Aphaenogaster pythia

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Aphaenogaster pythia
Aphaenogaster pythia
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Myrmicinae
Tribe: Attini
Genus: Aphaenogaster
Species: A. pythia
Binomial name
Aphaenogaster pythia
Forel, 1915

Aphaenogaster pythia side view

Aphaenogaster pythia top view

Specimen labels

This is a fairly wide ranging species and the only species to occur outside Australia (in Papua New Guinea). Its main range is coastal northern New South Wales north through Queensland, with a smaller disjunct population in southern PNG. Given this wide distribution and the broad range of habitats in which it is found (see below), it is curious that in Australia this species occurs in three fairly narrow regions separated by areas where it is apparently absent. There is no morphological evidence to indicate that more than one species is involved, yet this distribution pattern might suggest otherwise. Additional investigation into this pattern may be well rewarded.

Aphaenogaster pythia occurs in a wide range of habitats including coastal scrub, dry sclerophyll, suburban parks and pastures, wet sclerophyll and rainforests. Nests are either in the open with large funnel-shaped entrances or under rocks or logs on the ground. Foragers are rarely seen above ground and then only in the immediate area of the nest; they apparently never forage on the ground surface. The biology of this species was discussed by Hitchcock (1958) and its control by Hitchcock (1962).


Hairs on underside of head randomly distributed and not forming a distinct psammophore; posterior margin of head nearly flat in full face view, extending laterally of the occipital collar before passing through a distinct posterolateral corner into the lateral margin of the head; propodeal spines short; scape relatively short (SI less than 125). This species is most similar to A. reichelae, and can be separated from it by the relatively shorter scapes and in having distinct dorsal and posterior petiolar node faces.

Keys including this Species


Latitudinal Distribution Pattern

Latitudinal Range: -6.3° to -32.472695°.

Tropical South

Distribution based on Regional Taxon Lists

Australasian Region: Australia (type locality).
Indo-Australian Region: New Guinea.

Distribution based on AntMaps


Distribution based on AntWeb specimens

Check data from AntWeb

Elevation Range

Occurrence at collecting sites during elevational surveys of rainforest in the Eungella region, Queensland, Australia (Burwell et al., 2020).
Species Elevation (m asl)
200 400 600 800 1000 1200
Aphaenogaster pythia 10-20 20-30
Shading indicates the bands of elevation where species was recorded.
Numbers are the percentage of total samples containing this species.


Heterick (2009) - Aphaenogaster pythia diggings cause degradation of pastures and recreational and service areas such as unsealed airstrips.



The following information is derived from Barry Bolton's Online Catalogue of the Ants of the World.

  • pythia. Aphaenogaster (Deromyrma) pythia Forel, 1915b: 76 (w.) AUSTRALIA (Queensland).
    • Wheeler, W.M. 1916j: 220 (q.m.); Wheeler, G.C. & Wheeler, J. 1972b: 239 (l.).
    • Combination in Aphaenogaster (Nystalomyrma): Wheeler, W.M. 1916j: 219; Emery, 1921f: 61.
    • Status as species: Wheeler, W.M. 1916j: 219 (redescription); Emery, 1921f: 61; Crawley, 1922c: 20; Smith, M.R. 1961b: 229 (redescription); Taylor & Brown, 1985: 55; Taylor, 1987a: 8; Bolton, 1995b: 72; Shattuck, 2008a: 41 (redescription).

Type Material

Taxonomic Notes

The nomenclatural history of this species is rather complex. Forel (1915) stated that there were two species of Australian Aphaenogaster, longiceps and ruginota, and listed differences between them. He then said “Sollte der Typus von Smith irgendwo zum Vorschein kommen und sich gegen meine Annahme als mit ruginota und nicht mit Mayr's Typen identisch erweisen, schlage ich für letztere den Namen pythia n. sp. vor.” (“Should the type of Smith appear somewhere and turn out identical, against my assumption, with ruginota and not with Mayr's (1862) types, I suggest for the latter the name pythia n. sp.”) (Mayr (1862) had described queens and males under the name longiceps from four localities, Gayndah, Peak Downs, Rockhampton and Sydney.) To resolve the identity of longiceps Wheeler (1916) sent samples to H. Donisthorpe (British Museum (Natural History), London) for direct comparison with the Smith type of longiceps. Wheeler (1916) reports that “(Donisthorpe) writes me that (Smith's) type is undoubtedly what Forel calls ruginota, and not what he calls longiceps. Hence ruginota becomes a synonym of longiceps, Smith, and the rarer Queensland form, Forel's longiceps, which was unknown to Smith, must take the name pythia, Forel.” A few lines later Wheeler states that “Mayr probably confused both species” and that “. as (Mayr) introduced no new names his interpretation is now a matter of little moment.” Finally, Wheeler lists the type locality for pythia as Herberton, one of the localities mentioned by Forel (1915) for specimens he examined under the name longiceps. It seems clear that Wheeler (1916) interpreted Forel's name pythia as applying to material examined by Forel (1915) under the name longiceps, and not to material examined by Mayr (1862) (although the comment “. and the rarer Queensland form” is puzzling as it seems to apply to pythia rather than longiceps).

Smith (1961) next examined pythia during a study of Papua New Guinean species of Aphaenogaster. He states that “Forel 1915 assigned the provisional name pythia to the specimens studied by Mayr (1862) should they prove to be not longiceps or any previous described species” and “Wheeler errored however in designating Herberton, Queensland, as the type locality of pythia as none of the specimens studied by Mayr came from there.” Thus Smith (1961) interpreted Forel (1915) as establishing a new available name by indication for material referred to by Mayr (1862) and not for material identified as longiceps by Forel (1915), as Wheeler (1916) had.

Of these two interpretations, Smith's (1961) is here accepted as the correct one. Given this, the type material for the name pythia becomes that examined by Mayr (1862). Unfortunately this material was destroyed during World War I (Smith 1961), leaving the name without extant type material. Thus it is currently impossible to know to what species the name pythia should be applied. Even without type material, essentially all authors since Wheeler (1916) have followed the concept developed by Wheeler (1916) for the species to which this name has been applied. This situation is certainly less than ideal and has the potential to cause considerable disruption to the nomenclature of this group. To resolve this confusion a neotype was designated for Forel's A. pythia by Shattuck (2008).


Posterior margin of head nearly flat in full face view, extending laterally of the occipital collar before passing through a distinct posterolateral corner into the lateral margin of the head. Hairs on venter of head randomly distributed and not forming a distinct psammophore. Mandibular sculpture composed of irregularly sized striations. Erect hairs on mesosomal dorsum tapering to sharp points. Propodeal spines short. Dorsal surfaces of propodeum and propodeal spines connected through a gentle concavity (so that the base of each spine is at approximately the same level as the dorsal surface of the propodeum). Petiolar node (in dorsal view) wider than long.


References based on Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics

  • CSIRO Collection
  • Janda M., G. D. Alpert, M. L. Borowiec, E. P. Economo, P. Klimes, E. Sarnat, and S. O. Shattuck. 2011. Cheklist of ants described and recorded from New Guinea and associated islands. Available on http://www.newguineants.org/. Accessed on 24th Feb. 2011.
  • King J. R., A. N. Andersen, and A. D. Cutter. 1998. Ants as bioindicators of habitat disturbance: validation of the functional goup model for Australi's humid tropics. Biodiversity and Conservation 7: 1627-1638.
  • Shattuck S. O. 2008. Australian ants of the genus Aphaenogaster (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Zootaxa 1677: 25-45.
  • Shattuck, S. O. "Australian ants of the genus Aphaenogaster (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)." Zootaxa 1677 (2007): 25-45.
  • Smith M. R. 1961. A study of New Guinea ants of the genus Aphaenogaster Mayr (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Acta Hymenopterologica 1: 213-238.
  • Wheeler W. M. 1916. The Australian ants of the genus Aphaenogaster Mayr. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 40: 213-223.