Anoplolepis custodiens

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Anoplolepis custodiens
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Formicinae
Tribe: Plagiolepidini
Genus: Anoplolepis
Species: A. custodiens
Binomial name
Anoplolepis custodiens
(Smith, F., 1858)

Anoplolepis custodiens casent0170537 profile 1.jpg

Anoplolepis custodiens casent0170537 dorsal 1.jpg

Specimen Label


One of a few species of common, abundant Anoplolepis species in southern Africa that are well known - as pugnacious ants - to people living in areas where these ants occur. Anoplolepis custodiens are agressive, fast moving ants. When sensing anything that can be perceived as a threat workers will swarm and attack. Honeydew is part of their diet and Anoplolepis custodiens tending of honeydew producing pest species can lead to these ants causing problems in some agricultural settings.

Photo Gallery

  • Anoplolepis custodiens feeding on Hodotermes mossambicus, Roodevallei farm, central Free State, South Africa. Anoplolepis custodiens and northern harvester termites (Hodotermes mossambicus) often forage in complete peace, but at other times the ants attack and feed on the termites. Photo by Johan Pretorius.


Prins (1982) - The chequered pattern on abdomen and form of the clypeus are not as distinct as in the majors or media and this caste is therefore difficult to identify in the absence of larger workers. The convex epinotum is characteristic of the workers of the subgenus Zealleyella, and seen from the side it is almost as high as the promesonotum in the majors; in the minors it may be much higher.


Latitudinal Distribution Pattern

Latitudinal Range: 25.45° to -34.76667°.

Tropical South

Distribution based on Regional Taxon Lists

Afrotropical Region: Botswana, Eswatini, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa (type locality), United Republic of Tanzania, Zimbabwe.

Distribution based on AntMaps


Distribution based on AntWeb specimens

Check data from AntWeb

Countries Occupied

Number of countries occupied by this species based on AntWiki Regional Taxon Lists. In general, fewer countries occupied indicates a narrower range, while more countries indicates a more widespread species.

Estimated Abundance

Relative abundance based on number of AntMaps records per species (this species within the purple bar). Fewer records (to the left) indicates a less abundant/encountered species while more records (to the right) indicates more abundant/encountered species.


As an aggressive and voracious predator species Anoplolepis custodiens prey on many different organisms. A study examining how group living by social spiders may increase their risk of discovery and death by predatory ants (Keiser et al. 2015) found colonies of Stegodyphus dumicola were attacked and eliminated by A. custodiens.

This species has been found attached by its mandibles to the leg of a species of Pausus.


MCZ ENT Anoplolepis steingroeveri hal.jpgMCZ ENT Anoplolepis-steingroeveri had.jpgMCZ ENT Anoplolepis steingroeveri lbs.jpg
. Owned by Museum of Comparative Zoology.


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

  • custodiens. Formica custodiens Smith, F. 1858b: 33 (w.) SOUTH AFRICA. Mayr, 1895: 148 (m.); Emery, 1895h: 44 (q.); Wheeler, G.C. & Wheeler, J. 1953c: 135 (l.). Combination in Plagiolepis: Emery, 1892a: 117; in Plagiolepis (Anoplolepis): Santschi, 1914b: 123; in Plagiolepis (Zealleyella): Arnold, 1922: 586; in Anoplolepis: Emery, 1925b: 17. Senior synonym of hendecarthrus: Mayr, 1865: 54; of berthoudi: Forel, 1879a: 91. See also: Prins, 1982: 218. Current subspecies: nominal plus detrita, hirsuta, pilipes.
  • hendecarthrus. Camponotus hendecarthrus Roger, 1863a: 132 (w.q.) SOUTH AFRICA. Junior synonym of custodiens: Mayr, 1865: 54.
  • berthoudi. Formica berthoudi Forel, 1876: 33 (w.) LESOTHO. Junior synonym of custodiens: Forel, 1879a: 91.

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



Length 2 lines. Head, thorax and legs ferruginous, and covered with a silky cinereous pile. Head emarginate behind. The thorax deeply strangulated at the base of the metathorax; the scale of the peduncle narrow, incrassate, obtuse above. Abdomen ovate, black, and covered with grey silky pile.

Prins (1982) - TL 3-10 mm; L 2,0-5,0 mm; HL 0,76-2,2 mm; ED 0,48-1,64 mm; CL 0,24-0,80 mm; SL 0,96-2,44 mm; WL 1,08-3,30 mm; MFL 0,80-2,56 mm; HFL 1,02-3,0 mm; PL 0,16-0,40 mm; CI 94,7-104,5; SI 133,3-106,1; CLI 200,0; CTI 70,4-66,7; TI 44,4--44,8; PI 125,0-190; HFI 94,4-90,9.

Polymorphic, colour yellowish-brown to reddish-brown or even somewhat darker with abdomen dark-brown to almost blackish-brown, therefore easily confused with workers of the black pugnacious ant. Separated from latter species by chequered pattern on abdomen, caused by reflection of light on pubescent hairs, which are arranged in two different directions on each side. Few pilose hairs also present, particularly on head, apical borders of abdominal segments and on femora.

Anterior border of cypeus angular in the middle, acutely so in some specimens; in lateral view less convex than in black pugnacious ant. Scale of petiole rather flattened in larger workers and fairly deeply emarginate above; scale narrowed dorsally in minors and emargination generally almost obsolete.


Prins (1982) - Wing-span about 27,4 mm; TL 13,3-15,8 mm; L 6,5-7,3 mm; HL 2,2 mm; ED 1,9 mm; CL 0,7 mm; SL 2,3 mm; WL 4,5-5,2 mm; MFL 2,4-2,6 mm; HFL 2,8-2,9 mm; PL 0,44-0,48 mm; CI 113,6; SI 92,0; CLI 242,8-257,2; CTI 48,9-42,3; TI 68,9-67,3; PI 216,7-241,7; HFI 62,2-55,6.

It has the general features of the females of the subfamily Formicinae, with a distinct chequered pattern on the abdomen and a wide and fairly deep emargination on the dorsal edge of the scale of the petiole. Colour more or less as in the worker, the wings ochreous-yellow with darker subcostal cell; the abdomen sometimes much darker. Clypeus also angular in the middle as in the case of the workers.

Wing venation as in Figures 3A, 4A, and although there are minor variations in the venation of the same individual, the vein m + cua of the hind wing much shorter than the preceding cell Ia; in the specimens examined, this vein is shorter than half the length of the cell.


Prins (1982) - Wing-span about 19,0 mm; TL 9,9-10,8 mm; L 3,6-3,7 mm; HL 1,6-1,64 mm; ED 1,2 mm; CL 0,44-0,48 mm; SL 2,2 mm; WL 3,5-3,8 mm; MFL 2,5-2,7 mm; HFL 2,8-3,0 mm; PL 0,4 mm; CI 112,5-109,8; SI 12,2; CLI 254,5-233,3; cn 45,7-40,3; n 57,9-62,9; PI 190-200; HFI 80,0-78,9.

Slightly smaller than the female and, as in the case of the latter, they resemble the males of the subfamily Formicinae. Indistinct chequered pattern present on the abdomen, although the direction in which the pubescent hairs are arranged is fairly clearly indicated. Generally darker in colour than female, more slender, and the clypeus also angular in the middle. Scale of petiole with indistinct emargination on dorsal edge. Labrum as in Figure. Although the vein m + cua of the hind wing is much longer in most specimens seen, it is not longer than half the length of cell la.

External male reproductive organs

The last complete visible segment in the abdomen of the male is the sixth (the true eighth), the seventh (true ninth) being reduced to a ring-like sclerite (also known as gonocardo or lamina annularis), which is membraneous dorsally, but on the ventral side it is flattened, plate-like and sclerotized. In A. custodiens the flattened plate is fairly deeply and angularly emarginate behind. The two lobes formed by the emargination are thinner than the rest of the plate and are ventrally covered with fine hairs. The plate itself is about twice as wide as long. Penis or aedeagus situated medially and characterized by its two lobes; it is somewhat shorter than external lobes, which cover reproductive organs and are also known as gonostipes (gonoforceps or parameres). In lateral view the apices of go no stipes are round and broad. On each side and somewhat below penis is a globular volsella with an outer appendage or cuspis and an inner shorter digitus. Both digiti and cuspides are devoid of denticles, except in case of some individuals where there are a few tubercles, particularly on apices of cuspides. Each volsella has some fine hairs on ventral side.


References based on Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics

  • Addison P., and M. J. Samways. 2000. A survey of ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) that forage in vineyards in the Western Cape Province, South Africa
  • Arnold G. 1922. A monograph of the Formicidae of South Africa. Part V. Myrmicinae. Annals of the South African Museum 14: 579-674.
  • Emery C. 1895. Voyage de M. E. Simon dans l'Afrique australe (janvier-avril 1893). 3e mémoire. Formicides. Annales de la Société Entomologique de France 64: 15-56.
  • Emery C. 1899. Fourmis d'Afrique. Annales de la Société Entomologique de Belgique 43: 459-504.
  • Forel A. 1909. Fourmis du Musée de Bruxelles. Fourmis de Benguela récoltées par M. Creighton Wellman, et fourmis du Congo récoltées par MM. Luja, Kohl et Laurent. Annales de la Société Entomologique de Belgique 53: 51-73.
  • Forel A. 1910. Zoologische und anthropologische Ergebnisse einer Forschungsreise im westlichen und zentralen Südafrika ausgeführt in den Jahren 1903-1905 von Dr. Leonhard Schultze. Vierter Band. Systematik und Tiergeographie. D) Formicidae. Denkschriften der Medizinisch-Naturwissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft zu Jena 16: 1-30.
  • French K., and R. E. Major. 2001. Effect of an exotic Acacia (Fabaceae) on ant assemblages in South African fynbos. Austral Ecology 26: 303–310.
  • IZIKO South Africa Museum Collection
  • Kotze D. J., and M. J. Samways. Invertebrate conservation at the interface between the grassland matrix and natural Afromontane forest fragments. 1999. Biodiversity and Conservation 8: 1339-1363.
  • Lindsey P. A., and J. D. Skinner. 2001. Ant composition and activity patterns as determined by pitfall trapping and other methods in three habitats in the semi-arid Karoo. Journal of Arid Environments 48: 551-568.
  • Magagula C. N., and B. A. Nzimba. 2015. Interaction between habitat characteristics and insect diversity using ground beetles (Colenoptera: Carabidae) and ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) within a variety of agriculatural habitats. Applied Ecology and Environmental Research 13(3): 863-876.
  • Mauda E. V., G. S. Joseph, C. L. Seymour, T. C. Munyai, and S. H. Foord. 2018. Changes in landuse alter ant diversity, assemblage composition and dominant functional groups in African savannas. Biodivers Conserv 27: 947–965.
  • Menozzi C. 1930. Formiche della Somalia italiana meridionale. Memorie della Società Entomologica Italiana. 9: 76-130.
  • 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.
  • Prins A. J., and J. J. Cillie. 1968. The ants collected in the Hluhluwe and Umfolozi game reserves. The Lammergeyer 8: 40-47.
  • Samways M. J. 1990. Species temporal variability: epigaeic ant assemblages and management for abundance and scarcity. Oecologia 84: 482-490.
  • Santschi F. 1914. Formicides de l'Afrique occidentale et australe du voyage de Mr. le Professeur F. Silvestri. Bollettino del Laboratorio di Zoologia Generale e Agraria della Reale Scuola Superiore d'Agricoltura. Portici 8: 309-385.
  • 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. 1923. Hymenoptera, VII. Formicidae. Beiträge zur Kenntnis der Land- und Süsswasserfauna Deutsch-Südwestafrikas 2: 143-167.
  • Weber N. A. 1943. The ants of the Imatong Mountains, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology 93: 263-389.
  • Wheeler W. M. 1922. Ants of the American Museum Congo expedition. A contribution to the myrmecology of Africa. II. The ants collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 45: 39-269.
  • 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