PONERINAE: the Ringbum or Primitive ant sub-family

The Ponerine sub-family is widespread around the world, and includes species from as small as 4 mm to a South American species that is well over 35 mm long. They all have a single-jointed petiole [waist] and all have a restriction between the post-petiole and segment IV of the gaster. Tony Rebelo invented the appropriate name ‘Ringbum’ to describe this characteristic. The colonies are usually small, with exceptions such as the infamous Matabele ants that thrive in nests numbering thousands. Some Leptogenys also live in large colonies.
Ponerines are mostly carnivorous and hunt other insects for food. They are armed with stings that can be painful. The queens of some species are hard to identify, being very similar to the workers – or they may be replaced by ergatoid queens (mated workers). In most Ponerines colonies of a few dozen individuals live in tunnels underground, and the larvae spin cocoons in which to pupate. Most of the Cape species are usually encountered as solitary hunters, or hunting in pairs, but Leptogenys mounts raids on other ant nests, moving in trails in laege numbers.
Ponerines are not normally involved in the process known as myrmecochory, or the ant distribution of seeds, although recently some evidence has emerged to suggest that some species might be involved in the distribution of 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 ant-distributors). These do not seem to attract the sugar-loving Formicine ants that distribute, for example, seeds of Proteaceae. How the Restionaceae attract Ponerines is unknown, however.
You can see Charles Stirton’s pic of Bothroponera pumicosa [Rugged ringbum ant] collecting a restioid seed at Hermanus, probably Willdenowia, at this link: http://www.ispotnature.org/node/478552 

Species described here (click on name for more info) are:

Bothroponera pumicosa [Rugged Ringbum ant]

Hagensia peringueyi [Black hag ant]

Leptogenys intermedia [Common razor-jaw ant]

Plectroctena mandibularis [the Ringbum millipede muncher]

Melanie de Morney commented on iSpot on ponerine ants in the Western Cape:

‘Our project has sites all over the Western Cape and we’ve found about 7 Ponerine species in the 8 years we’ve done sampling. I hope the following helps with telling the species apart (All of these were previously Pachycondyla):

Hagensia peringueyi
– big and black with a triangular petiole

Mesoponera caffraria
– has a rounded triangular petiole, is much smaller in overall size vs. peringueyi and is brown in colour

Bothroponera cavernosa
– has a pitted alitrunc with short white hairs allover and reddish appendages (legs, antennae, jaw)

Bothroponera granosa
– big, black and pitted allover
– yellow/goldish pubescent hairs covering the body with reddish/dark, short standing hairs allover
– eyes are smaller than pumicosa and its overall size is bigger (compared to cavernosa and pumicosa)

Bothroponera pumicosa
– small eyes but bigger than granosa
– pitted all over with reddish/gold hairs with reddish antennae
– the smallest in overall size when compared with granosa and cavernosa

Ophthalmopone hottentota
– large, black species with big eyes
– goldish pubescence allover and long mandibles

– rounded, rectangular shaped petiole’

It is interesting that Melanie’s project has found neither Leptogenys or Plectroctena [see above] in the Western Cape, although we found both at Grootvadersbosch.

Iziko Museums list of South African Ants includes the following Ponerines present in the Western Cape; as we find these we’ll include them on this site:


Anochetus levaillanti (Emery, 1895 )

Bothroponera cavernosa (Roger, 1860)
Bothroponera granosa (Roger, 1860)
Bothroponera laevissima (Arnold, 1915)
Euponera wroughtoni  (Forel, 1901)
Hagensia saldanhae (Arnold, 1951)
Hypoponera austra (Bolton & Fisher, 2011)
Hypoponera eduardi (Forel, 1894)
Hypoponera punctatissima (Roger, 1859)
Hypoponera spei (Forel, 1910)
Leptogenys attenuata (Smith, F, 1858)
Leptogenys castanea (Mayr, 1862)
Leptogenys peringueyi (Forel, 1913)
Mesoponera caffraria (Smith, F, 1858)
Ophthalmopone hottentota (Emery, 1886)

Doubtful in Western Cape:

Cryptopone hartwigi (Arnold 1948)
Leptogenys mactans (Bolton, 1975)


Platythyrea lamellosa (Roger, 1860)

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