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Specimens of Prionopelta are uncommonly encountered. Nests are in soil under objects, under bark or in rotten wood. Workers are rarely seen above ground and they apparently forage primarily in leaf litter or in other cryptic situations.


Mandibles long and slender and usually with 3 teeth (although sometimes with a few very small denticles as well) that are grouped together near the tip on a face separate from the rest of the mandible. The petiole has distinct front and upper faces but lacks a rear face, and its attachment to the gaster is broad and approximately the same height as the petiole so that the upper surfaces of petiole and gaster are separated by at most a shallow impression. Overall length small, less than about 2mm in total length. These small ants can be recognised by the shape of the mandibles and petiole.

These are small and yellowish ants, and in the field could be mistaken for Solenopsis of the subgenus Diplorhoptrum, which are common in the habitats where Prionopelta occur. Prionopelta walk with a slightly undulating or wriggling movement, and this helps distinguish them from Solenopsis of similar size.

Keys including this Genus


Keys to Species in this Genus

Afrotropical species

Images of Afrotropical species


Distribution and Richness based on AntMaps

Species by Region

Number of species within biogeographic regions, along with the total number of species for each region.

Afrotropical Region Australasian Region Indo-Australian Region Malagasy Region Nearctic Region Neotropical Region Oriental Region Palaearctic Region
Species 5 2 5 7 1 9 1 1
Total Species 2840 1735 3042 932 835 4378 1740 2862


Fossils are known from: Zhangpu amber, Zhangpu County, Fujian Province, China (Miocene) (an unidentified species, Wang et al., 2021).


Prionopelta humicola, Kibale forest, Uganda. Image © Alex Wild.

Colonies occur in soil, and the ants show characteristics of subterranean life, including small size, pale color, and elongate mandibles (Brown 1960). The first detailed natural history work on Prionopelta is Holldobler and Wilson's study (1986) of Prionopelta amabilis, summarized here. Colonies, which may be either mono- or polydomus, occur in rotten wood on the ground in forested areas. In a feeding preference test involving many groups of soil arthropods, the ants stung and killed most of the arthropods provided, but consumed only a few species. Prionopelta amabilis definitely prefers campodeids, although a small centipede and two beetle pupae were also eaten. Workers produce trophic eggs that are presented to the queen. There is a rudimentary division of labor in attendance on the queen, apparently based on the age of maximum production of trophic eggs. Trophallaxis and adult transport are apparently absent. Workers use fragments of old pupal cocoons to "wallpaper" galleries containing pupae, probably to reduce moisture in these galleries. Workers show a "foot-dragging" behavior, and in a later paper (1992) Holldobler et al. showed that a previously unknown gland in the hind basitarsus disperses a trail pheromone.

Life History Traits

  • Mean colony size: 20-298 (Greer et al., 2021)
  • Compound colony type: not parasitic (Greer et al., 2021)
  • Nest site: hypogaeic (Greer et al., 2021)
  • Diet class: predator (Greer et al., 2021)
  • Foraging stratum: subterranean/leaf litter (Greer et al., 2021)
  • Foraging behaviour: cooperative (Greer et al., 2021)


Prionopelta humicola, Kibale forest, Uganda. Image © Alex Wild.


Worker Morphology

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• Antennal segment count: 8; 9; 10; 11; 12 • Antennal club: 3-4 • Palp formula: 2,2 • Spur formula: 1 pectinate, 1 pectinate; 1 simple, 1 pectinate; 0, 1 pectinate • Eyes: 0-1 ommatidia • Pronotal Spines: absent • Mesonotal Spines: absent • Propodeal Spines: absent • Petiolar Spines: absent • Caste: none or weak • Sting: present • Metaplural Gland: present • Cocoon: present

Male Morphology

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 • Antennal segment count 13 • Antennal club 0 • Palp formula 2,2 • Total dental count 1-2 • Spur formula 1 simple-barbulate , 1 pectinate



Apomyrma  (1 species, 0 fossil species)

Prionopelta  (25 species, 0 fossil species)

Amblyopone  (10 species, 0 fossil species)

Onychomyrmex  (4 species, 0 fossil species)

Fulakora  (25 species, 0 fossil species)

Adetomyrma  (9 species, 0 fossil species), some Stigmatomma

Myopopone  (1 species, 1 fossil species), some Stigmatomma

some Stigmatomma

Xymmer  (2 species, 0 fossil species)

Mystrium  (14 species, 0 fossil species)

some Stigmatomma

See Phylogeny of Amblyoponinae for details.


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

  • PRIONOPELTA [Amblyoponinae]
    • Prionopelta Mayr, 1866a: 503. Type-species: Prionopelta punctulata, by monotypy.
    • Prionopelta senior synonym of Examblyopone: Brown, 1951: 102.
    • Prionopelta senior synonym of Renea: Brown, 1953c: 11.
  • CONCOCTIO [junior synonym of Prionopelta]
    • Concoctio Brown, 1974d: 29. Type-species: Concoctio concenta, by original designation.
    • Concoctio junior synonym of Prionopelta: Ward & Fisher, 2016: 691.
  • EXAMBLYOPONE [junior synonym of Prionopelta]
    • Examblyopone Donisthorpe, 1949g: 401. Type-species: Examblyopone churchilli (junior synonym of Prionopelta majuscula), by original designation.
    • Examblyopone junior synonym of Prionopelta: Brown, 1951: 102.
  • RENEA [junior synonym of Prionopelta]
    • Renea Donisthorpe, 1947d: 183. Type-species: Renea testacea (junior synonym of Prionopelta majuscula), by original designation.
    • Renea junior synonym of Prionopelta: Brown, 1953c: 11.