Aphaenogaster illyrica

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Aphaenogaster illyrica
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Myrmicinae
Tribe: Attini
Genus: Aphaenogaster
Species: A. illyrica
Binomial name
Aphaenogaster illyrica
Bračko, Lapeva-Gjonova, Salata, Borowiec & Polak, 2019

Aphaenogaster illyrica F2 holotype.jpg

Aphaenogaster illyrica F1 holotype.jpg

Aphaenogaster illyrica is a subterranean species. In Bulgaria, it was mostly collected in beech forests in wet sites, close to streams, while in Slovenia it was found in a large karstic depression situated in a sub-montane karst grassland, party covered with sparse trees and shrubs. The specimens collected in 2003 were found in subterranean pitfall traps set in soil at the depth of 30–50 cm among limestone rocks. The records of A. illyrica well above 1000 m a.s.l. or those from beech forests at lower altitudes indicate that it tolerates lower temperatures, which is relatively rare in other species of the genus.

At a Glance • Cave-Subterranean  



Bračko et al. (2019) - Range of the morphological variability. Variability within the geographic populations of A. illyrica is mostly in size of propodeal spines and distinctness of microreticulation of head occiput, dorsal part of pronotum, and mesopleuron. Variability between geographically distant populations is more distinct but features overlap. Specimens from Slovenia (terra typica) have the stoutest head (largest HI) while in samples from Croatia and Bulgaria head is less stout. Microreticulation on the dorsal surface of the head and on the dorsal part of the pronotum in specimens from Slovenia and Croatia is more distinct than in those from Bulgaria, and similarly the northern populations have more distinct longitudinal rugae on the sides of the pronotum. In contrast, reticulation of mesopleuron in Bulgarian samples is distinct on the whole surface while in some specimens from Croatia and Slovenia reticulation of the mesopleuron is partly diffused. In specimens of similar sizes, the propodeal spines are shorter and directed more or less upwards in northern populations, while in Bulgarian populations they are longer and almost in the prolongation of the upper edge of the propodeum, not or very slightly directed upwards

The sculpture of head and mesosoma, head shape, scape length, and length of funicular segments place this species into the Aphaenogaster subterranea species group. Aphaenogaster illyrica differs from other members of this group in the combination of the following features: mesonotum clearly raised above the surface of pronotum, long and thin propodeal spines, as long as or longer than 0.7 length of the first segment of funiculus, elongated mesosoma, large body size (ML more than 1.64 mm, HW more than 1.02 mm), anterolateral sides of pronotum regularly convex, without setose angulations or tubercles, and yellowish brown to rusty brown body colour. In most of the other members of the group (i.e., Aphaenogaster lesbica from Lesbos, Aphaenogaster maculifrons from the western Turkey, Aphaenogaster subterranea, pronotum and mesonotum form a regular convexity, without mesonotum raised above the surface of pronotum, propodeal spines are shorter, not longer than half length of the first segment of antennal funiculus, ML is less than 1.60 mm, and HW less than 1.0 mm.

Aphaenogaster illyrica most closely resembles Aphaenogaster graeca from Mount Olympus (see Table 1) in morphometric data and general body shape. The new species differs form A. graeca in having a brighter and more uniform body colouration (yellowish brown to rusty brown vs. dark brown), weaker head sculpture, which fades laterad, less distinctly sculptured pronotum especially at sides, propodeum smooth and lacking longitudinal rugae on almost of whole lateral surface, and absence of long rugae at the base of the first gaster tergite (Figs 9–12).

Stout members of the A. splendida species group, i.e., Aphaenogaster festae and its relatives with the mesonotum raised clearly above the surface of pronotum, clearly differ in the yellowish body, short propodeal spines directed distinctly upwards, and elongate segments 2–4 of antennal funiculus, always 1.5 times or more longer than wide.

We also recognise several yet undescribed members of the A. subterranea group, which will be a subject for further, more advanced studies. Aphaenogaster illyrica is most similar to an undescribed species collected on the island of Cephalonia, especially in its long propodeal spines and mesonotum slightly raised above the surface of pronotum, but the undescribed form differs in having a distinctly microreticulated and dull dorsal and occipital parts of the head surface and dorsum of pronotum, as well as in the anterolateral corners of pronotum bearing setose tubercles.

Keys including this Species


All known records of Aphaenogaster illyrica are restricted to the mountainous areas of the Balkan Peninsula, from the altitudes of 500 m to 1420 m a.s.l. Its range stretches from the Dinaric Alps in southern Slovenia and western Croatia to Osogovo-Belasica Massif in southwestern Bulgaria and the adjacent Kerkini Mts. in Greece and to Golešnica Mt. in North Macedonia. This distribution area is much larger compared to the area of the sister species Aphaenogaster graeca, whose distribution range is limited to the massif of Mount Olympus and adjacent mountain ranges.

Distribution based on Regional Taxon Lists

Palaearctic Region: Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Slovenia (type locality).

Distribution based on AntMaps


Distribution based on AntWeb specimens

Check data from AntWeb


Bracko et al. (2019). Habitat at holotype locality, Velika Milanja, Slovenia.
Bracko et al. (2019). Habitat at collection locality, Kamena, Bulgaria.

Details on the habitat of A. illyrica are available only from the Bulgarian and Slovenian records. In Bulgaria, it was mostly collected in beech forests in wet sites, close to streams, on silicate (Belasitsa and Maleshevska Mts.) and limestone (Slavyanka Mt.) rocks. This differs quite dramatically from the Slovenian site, where the ants were found in a large karstic depression (karstic doline) situated in the sub-montane karst grassland, party covered with sparse trees and shrubs. This area is characterised by harsh winters and relatively wet summers. Due to the strong and almost permanent winds, the upper part of the soil is often dry. The specimens collected in 2003 were found in subterranean pitfall traps set in soil at the depth of 30–50 cm among the limestone rocks in the so-called Superficial Subterranean Habitat (SSH) or “Milieu Souterrain Superficiel” (MSS), as originally described (Juberthie et al. 1980; 1981). SSH is a hypogean environment, generally formed by the fragmentation of the bedrock and accumulation of debris, which contains a wide network of air-filled epikartsic spaces, small voids and fissures (Culver and Pipan 2009; Giachino and Vailati 2010) and represents a transition zone between surface soils and deeper subterranean habitats such as caves (Culver and Pipan 2009). A presence of a rare species Aphaenogaster cardenai was already reported from SSH in the Iberian Peninsula (Ortuño et al. 2014). In 2018, we found few scattered workers at the same site while digging in the stony ground to the depth of approximately 50 cm.





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

  • illyrica. Aphaenogaster illyrica Bračko, Lapeva-Gjonova, et al. 2019: 93, figs. 1-8 (w.) SLOVENIA, BULGARIA, CROATIA, GREECE, NORTH MACEDONIA.

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



Body colouration. Head, mesosoma, petiole and postpetiole yellowish brown to rusty brown, frons and area lateral of frontal carinae darker brown. Gaster from yellowish to mostly brown, first tergite yellowish anteriorly and yellowish brown posteriorly, but without distinct border between paler and darker parts, or completely brown. Mandibles yellowish-brown, legs yellow, antennal scapes ochraceous brown with yellowish apex, funiculus ochraceous-yellow. Head. Approximately 1.2 times as long as wide, lateral margins in frontal view almost parallel behind eyes and evenly rounded at the posterior cephalic corners, posterior margin straight. Anterior margin of clypeus shallowly emarginated. Eyes small, approximately 0.16 times as long as lateral margin of head, placed in the middle of lateral margin of head. Scape approximately 1.2 times as long as head width, at base twice narrower than at apex, then gradually widened, without preapical constriction. Funiculus approximately 1.4 times as long as scape, first segment elongated, 2.6 times as long as wide at apex, 0.9 times as long as two subsequent segments combined, segments 2–6 short, 1.2–1.4 times as long as wide, segments 8–10 approximately 1.6 times as long as wide, last 4 segments forming an indistinct club, as long as basal funicular segments 1–7 combined. Mandibles elongate, with distinct striation and with some elongate punctures but shiny, masticatory margin with 7–9 teeth. Clypeus in the middle microreticulated, with short and thin median keel and few indistinct, longitudinal rugae, laterally with distinct longitudinal rugae. Frontal carinae moderately elongate, not reaching half-length of head, subparallel, frontal triangle with median keel and smooth laterally. Frons along the middle with single elevated keel, on sides with 2–3 longitudinal rugae, interspaces microreticulated, moderately shiny. Antennal cavities margined by regular, circular rugae. Central part of head dorsum between eyes with mostly sparse, partly longitudinal and partly irregular rugae, extending to 2/3 length of head, area between rugae microreticulated and moderately dull. Posterior part of head dorsum microreticulated, slightly dull, occiput smooth and shiny. Antennal scape with thin, longitudinal rugae. Mesosoma. Distinctly elongate. Promesonotum in dorsal view approximately 1.7 times as long as wide, pronotum strongly convex in profile. Anterolateral sides of pronotum convex, setose angulations or tubercles absent. Anterior part of mesonotum angulate or bituberculate, protruding distinctly above the level of posterior part of pronotum, thus promesonotal outline with distinct emargination in profile. Propodeum elongate, approximately 1.26 times as long as wide. Propodeal spines long, thin, at base only twice wider than at apex, acute apically, run only slightly upwards. Dorsal part of pronotum with diffused microreticulation and only with median line smooth and shiny to mostly smooth and shiny, sides of pronotum with sparse, thin, mostly longitudinal rugae and diffused microreticulation between rugosities but appear shiny. Elevated part of mesonotum dorsally shiny with diffused microreticulation, laterally microreticulated with few rugae, posterior part of mesonotum rugose dorsally and granulate laterally. Anterior surface of propodeum with short longitudinal rugae, laterally at least anteriorly smooth and shiny, posteriorly with few longitudinal rugae, dorsally with transverse or more or less longitudinal and around spiracles with irregular rugae. Petiole. Elongate with long peduncle, its anterior face deeply concave, node subangulate. Ventral margin of petiole in the middle straight, shallowly concave before apex, without spine or angulation. In dorsal view, petiole constricted at base then weakly divergent, almost parallel before petiolar node, then slightly globular. Base and ventral side distinctly microreticulated but without rugae, on sides and dorsally with diffused microreticulation to smooth and shiny, posterior faces with few rugae. Postpetiole. In lateral view rounded or slightly depressed at apex, in dorsal view approximately as long as wide with regularly rounded sides. Base and ventral side distinctly microreticulated but without rugae, on sides and dorsally with diffused microreticulation to smooth and shiny, posterior faces with few rugae. Gaster. Shiny, with indistinct, diffused microreticulation, basal part of first tergite without or with very short longitudinal rugae. Setosity. Head in frontal view with short, light yellow, sparse setae. Entire dorsum of mesosoma and anterior margins of pronotum with sparse, short to moderately long, erect setae, the longest setae from shorter to approximately as long as propodeal spines. Petiolar node, postpetiole and gaster with short standing pilosity, the longest setae in large specimens shorter and in small specimens as long as propodeal spines.

Type Material

  • Holotype, worker, Mt. Velika Milanja, Volovja reber, Ilirska Bistrica, 1060mm, Slovenia, 45°35′35″N 14°18′47″E / 45.593°N 14.313°E / 45.593; 14.313, 23.05.2003, S. Polak, CASENT0872099, Museum of Natural History.
  • Paratypes: BULGARIA: 5 workers (CASENT0872100-CASENT0872104): Maleshevska Mt., Strumyani distr., Dobri Laki vill., 41.58484N, 22.98138E, 650 m, soil traps, along Lebnitsa river, beech and alder trees, 30.07.-20.08.2002, leg. S. Lazarov, T. Ljubomirov (BFUS); 1 worker (CASENT0872105): Belasitsa Mt., Petrch district, Belasitsa hut, 41.370N, 23.187E, 690 m, beech forest, 28.03.2009, leg. R. Bekchiev (BFUS); 15 workers (CASENT0872106-CASENT0872120): Belasitsa Mt., Petrch district, Kamena vill., 41.360N, 23.074E, 500 m, beech forest, along Kamenishka river, soil traps, June 2009, leg. R. Kostova; 02.05.2013, direct sampling, leg. A. Lapeva-Gjonova (BFUS, Department of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Taxonomy); 6 workers (CASENT0872121- CASENT0872126): Slavyanka Mt., Sandanski district, Goleshovo vill., 41.42139N, 23.625N, 1094 m, 16.08.2014, leg. A. Lapeva-Gjonova (BFUS); CROATIA: 9 workers (CASENT0872127-CASENT0872135): Oltari, Mt. Senjsko bilo, 7 km NW of Krasno, 44.84604N, 15.00298E, 02.06.1992, leg. A. Schulz, K. Vock (DBET, PW); GREECE: 3 workers (CASENT0872136-CASENT0872138): [Macedonia] Kerkini Mts., Ano Poroia, 41.28563N, 23.03598E, 28.5.1984, V. Vohralik lgt. (PW, DBET); NORTH MACEDONIA: 4 workers (CASENT0872139-CASENT0872142): Golešnica Mts., 2 km S of Aldinci, 41.80189N, 21.42848E, 9.7.2010, 1420 m, V. Vohralik lgt. (DBET, PW); SLOVENIA: 1 worker (CASENT0872143): Mt. Velika Milanja, MSS, Volovja reber, Ilirska Bistrica, SLO, 45.593N, 14.313E, 1060 m, 23.05.2003, leg. S. Polak (DBET); 2 workers (CASENT0872144-CASENT0872145): Mt. Velika Milanja, MSS, Volovja reber, Ilirska Bistrica, SLO, 45.593N, 14.313E, 1060 m, 05.10.2018, leg. G. Bračko (BFUL).


Named after Illyria, a historical region in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula inhabited by the Illyrians and the ancient Roman Prefecture of Illyricum. All localities of Aphaenogaster illyrica are within the area of this region.


References based on Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics

  • Bracko G., A. Lapeva-Gjonova, S. Salata, L. Borowiec, and S. Polak. 2019. Aphaenogaster illyrica, a new species from the mountains of the Balkan Peninsula (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). ZooKeys 862: 89–107.