Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Ant Book 01

1. Why an antbook?

2. Content of the book

3. Sample page with explanation

4. Photographers: iSpotters on board

5. Can you help me find these iSpotters?

6. Can you help me find pics of these ants?

1. Why an antbook?

In 1961 the great entomologist Sydney Skaife published a book titled The Study of Ants. It was the first ‘citizen science’ book about Southern African ants ever published, and it sparked an interest in me that I have retained ever since. Skaife died in 1976 and his book went out of print; in 1991 I put together a little black and white booklet, Ants of the Western Cape; Hamish Robertson of Iziko museums, as great an entomologist as Skaife, had helped me avoid the worst of my amateur bloopers. The second – and much less useful – citizen science book about Southern African ants was born.
Twenty-five years later that is still all there is. Outside of academia there are two books, both long out of print, and a couple of relatively academic websites that, very valuable as they are, specialise in pictures of dead ants with almost no information about their habits, their nature, their basic biology – and amazingly inadequate information about their distribution. That’s all there is, if you wanted to find out anything about our ants.
I joined Tony Rebelo’s iSpot (I know he’ll say it wasn’t his, but don’t believe him – in those days it was) and I soon found that there were lots of people who were photographing and posting and wondering about, amongst lots of other things, ants. There were nearly 2000 photographs of ants from all over Southern Africa, taken by iSpotters, and many of them were of a very high quality. Here was a resource that was crying out to be presented, in book form, to a wider public. 
Na├»vely I had no idea of the kind of tiger I was taking by the tail. Blithely ignoring the fact that ALL science started with citizen scientists, one prominent academic pronounced that amateurs could ‘not be relied upon to identify ants’. A very little research reveals a big problem with that silly, arrogant statement: the academics themselves, even the world’s greatest, do not agree upon species identification within some of the largest and most prominent of Earth’s ant genera. In short, they can’t identify them – at least, not to every so-called professional’s satisfaction, without lots of interestingly bad-tempered disagreement.
Hence I have plunged in where greater angels might have feared to tread. There will be errors in this book: some of the genera are screaming for taxonomic revision, for starters. Here and there I might have a wrong photo, but please bear with me: precise help has not always been easy to find. I acknowledge that many ants – the tiny ones, the LBJ’s of the ant world, especially – can only be identified under high-powered magnification. Nevertheless there are dozens of others – who could mistake the magnificent hairy yellow gaster and gaping jaws of a Karoo balbyter? – that anyone with good vision (they are all small), good sense (they fit into categories – subfamilies –  pretty simply, actually) and enthusiasm (you ought to have it, ants reputedly form 20% of Earth’s dryland biomass) can learn about.
And the more enthusiastic citizen science we can focus upon ants, the more – much, much more – we’ll learn about these extraordinary insects, their habits, behaviour, what they eat, how they interact with other organisms, and even matters as basic as where they are.

Photo by Flippie

2. Content of the book

I don’t propose to go into this in great detail at this stage, as much may yet change. In broad strokes, these are the proposed sections:

A. Background: about ants, the colony structure and different nests, ant behaviour and ecological role, anatomy, ants vs termites [still necessary after all these years!].

B. Keys to subfamilies and genera. Key to habitats, distribution areas etc and symbols used in the book.

C. Species descriptions: arranged in 9 subfamilies, approx 200 of the most commonly-found species described and illustrated [see sample page below]

D. Appendices: Ant imitators; collecting, killing and keeping ants; famous myrmecologists; bibliography and websites; glossary of entomological terms; Index. If there is space I would like to include ‘quick’ area indexes as well.

3. Sample page with explanation.

Sample showing facing pages: the size of each page is about A5

This is the text page by itself. If you can’t read it, clicking on the pic will usually enlarge it.
Features: background shading changes with subfamily, making these easier to find. In each species entry there is a bit of informative text, followed by a more formal ‘taxonomic’ description – the technical terms are explained in the Glossary at the end of the book.
Under the text are a series of symbols (there is a key and map at the beginning of the book):
1. A ‘How Common’ indicator – how likely you are to find this ant in the relevant habitats.
2. Habitat slugs borrowed from iSpot – you might recognize these ... they are partly based on the actual habitats recorded on iSpot.
3. Distribution. There is insufficient info for traditional distribution maps, so I have put the Provinces where the species have been recorded (on iSpot and elsewhere) in green, and/or the relevant Southern African countries in black. Key and map at the beginning of the book.
4. When the ants are likely to be seen – day, night, cloudy weather or evening and dawn.
5. A little ‘Actual Size’ silhouette that might be of use to some.

Any comments on the kind of info provided will be very welcome!

Bothroponera by Flippie

4. Photographers: who is on board

I want to thank the following who have agreed to let me use their great photos in the book. You’ll all be acknowledged, even in the unlikely event that I don’t actually use your pics. Between you you have amassed a valuable archive, and I think it would be impossible to produce a book of this nature without this kind of cooperation – who has the resources to stamp around the subcontinent not only photographing so many different ants, but finding them in the first place?
I also want to say a special word about Philip Herbst. Not only did Flippie generously allow his pics to be used, he also agreed to photograph specimens that I collected for him – many of them ants for which no good pics were available before. His standards are meticulous and his photos will turn a mundane field guide into something special.

Alex Dreyer, Alexander Rebelo, Andrew Hankey, Andrew Deacon, Betsie Milne, Brian du Preez, Caroline Voget, Charles Stirton, Chris Browne, Christine Sydes, Colin Ralston, Detlef Schnabel, Duncan Butchart, Eugene Marinus, Irene Vermeulen, Johan Pretorius, Joseph Heymans, Kate Braun, Lara Wootton, Lee Jones, Lynette Rudman, Magda Botha, Marian Oliver, Mostert Kriek, Nicola van Berkel, Peter Webb, Philip Herbst, Riana & Mike Bate, Richard Adcock, Ricky Taylor, Robert Taylor, Ryan van Huyssteen, Sally Adam, Sue Marsden, Tony Rebelo, Will van Niekerk, Wynand Uys, Jeffrey Groenewald, Liz Popich, Ludwig Eksteen, Marion Maclean, 

Crematogaster by Wynand Uys
5. Can you help me find these iSpotters? 

Email addresses needed, if possible – could you send them to me at . There are a few pics that I would really like to use as they are the best available for certain species:–

Shaun Swanepoel, Tom Stewart

6. Can you help find pictures of these ants?

Here’s a list of 13 ant species that I need photos for – or else I might have to try to draw them. As a drawing can take up to a week that’s rather a hectic task. I am trying to include a pic of at least one species per genus, but if I can’t, well, some of the more obscure will simply not be illustrated. 

Anochetus levaillanti (Small dark trapjaw ant) all provinces except KZN, plus Namibia and Zimbabwe),

Cerapachys arnoldi (small relative of Dorylus) Western, Eastern Cape

Diplomorium longipenne rare small ant from Eastern Cape strandveld

Discothyrea poweri, Probolomyrmex filiformis, Proceratium arnoldi -- the only reps from the Proceratiinae subfamily on my list, from Western, Eastern, Northern Cape; KZN; and Zim [all small and not very noticeable]

Hypoponera punctatissima, Hypoponera eduardi (Crypt ants) -- invasive small ponerines found in KZN, Eastern & Western Cape, Botswana and Zim

Leptogenys attenuata, Leptogenys capensis, Leptogenys peringueyi -- fairly common largish rajor-jaw ponerines found in KZN, Wesern and Eastern Cape and Zim

Ophthalmopone hottentota -- large ponerine with big eyes, Klein Karoo, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape

Trichomyrmex destructor -- dangerous invader, used to be a Monomorium, so far has been found in KZN in Durban and Richard's Bay

Go to  Ant Book Blog #2

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post. I will post new info from time to time, and keep you up to speed on the book’s progress.

All the best

Peter Slingsby

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