Ponerinae

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Ponerinae
Myopias tenuis
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Ponerinae
Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau, 1835
Diversity
47 genera
1,369 species
13 fossil genera
85 fossil species
Evolutionary Placement
Formicidae

Leptanillinae
  (9 genera)




Martialinae
  (1 genera)





Amblyoponinae
  (9 genera)




Proceratiinae
  (3 genera)




Ponerinae
  (47 genera)




Agroecomyrmecinae
  (2 genera)



Paraponerinae
  (1 genera)









Dorylinae
  (26 genera)





Myrmeciinae
  (2 genera)



Pseudomyrmecinae
  (3 genera)





Aneuretinae
  (1 genera)



Dolichoderinae
  (28 genera)








Formicinae
  (51 genera)




Myrmicinae
  (143 genera)




Ectatomminae
  (4 genera)



Heteroponerinae
  (3 genera)










See Phylogeny of Formicidae for details.

Ponerinae is the largest ant subfamily outside the formicoid clade, and is rivaled or exceeded in diversity only by Dolichoderinae, Formicinae and Myrmicinae within that clade. Species of ponerines range from small and cryptic to large and conspicuous.

Identification

The mesosoma is attached to the gaster with a single distinct segment, the petiole. The gaster usually has a slight but distinct impression between the first and second segments. In a few other cases (species of Odontomachus) the gaster is smooth and uniform, but here the mandibles are elongate and straight, with teeth only at the extreme tip, and attached close together along the front margin of the head. The upper surface of the tip of the gaster (the pygidium) is rounded and lacks a row of spines or teeth on its outer and trailing edge. The sting is present (although often retracted and difficult to see).

Most species in this large and diverse subfamily can be identified by the presence of a single-segmented petiole combined with a constriction between the first and second segment of the gaster. In the few cases where the constriction is absent (Odontomachus), the overall shape of the gaster or the shape of the head can be used to identify these ants (see above for details).

Boudinot (2015) - Male Ponerinae share the following characters: antennal toruli situated well-posterad anterior clypeal margin (except Dolioponera); at least 4 closed cells present on forewing (Dolioponera with 3); propodeal lobes usually present; jugal lobe usually present; petiolar tergum and sternum distinct; cinctus between abdominal pre- and posttergites IV usually present; and abdominal sternum IX unpronged and edentate. Three final sets of characters are required for identification: 1) (Platythyreini) mandibles triangular, tibial spur formula 2,2; 2) (Ponerini) mandibles spatulate, linear, or nub-like and mesonotum not anteriorly elongated; and 3) (Ponerini, Dolioponera) forewing with three closed cells, propodeal lobes present, antennal toruli situated at anterior extreme of head, oblique mesopleural sulcus absent, and cinctus present. The eighth abdominal tergum of male Ponerinae may be spiniform, a unique state among the Formicidae, but this character is not present in all genera and may be interspecifically variable. The spur formula of Ponerini is variable.

Keys including this Subfamily

Keys to Genus in this Subfamily

Distribution and Habitats

Australia

They are found throughout Australia from pristine habitats to disturbed sites such as gardens and parks, and can be quite abundant. Workers are predacious, generally forage on the ground, and some specialise on a very limited range of prey. In addition, many species have powerful and painful stings used for subduing prey and as a defensive measure against intruders. Within Australia there are about 200 described species in 10 genera (pre - Schmidt and Shattuck 2012), with numerous species yet to be studied in detail.

Genus richness

Genus richness by country based on regional taxon lists (countries with darker colours are more genus-rich).

Ponerinae Genus Richness.png

Species richness

Species richness by country based on regional taxon lists (countries with darker colours are more species-rich).

Ponerinae Species Richness.png

Notes

Fernandes et al. (2015) - The Ponerinae are notable for combining simple social organization with a high diversity of derived morphological, ecological, and behavioral traits (Schmidt & Shattuck 2014). They are broadly categorized based on their foraging microhabitats as either epigaeic, foraging on the surface of the ground or on low vegetation, or cryptobiotic, foraging in soil, leaf litter, rotting wood, or other concealed microhabitats, although many taxa are intermediate between these extremes. Cryptobiotic ant species often converge on several morphological traits that are correlated with life in restricted, dark conditions, including small bodies; eyes typically greatly reduced in size or even entirely absent; clubbed antennae; and legs often short and stocky, sometimes armed with stout setae to increase traction in soil or wood, and with only a single metatibial spur (Schmidt & Shattuck 2014).

Boudinot (2015) - Males Males are unknown for 9 genera (Asphinctopone, Austroponera, Boloponera, Feroponera, Fisheropone, Iroponera, Loboponera, Odontoponera, Promyopias); the males of Belonopelta, Emeryopone, Myopias and Simopelta will be described in forthcoming publications (B. Boudinot in prep. and R.S. Probst et al. in prep.). The male of Dolioponera was discovered by the author during the review period of the present work.

Unlike the female castes, which have the lateral torular arch fused with the frontal carina (Bolton 2003), no single character was found to distinguish male Ponerinae from other subfamilies. The Platythyreini and Ponerini share numerous characteristics but are easier to key separately due to the informatively variable development of male mandibles. The Ponerini themselves are challenging to key as the males of some genera are highly derived, such as Simopelta, which lacks the mesopleural sulcus and the cinctus of abdominal segment III, and Dolioponera, which also lacks the mesopleural sulcus and has the antennal toruli situated near the anterior head margin. A polythetic definition of the Ponerini is thus required. Fortunately, some of the derived character states of the Ponerini also serve to distinguish them from the “generalized” ants, including the Formicinae and Dolichoderinae.

Yoshimura & Fisher (2007) and previously Yoshimura & Onoyama (2002) used the scutoscutellar sulcus and conformation of the mesopleural sulcus to diagnose the Ponerinae for the Malagasy and Japanese regions, respectively. These structures are variably developed on the global level, with several genera presenting unsculptured scutoscutellar sulci, and the mesopleural sulcus is not always present. In general, presence of the abdominal segment III cinctus is more stable than these sulci. Understanding the generic boundaries of male Ponerinae will be most difficult in the Afrotropics, where the most genera occur and where the least number of genera have males described.

Nomenclature

PONERINAE [subfamily of Formicidae]

  • Ponérites Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau, 1835: 185 [as family-group name]. Type-genus: Ponera.
  • Poneridae: Smith, F. 1851: 6 [emended spelling].
  • Poneridae: Mayr, 1862: 712 [as subfamily of Formicidae].
  • Ponerinae: Forel, 1893a: 162 [emended spelling of suffix].

Schmidt and Shattuck (2012) - The following formal diagnosis for Ponerinae is adapted from Bolton (2003): Torulus fused to frontal lobe. Antenna with 12 segments (13 in males). Lateral margins of frontal lobes form short semicircles or blunt triangles, with a pinched-in appearance posteriorly. Promesonotal suture flexible. Metapleural gland orifice without a dorsal cuticular flange or flap. Propodeal lobes present. Petiole (A2) distinctly separated posteriorly from A3 and with only a narrow attachment to it. Petiole without tergosternal fusion. A3 continuous with the remainder of the gaster. A3 and A4 with tergosternal fusion. A4 with presclerites and usually a girdling constriction between pre- and postsclerites. Spiracles of A5–A7 concealed by posterior margins of preceding tergites. Sting present and strongly developed.

Ponerines are most readily identified by the following combination of traits: toruli fused to frontal lobes, frontal lobes prominent and with a pinched-in appearance posteriorly, waist formed of a single segment (petiole, A3) which attaches narrowly to the undifferentiated postpetiole (A4), petiole without tergosternal fusion, and sting present and well-developed. The identity of ponerine synapomorphies is uncertain. Bolton (2003) gave the complete fusion of the toruli to the frontal lobes as an autapomorphy of Ponerinae, but noted the presence of similar fusion (to various degrees) among some members of Amblyoponinae. Bolton also listed the characteristic shape of the frontal lobes in Ponerinae as synapomorphic for the subfamily, but similar frontal lobe structure occurs in many amblyoponines (pers. observation). Given the close but incompletely resolved relationship between Ponerinae and Amblyoponinae, we consider the ancestral condition of these characteristics (torular fusion and frontal lobe shape) to be ambiguous within the poneroid clade and are therefore hesitant to treat them as apomorphies of Ponerinae.

We tentatively recognize the loss of tergosternal fusion of the petiole as a possible synapomorphy of Ponerinae. Bolton (2003) treated the absence of petiolar tergosternal fusion as plesiomorphic within Formicidae, but recent molecular phylogenies (Moreau et al., 2006; Brady et al., 2006; Rabeling et al., 2008; Schmidt, 2013) suggest that the ancestral ant may have had a fused petiole. The phylogenetic distribution of this character implies that Ponerinae secondarily lost tergosternal fusion of the petiole, though this interpretation depends on the phylogenetic rooting of Formicidae and could conceivably be symplesiomorphic, with repeated evolution of a fused petiole in other poneroid lineages.

References