Aphaenogaster pythia Forel

Shattuck, S. O., 2008, Australian ants of the genus Aphaenogaster (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)., Zootaxa 1677, pp. 25-45: 41-43

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Aphaenogaster pythia Forel


Aphaenogaster pythia Forel  HNS 

(Figs 15, 16, 23, 30)

Aphaenogaster (Deromyrma)pythia Forel  HNS  , 1915: 76.

Aphaenogaster longiceps  HNS  : Mayr, 1876: 96 (misidentification recognised by M. R. Smith, 1961: 229).

Aphaenogaster (Deromyrma) longiceps  HNS  : Forel, 1915: 75 (as A. ruginota  HNS  , misidentification recognised by M. R. Smith, 1961: 229).

Aphaenogaster (Nystalomyrma) pythia Forel  HNS  : Wheeler, 1916: 219.

Types. Neotype worker, Australia, Queensland, Millstream National Park, near Ravenshoe, 6 August, 1975, B. B. Lowery, dry sclerophyll ( ANIC) ( ANIC 32-031018) (additional non-type material from this nest series includes 40 workers, two queens (one dealate) and one male) ( ANIC 32-000767) ( ANIC, MCZC, QMBA).

Diagnosis. Hairs on venter of head randomly distributed and not forming a distinct psammophore (Fig. 16); 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 (Fig. 15); propodeal spines short (Fig. 16); scape relatively short (SI less than 125, Fig. 23). This species is most similar to A. reichelae  HNS  , and can be separated from it by the relatively shorter scapes and in having distinct dorsal and posterior petiolar node faces.

Description. 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.

Measurements. Worker (n = 12). CI 83-93; EI 15-22; EL 0.16-0.22; HL 0.97-1.39; HW 0.85-1.23; ML 1.34-1.94; MTL 0.75-1.13; SI 107-122; SL 1.02-1.40.

Material examined (in ANIC unless otherwise noted). New South Wales: Glenugie SF., 15mi.S Grafton (Lowery,B.B.); Macksville (Lowery,B.B.); Macksville, Warrell Ck. area (Lowery,B.B.); Murwillumbah (Lowery,B.B.); Port Macquarie (Pullen,R.); Round Mountain, Kingscliff (Lowery,B.B.); Terranora Lakes Golf course (Seymour,G.J.). Queensland: 10km W Herberton (Lowery,B.B.); 10mi. S Atherton; 12km W Paluma (Lowery,B.B.); 15km SbyE Byfield (Taylor,R.W. & Weir,T.A.); 18km S Banana (Lowery,B.B.); 20km N Cairns (Lowery,B.B.); 20km S Eton (Lowery,B.B.); 6km SSE Eungella (Taylor,R.W. & Weir,T.A.); 6mi. SW Karara (Greaves,T.); 8km W Tully, nr. Rocky Ck. Bridge (Lowery,B.B.); Atherton (A.H.W.); Bauple, State Forest 958 (Vanderwoude,C.); Brookfield (Greenslade,P.J.M.); Bruce Hwy, 5km N Aphis Ck., 54km N Marlborough (Lowery,B.B.); c. 8km W Paluma (Taylor,R.W. & Feehan,J.E.); Cedar Creek, Tamborine Mt. (Brown,W.L.); Clohesy River (Greaves,T.); Como Scarp (Greenslade,P.J.M.); Cooloola, Chalamban [Chalambar] (Greenslade,P.J.M.); Cooloola, Como Scarp (Greenslade,P.J.M.); Cooloola, Noosa R. (Greenslade,P.J.M.); Egger Farm Paddock, Yungaburra (Cutter,A.D.); Gore (Lowery,B.B.); Herberton (Lowery,B.B.); Highvale (Marks) (Barrett,J.H.); Kirrama Forest (Greenslade,P.J.M.); Koah (Wheeler,W.M.); L. Eacham NP (Taylor,R.W.); Mackay (Turner,G.); Mareeba (Lowery,B.B.); Millstream NP nr. Ravenshoe (Lowery,B.B.); Mt. Mort, Grandchester (Greaves,T.); Noosa River, Cooloola Natl Pk (Greenslade,P.J.M.); Obi Obi Ck., Blackall Ra. (Taylor,R.W.); Scraggy Pt., Hinchinbrook Is. (Ward,P.S.) ( ANIC, PSWC); St. Lawrence (Cudmore,F.A.); Thurling Farm, Malanda (Cutter,A.D.); Tully (Lowery,B.B.); Wallaman Falls (Lowery,B.B.); West Coorey [Cooroy West]. Papua New Guinea: Bulolo (Lowery,B.B.); Wau, goldfields (Lowery,B.B.).

Comments. 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 (Fig. 30). 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  HNS  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. The biology of this species was discussed by Hitchcock (1958) and its control by Hitchcock (1962).

The nomenclatural history of this species is rather complex. Forel (1915) stated that there were two species of Australian Aphaenogaster  HNS  , longiceps  HNS  and ruginota  HNS  , 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  HNS  und nicht mit Mayr's Typen identisch erweisen, schlage ich fur letztere den Namen pythia  HNS  n. sp. vor." ["Should the type of Smith appear somewhere and turn out identical, against my assumption, with ruginota  HNS  and not with Mayr's [1862] types, I suggest for the latter the name pythia  HNS  n. sp. "] (Mayr (1862) had described queens and males under the name longiceps  HNS  from four localities, Gayndah, Peak Downs, Rockhampton and Sydney.) To resolve the identity of longiceps Wheeler  HNS  (1916) sent samples to H. Donisthorpe (British Museum (Natural History), London) for direct comparison with the Smith type of longiceps  HNS  . Wheeler (1916) reports that "[Donisthorpe] writes me that [Smith's] type is undoubtedly what Forel calls ruginota  HNS  , and not what he calls longiceps  HNS  . Hence ruginota  HNS  becomes a synonym of longiceps, Smith  HNS  , and the rarer Queensland form, Forel's longiceps  HNS  , which was unknown to Smith, must take the name pythia, Forel  HNS  ." 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  HNS  as Herberton, one of the localities mentioned by Forel (1915) for specimens he examined under the name longiceps  HNS  . It seems clear that Wheeler (1916) interpreted Forel's name pythia  HNS  as applying to material examined by Forel (1915) under the name longiceps  HNS  , 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  HNS  rather than longiceps  HNS  ).

Smith (1961) next examined pythia  HNS  during a study of Papua New Guinean species of Aphaenogaster  HNS  . He states that "Forel 1915 assigned the provisional name pythia  HNS  to the specimens studied by Mayr [1862] should they prove to be not longiceps  HNS  or any previous described species" and "Wheeler errored however in designating Herberton, Queensland, as the type locality of pythia  HNS  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  HNS  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  HNS  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  HNS  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 is here designated for Forel's A. pythia  HNS  .


Australia, Australian Capital Territory, Canberra City, CSIRO, Australian National Insect Collection


USA, Massachusetts, Cambridge, Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology


Australia, Queensland, South Brisbane, Queensland Museum