I never cease to wonder at the amazing diversity of life in the tropics. Even the smallest patches of land seem to be home to so many different types of plants, insects, reptiles and birds!
The question for the day is this: How many different species of ants can there be in a 11 "cent"* plot in Trivandrum, Kerala?
A few years ago, I would have been content to divide ants into two broad categories - the ones that bite and those that didn't. That was, of course, before the age of WWW and online databases. But even now, the material available in these databases seem to have a limited coverage of the Indian subcontinent - let alone separate eco-zones and sub-zones within countries.
This dilemma was solved recently when a biologist friend handed me just the sort of book I was looking for - "On a Trail With Ants - A Handbook of the Ants of Peninsular India", a self-published book by Ajay Narendra and Sunil Kumar M.
Here is a list of local ant species that have been identified so far -
NOTE: Three broad parts to an ant – head, mesoma, and gaster. The head portion contains the antennae (funiculus), eyes and teeth (mandibles); the legs are attached to mesoma ( middle) segments and the gaster is bulbous portion at the rear and sometimes bears a sting.
1. Weaver Ant (Oecophylla smaragdina)
2. Miniscule House Ant (Tetramorium smithi): Subfamily Myrmicinae.: Tiny (2mm) red-ants with a sharp bite
3. Golden Backed Ant (Camponotus sericeus): Lone foragers with workers in different sizes (polymorphic), ranging from 10mm to 4mm
4. Odor Ant (Tapimoma melanocephalum): Sub-family: Dolichoderinae: The most commonly seen ants indoors - its everywhere – clothes, curtains and even laptops! Seems to have supplanted the MHA a few years ago. 1.5 -2mm length; distinct pale yellowish gaster; long antennae
5. Pharaoh Ant (Monomorium pharaonis) : Subfamily Myrmicinae [Note: Id. to be confirmed]. Workers in sizes ranging from deep maroon head and gaster with reddish. Location: Outdoors – around the potted plants.
6. Giant Honey Ant (Camponotus irritans)[Note: Id. to be confirmed] <
7. White-footed Ghost Ant (Technomyrmex albipes) Subfamily: Dolichoderinae: Shiny black ant 2.5-3mm long, with an oval, pointy gaster. Recently hopped across from the banana fronds touching my window to look for food in my dust bin. Location: Outdoors on banana fronds; indoors in the window sill. This ant figures in the PCI list of common Indian pests.
White-footed Ghost Ant
8. Yellow Crazy Ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes) Sub-family: Formicinae: Red transluscent ants, 6.5-7mm long with large gasters. Invasive species, indicates human disturbance in habitat. <
9. Common Godzilla Ant (Camponotus compressus) Subfamily Formicinae: Black, opaque ant having workers in at least three different sizes ranging from 16mm to 8mm. Forage in small groups. Location: Exclusively outdoors.
10. Black Crazy Ant (Paratrechina longicornis) Subfamily Formicinae: About 3.5mm in length this ant’s main characteristic is its long, slender antenna. Location: Mainly indoors.
11. Greater Trap-Jaw Ant (Ondontomachus haematodus): About 15mm long this ant forages solitarily with its mandibles wide open. Location: only in the front-yard.
12. Finned Dolly Ant (Dolichodorus affinis) - Always a loner, this ant was spotted atop a banana tree. About 4mm in size, it is distinctly different with its deep, shiny maroon body - the gaster glints like a jewel in sunlight!
13. Common Red Fire Ant (Solenopsis geminata: Large nests on the steps leading to Parai Kovil, marked by heaps of powdery red soil particles.
14. Arched Two-spined Ant (Polyarchis halidayi) [Note: Id. to be confirmed]: Atop a sapota-tree, hangs a nest made out of a single folded leaf walled with mud and larval silk. Home to about 20 ants. When disturbed the ants rush out and arch themselves into a defensive position, exposing the underside of their gasters which have a distinct black, metallic silver color.
14. Unidentified...which one is this??
*Note: 1 "Cent" = 40.5 sq m
Excerpt from NatGeo article of May 2011:
Scientists have likened weaver ant communication to a type of language with primitive syntax,. Mathematicians draw upon analysis of ant behavior to devise parallel computing formulas (where multiple problems are solved simultaneously). Ants serve as models of all kinds of studies aimed at figuring out how big, complex jobs get done with small parts and minimum instructions.
- "On a Trail With Ants - A Handbook of the Ants of Peninsular India", a self-published book by Ajay Narendra and Sunil Kumar M.
- ANTWEB - Ants of the World - http://www.antweb.org/ On a Trail With Ants (Ajay Narendra)
- Book Review in ISBE Newsletter by Dinesh Rao - http://web.mac.com/ajaynarendra/AjayNarendra/aj_pubs_files/Rao_review.pdf
- Review in Sanctuary Asia - http://www.sanctuaryasia.com/index.php?view=article&catid=569%3Abook-reviews&id=1246%3Aon-a-trail-with-ants-a-handbook-of-the-ants-of-peninsular-india&option=com_content&Itemid=284
- Chadwick, Douglas H and Moffett, Mark W (2011): SISTERHOOD OF ANTS, National Geographic, Vol.219, No.5, May 2011 URL http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/05/weaver-ants/chadwick-text
- Blogpost by Natural Farmers' Kerala - Some Interesting Facts...(added 10 July 2013)