Matabele ant (Pachycondyla analis)

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Matabele ant with prey clasped in mandibles
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Matabele ant fact file

Matabele ant description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumArthropoda
ClassInsecta
OrderHymenoptera
FamilyFormicidae
GenusPachycondyla (1)

The Matabele ant (Pachycondyla analis) colony consists of two different sizes of worker, ‘majors’ and ‘minors’. The minor worker is particularly black and shiny in comparison to the major worker (3). The major worker Matabele ant has large, toothed mandibles to disable termites (4). The breeding female is morphologically similar to the worker ant (3).

The male Matabele ant looks different to worker ants, as it does not forage or carry out other tasks for the colonies’ survival (4).

Synonyms
Megaponera foetens.
Size
Male length: 11 - 12 mm (2)
Major worker length: up to 15 mm (2)
Minor worker length: 9 - 11 mm (2)
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Matabele ant biology

A Matabele ant colony has an average of 400 to 1,400 members, depending on location (3). A single queen is responsible for reproduction of the colony, as the worker ant does not breed. The queen typically occupies the colony nest, along with eggs and larvae (6).

The Matabele ant preys exclusively on termites (4). This species will attack termites with ‘raiding columns’, which may be up to 1,000 individuals strong and up to several metres long (4) (7). A single ‘major’ worker scouts out foraging termite parties. The worker moves slowly, searching for termite pheromones with its antennae, sometimes travelling up to 95 metres from the nest (3) (5). Once a termite party is found, the ‘scout ant’ returns to the colony, laying a chemical trail. This trail is then followed by the raiding column in order to find the termites (8).

When searching for termites, the Matabele ant raiding column is lead by a single individual, the ‘scout ant’, who originally found the foraging termites (4). Ants in the raiding column will spread out and attack the termite foraging party by breaking open the soil sheeting constructed by the termites to cover their food, and digging into the termite tunnels (8). Termites are captured, stung, and dragged to the surface, where the ants pile them up while they continue hunting (3).

Once the raid is complete the ‘major’ workers will carry up to 12 termites each back to the nest (7). Raids occur in mornings and evenings, and at night in dry periods (3) (7). The Matabele ant colony can make repeated raids on termite colonies without completely destroying the termites, effectively harvesting them (5).

The Matabele ant is unusual among insects in that even when outside the nest, it will act in co-operative self defence. This species will help nest mates under attack from the smaller, but incredibly aggressive, driver ant (Dorylus sp.), by scanning for and removing the ants that are clinging to nest mates’ extremities. The Matabele ant has even been observed to turn back, after initially running away, in order to rescue beleaguered nest mates (9).

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Matabele ant range

The Matabele ant occurs throughout Africa south of the Sahara, from West Africa, including the Ivory Coast and Ghana, to East Africa in countries such as Ethiopia and Nigeria (2) (4).

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Matabele ant habitat

The Matabele ant is found in savanna areas and tropical dry forests, where it co-occurs with the termite species on which it preys (2) (5). The Matabele ant nests underground, beneath rocks, on trees, in open fields and in deserted termite mounds (3). Nests can descend up to 70 centimetres below the surface (6).

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Matabele ant status

This species has not yet been assessed by the IUCN.

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Matabele ant threats

The Matablele ant habitat is considered threatened, with dry forests being more threatened than moist and wet forests, but being less well protected (10).

Although African tropical dry forests are widely distributed, none of these forest regions exist as large, concentrated blocks, and 88 percent of African tropical dry forests are highly fragmented. Dry forests are also greatly at risk from forest fires (11).

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Matabele ant conservation

As the Matabele ant is not considered at risk, no formal attempts are being made to conserve it. However, its termite prey are economically important as pests of wooden structures and as recyclers of plant material, so attempts to conserve the Matabele ant may in future be a cost-effective way of controlling termites (3).

Subtropical dry forests in Africa should be considered conservation priorities due to the multiple threats they face from the human population, deforestation and climate change and their conservation would benefit a number of species such as the Matabele ant (11).

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Find out more

More information on the Matabele ant:

Find out about invertebrates and their conservation:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Antennae
A pair of sensory structures on the head of invertebrates.
Larva
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
Mandibles
The pair of mouthparts most commonly used for seizing and cutting food, common to the centipedes, millipedes and insects.
Morphological
Referring to the visible or measurable characteristics of an organism.
Pheromone
A chemical produced by an animal, which stimulates a behavioural or physiological response by another member of the same species.
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References

  1. Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) (March, 2011)
    http://www.itis.gov/
  2. Antbase - Pachycondyla analis (March, 2011)
    http://antbase.org/ants/africa/pachycondyla/pachycondyla_analis/pachycondyla_analis.htm
  3. Yusuf, A.A. (2010) Termite Raiding by the Ponerine Ant Pachycondyla analis (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): Behavioural and Chemical Ecology. PhD thesis, University of Pretoria. Available at:
    http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-10232010-132659
  4. Wheeler, W.M. (1936) Ecological relations of Ponerine and other ants to termites. Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 71: 159-243.
  5. Bayliss, J. and Fielding, A. (2002) Termitophagous foraging by Pachycondyla analis (Formicidae, Ponerinae) in Tanzanian coastal dry forest. Sociobiology, 39: 103-122.
  6. Villet, M.H. (1990)Division of labour in the Matabele ant, Megaponera foetens (Fabr.)(Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Ethology, Ecology & Evolution, 2: 397-417.
  7. Sheppe, W. (1970) Invertebrate predation on termites of the African savannah. Insects Sociaux, 17: 205-218.
  8. Longhurst, C., Johnson, R.A. and Wood, T.G. (1978) Predation by Megaponera foetens (Fabr.)  (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) on termites in the Nigerian Southern Guinea savannah. Oecologia, 32: 101-107.
  9. Beck, J. and Kunz, B.K. (2007) Co-operative self defence: Matabele ants (Pachycondyla analis) against African driver ants (Dorylus sp.; Hymenoptera: Formicidae. Myrmecological News, 10: 27-28.
  10. Khurana, E. and Singh, J.S. (2001)Ecology of seed and seedling growth for conservation and restoration of tropical dry forest: a review. Current Biology,80: 748-757.
  11. Miles, L., Newton, A.C., DeFries, R.S., Ravilious, C., May, I., Blyth, S., Kapos, V. and Gordon, J.E. (2006) A global overview of the conservation status of tropical dry forests. Journal of Biogeography, 33: 491-505.
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Image credit

Matabele ant with prey clasped in mandibles  
Matabele ant with prey clasped in mandibles

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