|Alliance:||Odontomachus genus group|
Ophthalmopone is a small genus (< 10 species) restricted to Sub-Saharan Africa. It is notable for its polydomous colonies, specialized termite predation, and reproduction by gamergate workers.
|At a Glance||• Gamergate • Termite specialist|
Schmidt and Shattuck (2014) - Diagnostic morphological apomorphies of Ophthalmopone workers include very large eyes located at or posterior to the head midline and a hypopygium armed with stout spines. This combination of characters is unique to Ophthalmopone. Ophthalmopone is similar to Megaponera but lacks the preocular carinae of that genus. Large eyes also occur in Harpegnathos, but those of Harpegnathos are even larger and located at the extreme anterior end of the head, rather than at or posterior to the head midline. Stout hypopygial spines occur in several other ponerine genera, but these groups lack Ophthalmopone’s combination of slender build, dense pubescence, large eyes, nodiform petiole, and obsolete gastral constriction.
Keys including this Genus
Ophthalmopone is restricted to Sub-Saharan Africa. Ophthalmopone berthoudi has the widest range of any member of the genus, occurring from Sudan to South Africa (Weber, 1942; Prins, 1978). Other species are restricted to southern Africa (Ophthalmopone hottentota), south-central Africa (Ophthalmopone depilis and Ophthalmopone mocquerysi), or eastern Africa (Ophthalmopone ilgii).
Distribution and Richness based on AntMaps
Schmidt and Shattuck (2014) - Due to its unusual suite of characteristics, Ophthalmopone has drawn considerable attention from ecologists and ethologists. Ophthalmopone berthoudi is by far the best studied species in the genus, and most of what is known about Ophthalmopone ecology and behavior derives from observations of that species.
Ophthalmopone berthoudi colonies are polydomous, with from two to seven nests located up to 75 m apart in open ground or in abandoned termitaria (Arnold, 1915; Peeters, 1984; Peeters & Crewe, 1987). Ophthalmopone hottentota nests are also located under stones or in open ground (Dean, 1989). Workers regularly transport brood, other workers, and even males between the nests (Peeters & Crewe, 1985a; Peeters & Crewe, 1987; Sledge et al., 1996). Nests of O. berthoudi have from 20 to 800 workers (mean = 186 workers; Peeters & Crewe, 1987; mean = 89 workers for four excavated nests of O. hottentota; Peeters & Crewe, 1985b; Dean, 1989). A highly variable proportion of workers in each nest are mated (1.4–66% for O. berthoudi; Peeters & Crewe, 1985; Sledge et al., 1996 and 2001), and these gamergate workers perform all reproduction for the colony.
Males enter foreign colonies and mate preferentially with the younger workers (Peeters & Crewe, 1986). There is apparently no social regulation over which or how many workers mate. Sledge et al. (2001) found no evidence of aggressive dominance interactions among gamergates or between gamergates and unmated workers in O. berthoudi, though they found clear evidence that gamergates chemically suppress haploid egg production in virgin workers. The fecundity of gamergates is low (fewer than one egg per gamergate per day; Peeters & Crewe, 1985a), which is offset by the presence of multiple reproductives per colony. Sledge et al. (1999) studied the division of labor in O. berthoudi colonies and found that as the percentage of gamergates in a colony decreases over a season, the fecundity of the gamergates increases and their range of activities becomes more restricted. Gamergates are never found outside the nest except during nest transfers (Peeters & Crewe, 1985a).
Like workers of their sister genus Megaponera, Ophthalmopone workers are specialist termite predators, though they are not polymorphic as in Megaponera. It appears that the workers of some species forage in organized raids, like Megaponera, while others forage singly. Arnold (1915) observed irregular columns of the exceptionally fast-running foragers of O. berthoudi, and Forel (1928) reported foraging columns of Ophthalmopone ilgii. On the other hand, more recent studies of foraging behavior in O. berthoudi (Peeters & Crewe, 1987) and O. hottentota (Dean, 1989) failed to observe group foraging in these species. Neither study found any evidence of recruitment or of chemical trails, as the workers of both species hunted termites singly. Dean (1989) observed caches of hundreds of paralyzed termites in nests of O. hottentota; prey caching has not been observed in O. berthoudi. Foragers of both species return repeatedly to harvest a single termite source.
Duncan (2001) discussed the energetic challenges facing an Ophthalmopone colony, which depends on an unpredictable and scattered food source (foraging termites), and the paradoxical observation that only a small percentage of workers in a colony forage (Peeters, 1985). She found that foraging workers of O. berthoudi are exceptionally energy efficient, and hypothesized that this, along with the polydomous nature of the colonies, resolves the apparent paradox.
Unlike various other genera in which gamergates reproduce as well as dealate queens, a queen caste is completely unknown in this genus. Workers are monomorphic. All workers have 6 ovarioles and a functional spermatheca.
The following information is derived from Barry Bolton's New General Catalogue, a catalogue of the world's ants.
- OPHTHALMOPONE [Ponerinae: Ponerini]
- Ophthalmopone Forel, 1890b: cxi. Type-species: Ophthalmopone berthoudi, by monotypy.
- Ophthalmopone junior synonym of Pachycondyla: Brown, in Bolton, 1994: 164.
- Ophthalmopone revived from synonymy: Schmidt & Shattuck, 2014: 122.
Unless otherwise noted the text for the remainder of this section is reported from the publication that includes the original description.
Schmidt and Shattuck (2014):
Large (TL 8–13.5 mm; Emery, 1886, 1902) slender ants with the standard characters of Ponerini. Mandibles triangular and long. Eyes very large, located at or posterior to the head midline. Frontal lobes small, widely separated anteriorly by a triangular extension of the clypeus. Metanotal groove shallowly impressed. Propodeum moderately narrowed dorsally. Propodeal spiracle slit-shaped. Metatibial spurs formula (1s, 1p). Tarsal claws unarmed or armed with a single preapical tooth. Petiole nodiform. Gaster without a girdling constriction between pre- and postsclerites of A4. Stridulitrum present on pretergite of A4. Hypopygium armed with a row of stout setae on either side of the sting. Head and body finely punctate, largely devoid of pilosity but with a dense pubescence. Color black.
See descriptions in Emery (1911) and Arnold (1915).
Larvae of Ophthalmopone berthoudi were described by Wheeler & Wheeler (1971a).
- Arnold, G. 1915. A monograph of the Formicidae of South Africa. Part I. Ponerinae, Dorylinae. Ann. S. Afr. Mus. 14: 1-159 (page 49, Ophthalmopone in Ponerinae, Ponerini)
- Ashmead, W. H. 1905c. A skeleton of a new arrangement of the families, subfamilies, tribes and genera of the ants, or the superfamily Formicoidea. Can. Entomol. 37: 381-384 (page 382, Ophthalmoponein Pachycondylinae, Pachycondylini)
- Bolton, B. 1994. Identification guide to the ant genera of the world. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 222 pp. (page 164, Opthalmopone as junior synonym of Pachycondyla)
- Bolton, B. 2003. Synopsis and Classification of Formicidae. Mem. Am. Entomol. Inst. 71: 370pp (page 166, Ophthalmopone as junior synonym of Pachycondyla)
- Dalla Torre, K. W. von. 1893. Catalogus Hymenopterorum hucusque descriptorum systematicus et synonymicus. Vol. 7. Formicidae (Heterogyna). Leipzig: W. Engelmann, 289 pp. (page 31, Ophthalmopone in Ponerinae)
- Emery, C. 1895l. Die Gattung Dorylus Fab. und die systematische Eintheilung der Formiciden. Zool. Jahrb. Abt. Syst. Geogr. Biol. Tiere 8: 685-778 (page 767, Ophthalmopone in Ponerinae, Ponerini)
- Emery, C. 1911e. Hymenoptera. Fam. Formicidae. Subfam. Ponerinae. Genera Insectorum 118: 1-125 (page 69, Ophthalmopone in Ponerinae, Ponerini [subtribe Pachycondylini])
- Forel, A. 1890c. Aenictus-Typhlatta découverte de M. Wroughton. Nouveaux genres de Formicides. Ann. Soc. Entomol. Belg. 34:cii-cxiv. (page cxii, Ophthalmopone as genus)
- Forel, A. 1917. Cadre synoptique actuel de la faune universelle des fourmis. Bull. Soc. Vaudoise Sci. Nat. 51: 229-253 (page 237, Ophthalmopone in Ponerinae, Ponerini)
- Peeters, C. 1984. Social organization, breeding biology and the process of reproductive differentiation in Ophthalmopone berthoudi Forel, a ponerine ant. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
- Peeters, C.; Crewe, R. M. 1985a. Worker reproduction in the ponerine ant Ophthalmopone berthoudi: an alternative form of eusocial organization. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 18: 29-37 PDF
- Peeters, C. & Crewe, R. 1985b. Queenlessness and reproductive differentiation in Ophthalmopone hottentota. South African J. Zoology 20: 268
- Peeters, C.; Crewe, R. M. 1986. Male biology in the queenless ponerine ant Ophthalmopone berthoudi (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Psyche, 93: 277-284. PDF
- Peeters, C.; Crewe, R. M. 1987. Foraging and recruitment in ponerine ants: solitary hunting in the queenless Ophthalmopone berthoudi (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Psyche (Camb.) 94: 201-214 PDF
- 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).
- Sledge, M.F., Crewe, R.M. & Peeters, C. 1996. On the relationship between gamergate number and reproductive output in the queenless ponerine ant Pachycondyla (=Ophthalmopone) berthoudi. Naturwissenschaften 83: 282-284
- Wheeler, W. M. 1910b. Ants: their structure, development and behavior. New York: Columbia University Press, xxv + 663 pp. (page 135, Ophthalmopone in Ponerinae, Ponerini)
- Wheeler, W. M. 1922i. Ants of the American Museum Congo expedition. A contribution to the myrmecology of Africa. VII. Keys to the genera and subgenera of ants. Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist. 45: 631-710 (page 647, Ophthalmopone in Ponerinae, Ponerini)