PSEUDOMYRMECINAE: the Slender ants

The Pseudomyrmecinae or Slender ants belong to a somewhat specialized sub-family where most of the species live in hollow stems, thorns or dead branches of bushes and trees. As the common name suggests, the ants are elongated and slender, with relatively short legs. These attributes allow them to move freely up and down the very narrow passages of their chosen homes. They are armed with stings which they use freely, but are not usually able to penetrate human skin. The queens are also long and thin and closely resemble the workers, with a slight thickening of the thorax that holds the muscles for their winged phase. The elongated and slender larvae do not spin cocoons and the pupae are naked. The colonies are small, consisting of a few dozen individuals. All are arboreal species and very active, moving with characteristic rapid, jerky movements, and abrupt changes of direction.
The name Pseudomyrmecinae suggests some relationship with the Myrmicinae; indeed, the former seem to possess the double-noded petioles that define the latter, but in the Pseudomyrmecinae the second node is in fact fused to the gaster and is merely node-like.
It seems that all members of the genus Tetraponera, the only genus in our region, inhabit hollow stems or dead wood, and some always inhabit specific plants. It is thought that in Africa there are some 30 species, with many still to be found. There are eleven in our area, of which one is obscure and others are contentious, with some myrmecologists feeling that these should be split into more than one species. Some of our species prefer forested environments, but some are common in open fynbos; how these survive regular veld fires is unknown. The eleven species in our region are described here.

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