Friday, July 29, 2016

Ant Book 2

1. Operation Flying Ants!

2. Book News: how many species, how many pages

3. Genus keys

4. Iimbovane

5. Photographers: iSpotters on board

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

1. Operation Flying Ants!

It all started back in March when Mel de Morney, picking up on Philip Herbst’s brilliant macrophotography, suggested that I send Philip some living samples of our mystery Ochetellus invader, to photograph. A ziploc full of ants was duly couriered to Philip and within days his great pics of these tiny, 1.8 mm insects had circled the world for a positive ID from experts on three other continents.
When Philip sent me the pics he included a note: “If there are any other ants I can photograph, just send them ...” We couriered a few others, but most of them arrived in Bellville as dead as doornails. No good. One of my commitments with the book is that it should show living specimens – or graphics – because there are plenty of pics of dead ants on the internet. That’s fine for taxonomists with powerful microscopes but it does not help you and I to learn what they look like when they’re running around in the veld.
A curious thing about ants is that, being social animals, they can’t survive on their own. Shut one up in solitary and it will die quite quickly. They appear to need the constant mutual grooming and interchange of pheromones between them and their fellows to survive. They also need moisture, but not too much; experiments with small plastic bottles, a couple of juicy leaves and a sprinkle of soil or vegetable mulch from their own nest followed. These worked well, and the game was on. By the end of June Philip had photographed ants I had collected in the Cederberg, at Cape Point and at Silvermine.
That’s when Ricky Taylor stepped up to the plate. “Why,” Ricky reasoned, “should the ant book not also have some superb Flippie-pics of KZN ants?”

We posted a supply of plastic ant-bottles to Ricky in Mtunzini. While he waited patiently for his parcel (it arrived in a few days but despite names, addresses and tracking numbers his local post office steadfastly denied any knowledge of it, until he twisted some arms), Ricky went out and located ant nests in his immediate environment. His local species list was mouth-watering. With the bottles in hand Ricky filled them with wonderful ants. Nervous of SAPO and how long our precious specimens might have to languish on a shelf somewhere, we sent a courier – and in a few hours a cargo of KZN ants was being airlifted to Cape Town. Operation Flying Ants was underway.
As regular iSpotters will know, the rest is history. Despite our fears of depressurised, unheated cargo holds, etc etc. all Ricky’s ants arrived fighting fit at Philip’s Welgemoed door. So, with his own Welgemoed and Tygerberg ants, plus a few from Lakeside and supplemented with a few more from Cape Columbine, Philip has posted magnificent photographs of no less than forty eight species, of which an amazing fourteen were brand new to iSpot.
We’d like nothing better than to offload more and more ants on Philip in his Welgemoed kitchen/photo studio, but sadly (from our point of view) Philip and his wife Karen are off to Europe for a six month study sabbatical, leaving within days. Philip, Karen – with your little girls, go well and enjoy your six months in London. By the time you return the book will hopefully be in print, but there’s always a second edition to think about ...
To spoil our future readers, the Ant book will feature a few
 double-page spreads of enlargements of some of Philip’s – and other iSpotters’ –
fantastic pics. Click on the picture to enlarge it ...

In other photo news, Sally Adams sent me this link to a new 3D imagery process used for some newly-discovered ants in Papua New Guinea...

Some of the images can be seen here: click on the square symbol on the bottom right of the movie when it opens, to get a full-screen experience ...

2. Book News: how many species, how many pages

At the current count the book will describe and illustrate the 176 most common ant species of South Africa, with brief descriptions of another closely-related 238 species, giving a total of 414 species from 55 genera. Thanks to you iSpotters I only have 22 species left to draw! – but any new pics will be extremely gratefully received!

3. Genus keys

How easy is it to ID ants to genus level? Above is an illustration of a [provisional] genus-key page from the book. If you have any comments or anything else you’d like to see there, please let me know. Click on the pics to enlarge them.

4. Iimbovane

Maggie and I spent a pleasant hour or two with Dorette and Sophia of Iimbovane, at Stellenbosch, when we agreed to cooperate wherever we can with regard to the book. They are doing absolutely inspiring work through the Iimbovane project, using ants as the basis for environmental education at Western Cape Schools. For more info about Iimbovane see here.  
One of the issues is Common Names – we need someone to check the grammar and context of Afrikaans common names – and if possible, collect common names in other official languages. Any offers?

5. Photographers: who is on board

Marion Maclean, Charl Strydom, Jeffrey Groenewald, Liz Popich, Ludwig Eksteen, and Tim van Niekerk have joined the thirty-eight iSpotters who have kindly given permission for their great pics to be used in the book. Once again I would like to thank you all – and reiterate that even if in the end I don’t use your pics, you will be acknowledged.

I’m still looking for these iSpotters. Any ideas?  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.

 Tom Stewart

6. Can you help find pictures of these ants?

Here’s a daunting list of 13 ant species that I need photos for – or else I might have to try to draw them. There were 19 more, but some have been photographed and the rest I have abandoned as ‘too obscure’.  After all, if only one single specimen of an ant has ever been found, I doubt if you’ll need to ID that ant anytime soon ...

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

I hope you’ve enjoyed this second 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


  1. Congratulations on your work so far. Looking forward to your publication! I know as an ant enthusiast, and someone who keeps ants as pets, this book will definitely be a huge aid in the identification of ants here in South Africa. I have a question though: will your book contain information about the times of year of the nuptial flights of the different species? This is information that is hugely lacking in South Africa and Africa generally. Please let me know! Again, good luck and all the best for the book! Lastly,any indication of a date of publication?

  2. I can find no specific info re nuptial flights myself, so I'm afraid the book won't be too helpful in this regard - but based on personal obs in the Cape, most of our species appear to fly before rain. I have found young queens either looking for nesting sites or starting new colonies most commonly from April to June; this cuts across most species and families. On this basis I would expect early spring and/or early autumn to be the most common times in the summer rainfall areas.

    1. That's really helpful. Thanks for the info. Again, best of luck with the book. Will definitely be ordering a copy at print. Any ballpark date as of yet?

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