have rather long legs and antenna and is an invasive species commonly found across the world.
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They are about 6.5-7mm in length. Nests are located in cool moist places such as under leaf litter or in the base of trees. They are known as scavenging predators and have a very broad diet. These ants have mutualistic associations with honey-dew producing insects. They yellow crazy ants are also indicators of human activity.
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Giant Honey Ant (Camponotus irritans):
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These are large ants, with major workers measuring 8-10mm and minor workers measuring 6-7mm. They are solitary hunters, predatory and scavenging and are rather fast movers. Nests are constructed in soil. The above picture is that of a minor worker, they have a honey coloured head and mesosoma as compared to the reddish brown head of the major worker (below)DSC09909DSC09906
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Common Godzilla ant (Camponotus compressus):
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A very commonly seen ant, it is somewhat large in size and exhibit polymorphism, with at least three worker types. While the minor workers are about 6-8mm (above), the major workers are huge with 11-16mm sizes (below).
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These are predatory ants which go about solitarily or in small groups. They occur in most gardens and parks and are known to have a gustatory preference for urea and hence is a common visitor around lavatories!
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Golden Backed ant (Camponotus sericeus):
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The Golden-backed ant is so called as the gaster has a dense silky-golden pubescence. They exhibit polymorphism with the major workers being 8-10mm, median workers being 5-7mm and minor workers being 3-4 mm. The minor workers rarely come out of the nest.
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They forage individually or in groups and when food is found, will direct other ants to it by tandem running – a method in which the leader and follower always maintain contact with each other. They nest in the soil or in leaf litter. They are also known to tend aphids.
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Another Camponotus species – to be identified*.
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Weaver ant (Oecophylla smaragdina):
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These are perhaps the most well known ants, known for their ability to build nests woven together from tree leaves. Apart from this, they are also well known for their ability to bite and spray formic acid. The major workers, which are commonly seen are between 8-10mm. The minor workers remain in the nests and care for the brood and are usually half the size of the major workers. They are highly territorial and workers aggressively defend their territories against intruders and thus can be used for biocontrol purposes. However, they may also have negative effects on the host plants as they reduce the visits of pollinators and seed dispersers. They also harbour honeydew insects which suck the sap from plants.
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Black Crazy ant (Paratrechina longicornis):
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A very commonly seen ant inside households, it has adapted to human habitations and is therefore another indicator of human activity. They are about 3.5mm in length. They are called crazy ants due to its fast crazy movements. They build nests  in buildings, under rotten wood or rocks. They can be seen both in trails and as solitary foragers.
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Deceptive Serrated Ant (Cataulacus taprobanae):
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These are again, solitary arboreal foraging ants which have a size between 4-4.5mm. They live on tree branches, where they build nests. They are well camouflaged within these spaces. These ants are known to play dead when disturbed. This ant is also known to tend aphids and honeydew secreting insects.
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Common Broad Acrobat Ant (Crematogaster subnuda):
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Another very common ant, this ant has a dark gaster with the rest of the body, a lighter chestnut red in colour. They are about 3-3.5mm in length. When disturbed and while foraging, they are known to raise their gaster vertically as seen in the image above. These ants are known to make carton nests in open scrublands.
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Crematogaster species – to be identified.
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Silky Shield Ant (Meranoplus bicolor)*:
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These are small ants 4-4.5 mm, hairy ants with deeply grooved heads. The body is bicolored with a black gaster and the rest of the body being reddish brown. The propodeum is armed with two backward pointed spines. These ants feed on nectar and grass seeds. These ants are very common in scrub and grasslands but absent from evergreen forests.
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Pharaoh Ant (Monomorium pharaonis):
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These are tiny reddish yellow ants having a dark gaster. The major workers are 3mm while the minor workers are just 2mm. They are considered major indoor pests and have a wide distribution across the world.
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Their colonies are known to harbour several queens and there is no hostility between neighbouring colonies. The colonies reproduce by “budding” where a subset of queens and workers leave the nest and start a new colony. Thus they are very invasive and are especially a threat in hospitals as their small size allows them to access medical equipment and bandages. They have a very varied diet including sweet things and insects, toothpastes, polish etc.
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Spiny Harvester Ant (Pheidole watsoni):
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Another common ant found all over the country, they can be distinguished by their shiny body. They are polymorphic and have two types of worker casts. The major workers have a reddish head which is rectangular and broad and the body is dark brownish. These individuals are about 4mm, while the minor workers are smaller at around 1.5mm. They are darker throughout.
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These ants are known to be quite aggressive when disturbed. They form trails and feed on proteinaceous meaty foods as well as sugary substances.
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Short-legged Hunchback Ant (Myricaria brunnea):
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one of the more common ants in India, these ants are distinctive in the way they hold their gaster bent at right angles to the body, with the tip pointing down.
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They are about 5.5-8mm in length and chestnut red in colour. They are known to be excellent scavengers and can be seen foraging either singly or in groups.
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Common Red Fire Ant (Solenopsis geminata):
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The fire ant is so called due to the fiery sensation felt after its bite. These are very commonly found around human habitation and in open areas. This ant bites to get a grip and then injects a toxic alkaloid venom called solenopsin, which is known to result in the fiery sensation. They are known to harbour honeydew producing insects and as a result cause crop damage in plantations. They are also known to reduce populations of native butterfly eggs and larvae.
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This ant builds nests with several entrances, usually in the ground, indicated by diffuse soil particles surrounding it. The minor workers with small mandibles are 3-4.5mm in size but the major workers which have a large square head can be upto 7mm in length. Thy are called as a “hot climate specialist” as it resides only within hot arid regions.
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Greater Striated Bispinous Ant (Diacamma ceylonese):
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These are big ants (12mm), known as solitary foragers and carnivorous ants. They have a very hard exoskeleton with distinct striations on the body.
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They capture and feed on insects and are known for the painful sting that it can deliver from the sting that is located at the tip of the abdomen, much like wasps.
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They are known to decorate the nest entrance with the carcasses of the eaten insects and also with feathers.
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Jumping ant (Harpegnathos salator):
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Also called as the Indian Jumping ant or Jerdon’s jumping ant due to their ability to jump, in order to catch prey or avoid enemies. They are very long, about 14-20mm in length. The body is reddish brown with a black gaster and large eyes, situated frontally. They have distinctive long mandibles which are toothed and a sting capable of delivering a paralyzing sting. See this post for a detailed write up.
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Procession ant (Leptogenys processionalis):
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If you have seen long back trails of large ants, it is likely to have been the procession ant. These are around 8-10 mm in size and are a dark reddish-brown colour. These ants have razor sharp jaws and a prominent sting.
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They are generally seen in vegetated areas and they raid termite colonies but also prey on larger organisms such as frogs earthworms etc. They are known for the characteristic hissing sound as they move. They construct temporary nests which may be huge – up to 1.5 meters in diameter, with a small hole as the entrance.
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Polished Leaf-border ant (Tetraponera allaborans):
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Another arboreal species, these are about 5-6mm in length. The body is extremely shiny, hence the name. Like the previous species, these are also territorial and have stings. They hunt in small groups or solitary. They are predatory and feed on insects.
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Arboreal Bicolored Ant (Tetraponera rufonigra):
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These are solitary foraging ants that live in trees and are known for its aggressive territorial behaviour and painful sting. They are rather large – between 10.5-13mm.
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While their head and gaster are black, the mid region, feet, jaws and antennae are a reddish orange colour. They have a preference for termites and their presence usually indicate the presence of termite colonies nearby. Commonly found on coconut and mango trees.
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* – from Kerala

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