Polyrhachis gagates

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Polyrhachis gagates
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Formicinae
Tribe: Camponotini
Genus: Polyrhachis
Subgenus: Myrma
Species group: militaris
Species: P. gagates
Binomial name
Polyrhachis gagates
Smith, F., 1858

Polyrhachis gagates casent0217771 p 1 high.jpg

Polyrhachis gagates casent0217771 d 1 high.jpg

Specimen Labels


Bolton (1973) - Ground nesting ants inhabiting savannah and rather arid regions, more rarely penetrating into scrub forest. The nests are described by Wheeler (1922a:262) as being excavated directly into a sandy substrate at the base of a tuft of grass, the entrance hole being surrounded by a wide crater of discarded sand grains (Arnold (1924:746) also notes that the species nests under rocks and that the entrance was “surmounted by a wall of woven material, which also lined the first three or four inches of the gallery”, a feature also noted by Wheeler.


A member of the Polyrhachis militaris species-group.

Bolton (1973) - At the present time Polyrhachis gagates may be considered as a reasonably distinct, variable species but its relationships to other members of the complex, especially Polyrhachis militaris and Polyrhachis schistacea stand in need of further investigation. Suffice to say that variation within the species occurs chiefly in degree of convexity of the eyes, density of pubescence, intensity of sculpturation, location of erect hairs and in details such as length of petiolar and propodeal spines and the glossiness of the integument, which on the head and alitrunk may range from dull black to very shining. Intergrades between all the described infraspecific forms exist and individual variations may be seen in members of the same colony. A single worker from Kenya shows an eye shape and distribution of erect hairs more typical of schistacea but in all other respects resembles gagates. This may represent a genuine hybrid or may be an extreme individual

Keys including this Species


Distribution based on Regional Taxon Lists

Afrotropical Region: Angola, Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa (type locality), Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Distribution based on AntMaps


Distribution based on AntWeb specimens

Check data from AntWeb


A ground-nesting species that inhabits savannah. One nest was completely excavated during Ant Course 2016 in Gorongosa NP, Mozambique. This yielded one egg-laying queen and at least 5448 workers. This nest was located at the base of a big shrub and a large number of foragers used its many branches to get access to surrounding vegetation. Replete workers have a swollen abdomen full of fat.

Alate females have been recorded as follows, Rhodesia: July. South Africa: April. (Bolton 1973)

Dealate queen surrounded by workers of Polyrhachis gagates. From Gorongosa NP, Mozambique. Photo by Marc Seid


Dealate queen (posterior end of gaster missing) and worker of Polyrhachis gagates. From Gorongosa NP, Mozambique. Photo by Christian Peeters
Colonies are monogynous with a single highly fecund queen. Ovaries have 30+30 ovarioles. Photo by Christian Peeters



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

  • gagates. Polyrhachis gagates Smith, F. 1858b: 71, pl. 4, fig. 14 (w.) SOUTH AFRICA. Forel, 1886f: 194 (q.); Wheeler, G.C. & Wheeler, J. 1953e: 207 (l.). Combination in P. (Myrma): Santschi, 1914b: 139. Subspecies of schistacea: Arnold, 1924: 745. Revived status as species: Emery, 1925b: 199; Bolton, 1973b: 305. Senior synonym of clariseta, congolensis (and its junior synonym indefinita), nigriseta, obsidiana and material of the unavailable name acheron referred here: Bolton, 1973b: 305.
  • clariseta. Polyrhachis nigriseta var. clariseta Santschi, 1910c: 400 (w.) CONGO. Combination in P. (Myrma): Santschi, 1914b: 140. Junior synonym of gagates: Bolton, 1973b: 305.
  • congolensis. Polyrhachis gagates var. congolensis Santschi, 1910c: 399 (w.) CONGO. Combination in P. (Myrma): Santschi, 1914b: 139. Subspecies of schistacea: Forel, 1913h: 357; Wheeler, W.M. 1922a: 1001. Senior synonym of indefinita: Santschi, 1924b: 224. Junior synonym of gagates: Bolton, 1973b: 305.
  • nigriseta. Polyrhachis nigriseta Santschi, 1910c: 399 (w.) CONGO. Combination in P. (Myrma): Santschi, 1914b: 140. Subspecies of gagates: Forel, 1913b: 349; of schistacea: Forel, 1913h: 357; Wheeler, W.M. 1922a: 1002. Revived status as species: Santschi, 1914b: 140; Emery, 1925b: 199. Junior synonym of gagates: Bolton, 1973b: 305.
  • indefinita. Polyrhachis gagates r. indefinita Forel, 1913b: 349 (w.) DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO. Combination in P. (Myrma): Santschi, 1914b: 139. Junior synonym of congolensis: Santschi, 1924b: 224.
  • obsidiana. Polyrhachis (Myrma) gagates subsp. obsidiana Emery, 1921e: 21 (w.) GABON. Junior synonym of gagates: Bolton, 1973b: 305.

Unless otherwise noted the text for the remainder of this section is reported from the publication that includes the original description.



Bolton (1973) - TL 11.3-13.2, HL 2.66-3.03, HW 2.04-2.40, CI 76-81, SL 3.34-3.56, SI 147-160, PW 1.59-1.74, MTL 3.59-4.08. (30 measured.)

Mandibles with five teeth; anterior clypeal margin entire, in profile the clypeus is usually convex above and concave below so that the anterior margin projects over the basal borders of the mandibles as a weak shelf. Eyes well developed, flat to weakly convex. Pronotal spines long, acute and usually somewhat incurved; the propodeal armament consisting of a pair of upcurved teeth of variable shape and size, sometimes represented by a pair of blunt, dorsoventrally flattened tubercles. Alitrunk marginate laterally throughout its length, broken at the promesonotal suture and the metanotal groove, and often notched or concave on the sides of the mesonotum. Marginations of alitrunk not produced upwards or outwards as flanges or lamellae; all dorsal surfaces of alitrunk flat to transversely gently convex. Petiole with four spines, of which the dorsal pair are always several times longer than the laterals. The dorsal pair may be long and broadly sinuate, following the contours of the anterior face of the gaster, or shorter and merely recurved. The lateral pair of petiolar spines are short and thick or reduced to a pair of teeth.

Erect hairs present on the head and gaster and present on the dorsum of the pronotum. Hairs always absent from the sides of the head between eye and ventrolateral margin, dorsal surfaces of mesonotum and propodeum; usually also absent from scale of petiole. Pubescence everywhere sparse to absent, greyish or white in colour, never so dense as to render the underlying sculpture invisible.

Sculpturation variable. Clypeus usually with a fine, broken and partially effaced reticulo-rugulation overlying a superficial reticulation. Dorsum of head usually finely reticulate-rugose with a longitudinal direction. In a majority of cases the pronotum has weak, broken, irregular longitudinal rugae, sometimes with occasional weak transverse rugae linking those running longitudinally. Rarely the sculpturation is of fine, dense rugulation with scattered small punctures in the interspaces. Mesonotum and propodeum similar to the pronotum but the sculpturation usually somewhat more coarse. Very rarely the entire dorsum of the alitrunk with a fine dense rugoreticulum. Gaster with an extremely fine superficial reticulation, the edges of component reticulae scarcely or not at all raised, so that the surface is smooth. Colour black, head and alitrunk dull or shining, the gaster always highly polished.


Bolton (1973) - As worker, larger, the lateral marginations of the alitrunk distinct only on the propodeum. Spines of pronotum and scale of petiole reduced. Sculpturation and distribution of erect hairs as in worker, but in one female in the BMNH collection the mesoscutum is as highly polished as the gaster, having the same superficial reticulation.

Type Material

Bolton (1973) - Holotype worker, SOUTH AFRICA : Natal, Durban (The Natural History Museum) [examined].


  • Arnold, G. 1924. A monograph of the Formicidae of South Africa. Part VI. Camponotinae. Ann. S. Afr. Mus. 14: 675-766 (page 745, Race of schistacea)
  • Bolton, B. 1973b. The ant genus Polyrhachis F. Smith in the Ethiopian region (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) Entomology. 28:283-369. (page 305, Revived status as species, Senior synonym of clariseta, congolensis (and its junior synonym indefinita), nigriseta and obsidiana, and material of the unavailable name acheron referred here)
  • Emery, C. 1925d. Hymenoptera. Fam. Formicidae. Subfam. Formicinae. Genera Insectorum 183: 1-302 (page 199, Revived status as species)
  • Forel, A. 1886h. Études myrmécologiques en 1886. Ann. Soc. Entomol. Belg. 30: 131-215 (page 194, queen described)
  • Santschi, F. 1914b. Voyage de Ch. Alluaud et R. Jeannel en Afrique Orientale, 1911-1912. Résultats scientifiques. Insectes Hyménoptères. II. Formicidae. Paris: Libr. A. Schulz, pp. 41-148. (page 139, Combination in P. (Myrma))
  • Smith, F. 1858a. Catalogue of hymenopterous insects in the collection of the British Museum. Part VI. Formicidae. London: British Museum, 216 pp. (page 71, pl. 4, fig. 14 worker described)
  • Wheeler, G. C.; Wheeler, J. 1953e. The ant larvae of the subfamily Formicinae. Part II. Ann. Entomol. Soc. Am. 46: 175-217 (page 207, larva described)

References based on Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics

  • André E. 1887. Description de quelques fourmis nouvelles ou imparfaitement connues. Rev. Entomol. (Caen) 6: 280-298.
  • Arnold G. 1924. A monograph of the Formicidae of South Africa. Part VI. Camponotinae. Annals of the South African Museum 14: 675-766.
  • Bolton B. 1973. The ant genus Polyrhachis F. Smith in the Ethiopian region (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History). Entomology 28: 283-369.
  • Emery C. 1921. Le genre Polyrhachis. Classification; espèces nouvelles ou critiques. Bulletin de la Société Vaudoise des Sciences Naturelles 54: 17-25.
  • Forel A. 1886. Études myrmécologiques en 1886. Annales de la Société Entomologique de Belgique. 30: 131-215.
  • Forel A. 1907. Ameisen von Madagaskar, den Comoren und Ostafrika. Wissenschaftliche Ergebnisse. Reise in Ostafrika 2: 75-92.
  • Garcia F.H., Wiesel E. and Fischer G. 2013.The Ants of Kenya (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)—Faunal Overview, First Species Checklist, Bibliography, Accounts for All Genera, and Discussion on Taxonomy and Zoogeography. Journal of East African Natural History, 101(2): 127-222
  • IZIKO South Africa Museum Collection
  • Prins A. J. 1963. A list of the ants collected in the Kruger National Park with notes on their distribution. Koedoe 6: 91-108.
  • Prins A. J. 1964. Revised list of the ants collected in the Kruger National Park. Koedoe 7: 77-93.
  • Robson Simon Database Polyrhachis -05 Sept 2014
  • Santschi F. 1910. Formicides nouveaux ou peu connus du Congo français. Annales de la Société Entomologique de France 78: 349-400.
  • Santschi F. 1914. Meddelanden från Göteborgs Musei Zoologiska Afdelning. 3. Fourmis du Natal et du Zoulouland récoltées par le Dr. I. Trägårdh. Göteborgs Kungliga Vetenskaps och Vitterhets Samhälles Handlingar. 15: 1-44.
  • Stitz H. 1911. Formicidae. Wissenschaftliche Ergebnisse der Deutschen Zentral-Afrika-Expedition 3: 375-392.
  • Wheeler W. M. 1922. 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. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 45: 711-1004