Brachyponera sennaarensis

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Brachyponera sennaarensis
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Ponerinae
Tribe: Ponerini
Genus: Brachyponera
Species: B. sennaarensis
Binomial name
Brachyponera sennaarensis
(Mayr, 1862)

Pachycondyla sennaarensis sam-hym-c000111a profile 1.jpg

Pachycondyla sennaarensis sam-hym-c000111a dorsal 1.jpg

Specimen labels


Widely distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, where it inhabits savannas and open forests; it is also the most common member of the subfamily in southern Arabia. While it is regarded as native at least throughout Africa, it is also notably preferring man-impacted habitats, such as human settlements, rubbish dumps and waste ground. Thus it is in question whether the species is indigenous to the Socotra Archipelago. It is a general scavenger but will attack other insects and has a painful sting. Allergic reactions to the sting, sometimes severe, are a problem locally in Arabia (DIB 1992, RrzK et al. 1998), where it is called the "Samsun ant". Probably because of awareness of the painful sting, Socotri people refer to this ant by a specific denomination ("diftim"), as different to the word for ant ("nimihil"). (Collingwood et al. 2004)

At a Glance • Facultatively polygynous  


Keys including this Species


Distribution based on Regional Taxon Lists

Afrotropical Region: Burkina Faso, Chad, Eritrea, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Namibia, Niger, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Socotra Archipelago, Sudan (type locality), United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Oriental Region: India.
Palaearctic Region: Bahrain, Iran, Oman, Qatar.

Check distribution from AntMaps.

Distribution based on specimens

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The above specimen data are provided by AntWeb. Please see Brachyponera sennaarensis for further details


This appears to be the only ponerine ant that can feed on seeds. Diet varies seasonally and geographically: in humid tropical regions of Africa, both seeds and insect prey are collected during the rainy season, whereas diet consists exclusively of seeds during the rainy season that lasts three months (Dejean & Lachaud 1994). In dry tropical regions however, foragers react to the absence of seeds in the rainy season by adopting a 100% animal diet (Lévieux 1979).


Figure 1. Scanning electron micrographs of the pharyngeal glands of Brachyponera sennaarensis workers. A. Frontal view of the head with dissected pharyngeal glands (enlarged in B) shown at the same magnification. B. Ventral view of pharynx (ph) with attached pro-(ProPG) and postpharyngeal glands (PPG). C. Detail of secretory cells (SC) and slender duct cells (DC) of propharyngeal gland. Arrows indicate local widening of duct cells in region where duct cell nucleus occurs.

Billen and Al-Khalifa (2015) - Abstract: The pro- and postpharyngeal glands of Brachyponera sennaarensis both appear as globular formations at a general anatomical level. However, only for the propharyngeal gland do these formations correspond with spherical secretory cells with diameters of 30-40 μm. For the lobed postpharyngeal gland, in contrast, this globular appearance is caused by the bulbous protrusions of the epithelial cells. This lobed appearance and globular cell shape also occur in the postpharyngeal glands of other Ponerinae and thus may represent a phylogenetic character. At the ultrastructural level, the propharyngeal gland cells are characterized by a well-developed granular endoplasmic reticulum, which is in agreement with its presumed production of digestive enzymes. The postpharyngeal gland cells contain a well-developed smooth endoplasmic reticulum, which allows the production of a nonproteinaceous secretion.

Regional Accounts


Sharaf et al (2018) - This species was found nesting under a stone and foraging on the ground. Several individuals were found in moist soil under a stone next to a date palm tree. In the KSA it has been observed inhabiting sites near human settlements and has an apparent preference of hot habitats (Sharaf & Aldawood, unpublished data)

Saudi Arabia

Al-Khalifa et al (2015) - Collingwood (1985) observed and reported B. sennaarensis in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where it is commonly known as the samsum ant. Later, Collingwood and Agosti (1996) followed and recorded their occurrence in Oman, Yemen and Kuwait, whilst Collingwood et al. (1997) reported it in the United Arab Emirates. B. sennaarensis is considered to constitute a public health hazard in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia owing to its sting, which has been known to cause cases of fatal anaphylactic shock (Dib et al., 1992, 1995). Al-Shahwan et al. (2006) reported a case of anaphylactic shock and since then several more such cases have been reported following samsum ant stings, some of which were really critical (Al-Anazi et al., 2009). Notwithstanding this negative reputation, however, B. sennaarensis can also be beneficial to humans: Dkhil et al. (2010) found that B. sennaarensis venom has an antiinflammatory effect that may be useful in the treatment of inflammatory skin diseases, whilst Badr et al. (2012) found that B. sennaarensis venom induces apoptosis in certain human breast cancer cells.

In this study, B. sennaarensis was detected in four provinces: ArRiyadh, Jazan, Najran and Eastern Province but was not detected in, Asir, Northern Frontiers, Tabouk, Makkah and Al-Madina. Collingwood (1985) suggested that the Arabian Peninsula is probably the northern limit of B. sennaarensis distribution. Different levels of occurrence of B. sennaarensis in the different regions of Saudi Arabia essentially confirm the non- indigenous status of the species. The population level also appears to depend on the geographical features of the location, with the high altitude of Asir, Makkah and Al-Madina regions, that each stands between 2000 and 3000 m above sea level, appearing to prohibit the occurrence of the species. Provinces such as Jazan and Najran are partially or completely Afrotropical in climate, since B. sennaarensis is indigenous to Africa this would explain their occurrence here. ArRiyadh and the Eastern region, meanwhile, are infested with a large number of ants due to large, frequent transport and heavy exchange of goods (Al-Khalifa et al., 2010). The Tabouk and Northern frontier regions, meanwhile, remain behind in terms of their developmental aspect and geosocial contacts, due to their distant location from the inhabited regions and have thus not yet been reached by these ants (Siddiqui and Al-Khalifa, 2013).


Sharaf et al. (2017) - Brachyponera sennaarensis has invaded a wide range of habitats on Socotra, especially soil that is moist covered with the leaf litter of date palm trees. This species also commonly nests under rocks and objects associated with moist soils. Brachyponera sennaarensis has also invaded the relatively undisturbed valleys of the island where streams and denser vegetation are found. A nest was found under a stone under a dragon blood tree.






The following information is derived from Barry Bolton's New General Catalogue, a catalogue of the world's ants.

  • sennaarensis. Ponera sennaarensis Mayr, 1862: 721 (w.) SUDAN. Santschi, 1910c: 350 (q.); Forel, 1910c: 245 (m.); Wheeler, G.C. & Wheeler, J. 1971b: 1207 (l.). Combination in Euponera (Brachyponera): Emery, 1901a: 47; in Brachyponera: Wheeler, G.C. & Wheeler, J. 1971b: 1207; in Pachycondyla: Brown, in Bolton, 1995b: 309; in Brachyponera: Schmidt & Shattuck, 2014: 81. Senior synonym of sorghi: Wheeler, W.M. 1922a: 777; Menozzi, 1930b: 80. Current subspecies: nominal plus decolor, ruginota. See also: Arnold, 1915: 73.
  • sorghi. Ponera sorghi Roger, 1863a: 169 (w.) SUDAN. Combination in Euponera (Brachyponera): Emery, 1911d: 84. Junior synonym of sennaarensis: Wheeler, W.M. 1922a: 777.



  • Al-Khalifa, M.S., Mashaly, A.M.A., Siddiqui, M.I., Al-Mekhlafi, F.A. 2015. Samsum ant, Brachyponera sennaarensis (Formicidae: Ponerinae): Distribution and abundance in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences 22, 575–579.
  • Arnold, G. 1915. A monograph of the Formicidae of South Africa. Part I. Ponerinae, Dorylinae. Ann. S. Afr. Mus. 14: 1-159 (page 73, see also)
  • Billen, J. and M. S. Al-Khalifa. 2015. Morphology and ultrastructure of the pro- and postpharyngeal glands in workers of Brachyponera sennaarensis. Sociobiology. 62:270-275. doi:10.13102/sociobiology.v62i2.270-275
  • Brown, W. L., Jr. 1995a. [Untitled. Taxonomic changes in Pachycondyla attributed to Brown.] Pp. 302-311 in: Bolton, B. A new general catalogue of the ants of the world. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 504 pp. (page 309, combination in Pachycondyla)
  • Collingwood, C. A., Pohl, H., Guesten, R., Wranik, W. and van Harten, A. 2004. The ants (Insecta: Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of the Socotra Archipelago. Fauna of Arabia. 20:473-495. PDF
  • da Conceiao, E. S., J. H. C. Delabie, T. M. C. Della Lucia, A. D. Costa-Neto, and J. D. Majer. 2015. Structural changes in arboreal ant assemblages (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in an age sequence of cocoa plantations in the south-east of Bahia, Brazil. Austral Entomology. 54:315-324. doi:10.1111/aen.12128
  • Dejean A & Lachaud J-P 1994. Ecology and behavior of the seed-eating ponerine ant Brachyponera sennaarensis. Insectes Soc. 41: 191-210.
  • Emery, C. 1901b. Notes sur les sous-familles des Dorylines et Ponérines (Famille des Formicides). Ann. Soc. Entomol. Belg. 45: 32-54 (page 47, Combination in Euponera (Brachyponera))
  • Forel, A. 1910c. Ameisen aus der Kolonie Erythräa. Gesammelt von Prof. Dr. K. Escherich (nebst einigen in West-Abessinien von Herrn A. Ilg gesammelten Ameisen). Zool. Jahrb. Abt. Syst. Geogr. Biol. Tiere 29: 243-274 (page 245, male described)
  • Mayr, G. 1862. Myrmecologische Studien. Verh. K-K. Zool.-Bot. Ges. Wien 12: 649-776 (page 721, worker described)
  • Menozzi, C. 1930b. Formiche della Somalia italiana meridionale. Mem. Soc. Entomol. Ital. 9: 76-130 (page 80, Senior synonym of sorghi)
  • Santschi, F. 1910c [1909]. Formicides nouveaux ou peu connus du Congo français. Ann. Soc. Entomol. Fr. 78: 349-400 (page 350, queen described)
  • Schmidt, C.A. & Shattuck, S.O. 2014. The higher classification of the ant subfamily Ponerinae (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), with a review of ponerine ecology and behavior. Zootaxa. 3817, 1–242 (doi:10.11646/zootaxa.3817.1.1)
  • Sharaf, M.R., Fisher, B.L., Collingwood, C.A., Aldawood, A.S. 2017. Ant fauna (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of the Socotra Archipelago (Yemen): zoogeography, distribution and description of a new species. Journal of Natural History 51, 317–378 (DOI 10.1080/00222933.2016.1271157).
  • Sharaf, M. R. , B. L. Fisher, H. M. Al Dhafer, A. Polaszek and A. S. Aldawood. 2018. Additions to the ant fauna (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of Oman: an updated list, new records and a description of two new species. Asian Myrmecology. 9:e010004; 1-38. doi:10.20362/am.010004
  • Tirgari, S.; Paknia, O. 2005. First record of the ponerine ant Pachycondyla sennaarensis (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Iran, with notes on its ecology. Zoology in the Middle East 34:67-70. PDF
  • Wetterer, J.K. 2013. Geographic spread of the samsum or sword ant, Pachycondyla (Brachyponera) sennaarensis (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Myrmecological News 18, 13-18.
  • Wheeler, G. C.; Wheeler, J. 1971b. Ant larvae of the subfamily Ponerinae: second supplement. Ann. Entomol. Soc. Am. 6 64: 1197-1217 (page 1207, larva described, Combination in Brachyponera)
  • Wheeler, W. M. 1922j. Ants of the American Museum Congo expedition. A contribution to the myrmecology of Africa. VIII. A synonymic list of the ants of the Ethiopian region. Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist. 45: 711-1004 (page 777, Senior synonym of sorghi)