Aphaenogaster swammerdami

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Aphaenogaster swammerdami
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Myrmicinae
Tribe: Stenammini
Genus: Aphaenogaster
Species group: swammerdami
Species: A. swammerdami
Binomial name
Aphaenogaster swammerdami
Forel, 1886

Aphaenogaster swammerdami casent0489647 profile 1.jpg

Aphaenogaster swammerdami casent0489647 dorsal 1.jpg

Specimen labels

Evolutionary Relationships
Other Aphaenogaster

Aphaenogaster makay

Aphaenogaster swammerdami

Aphaenogaster bressleri

Aphaenogaster gonacantha

Aphaenogaster sahafina

Bayesian phylogeny of Malagasy Aphaenogaster based on COI sequences, from on Csosz et al., 2021.

Aphaenogaster swammerdami is a common and abundant species known to have an omnivorous diet consisting of arthropods and seeds (Boehing-Gaese et al., 1996, 1999; Fisher, 2003). Their underground nests can be large and have been found to be shared with the snakes Madagascarophis colubrinus (Schlegel, 1837) and Leioheterodon modestus (Günther, 1863); it is an important secondary seed disperser of Commiphora guillaumini (Burseraceae) (Böhning-Gaese et al. 1999).

Photo Gallery

  • Aphaenogaster swammerdami forager returning a dead Camponotus worker to her nest, Kirinidy forest, Western Madagascar. Photo by California Academy of Sciences (Csősz et al. 2021, Fig. A).
  • Camponotus karaha, one of four Camponotus species that mimic Aphaenogaster in Madagascar. Photo by California Academy of Sciences (Csősz et al. 2021, Fig. B).
  • Aphaenogaster swarmmerami ground nests are conspicuous. Photo by California Academy of Sciences (Csősz et al. 2021, Fig. C).
  • The start of an excavation of an Aphaenogaster swammerdami nest in Kirindy Forest, Western Madagascar. Photo by California Academy of Sciences (Csősz et al. 2021, Fig. D).



Latitudinal Distribution Pattern

Latitudinal Range: -11.67686667° to -24.8169°.

Tropical South

Distribution based on Regional Taxon Lists

Malagasy Region: Madagascar (type locality).

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.



The type specimens of Tetramorium tsingy, an ant only known from a few individuals, were collected from a nest of A. swammerdami.

Jono et al. 2019. Figure 1. a. Reaction of A. swammerdami towards M. colubrinus and b. Workers with brood, in reaction to the presence of M. decorsei are standing on the vegetation adjacent to the nest entrance.

Jono et al. (2019) - Colonies of A. swammerdami contain from 100–1500 workers. They inhabit large, underground nests that have a single large entrance hole and a conspicuous mound. This ant occurs sympatrically with the blindsnake Madatyphlops decorsei, and is believed to prey on A. swammerdami brood. An examination of the stomach contents of two museum specimen of M. decorsei were found to exclusively contain Aphaenogaster larvae. Also, blindsnakes generally specialize in feeding on termites and ant brood taken from inside their nests. The lamprophiid snake, Madagascarophis colubrinus, also co-occurs with A. swammerdami and is known to live inside their nests. Local people in Madagascar refer to this snake as ‘Ant’s Mother’ due to its propensity to live in ant nests. M. colubrinus preys on vertebrates and has been observed feeding on a blindsnakee. When experimentally presented at the colony entrance, the snake M. decorsei prompted workers to bite the snake and within a few minutes evacuate the brood from their nest. In 10 of 11 trails the colony recovered normal activity 1 day after the M. decorsei trials. M. colubrinus presented at the nest entrance was unmolested by the ants. It appears A. swammerdami have evolved two defenses against blind snakes. They have developed a mutualism with M. colubrinus that provides protection from brood raiding blindsnakes and they evacuate the brood when M. decorsei poses an imminent threat.

Csősz et al. (2021) - Throughout western Madagascar, A. swammerdami is known locally for its association with snakes (family Colubridae), most notably Dromicodryas bernieri, A. quadrilineatus, and Madagascarophis colubrinus (Preston-Mafham, 1991; Cadle, 2003). Oral tradition also notes this association between snakes and ants. For example, according to people living in the vicinity of the Bezà Mahafaly protected area, A. swammerdami hosts a snake that they call rembitiky (mother of ants). The story goes that the ants provide a nest for the snake and feed it during the cool dry season. The snake gets bigger and bigger, while the ants reduce the size of the entrance hole until the snake is no longer able to leave. The ants then eat the fattened snake during the rainy season, when it is supposedly difficult for the insects to forage outside. There is no evidence to support the idea that the ants eat the snakes. Aphaenogaster swammerdami builds large, deep nests in the soil, which undoubtedly provide good habitat for large snakes seeking shelter. Jono, Kojima & Mizuno (2019) conclude that the association with M. colubrinus helps defend the ant host larvae from predation by the blind snake Madatyphlops decorsei, a specialized predator of ant larvae. Eastern species such as A. gonacantha are occasionally found nesting in the ground but more often nest in hollow cavities in dead wood on or near the ground. Species nesting in wood use carton to modify the nest entrance.


Within Madagascar, there are four species of Camponotus, Camponotus imitator, Camponotus jodina, Camponotus karaha and Camponotus longicollis, that mimic the general form and behavior of the Aphaenogaster swammerdami group, specifically Aphaenogaster bressleri, Aphaenogaster gonacantha, Aphaenogaster makay, Aphaenogaster sahafina and Aphaenogaster swammerdami. These Camponotus mimics are often seen foraging with workers of Aphaenogaster, but potential benefits for Camponotus have not been studied (Csosz et al., 2021).


Additional images can be found on the Aphaenogaster swammerdami category page.





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

  • swammerdami. Aphaenogaster (Ischnomyrmex) swammerdami Forel, 1886c: cvi (w.) MADAGASCAR.
    • [Misspelled as schwammerdami by Santschi, 1911e: 123.]
    • Forel, 1891b: 168 (q.m.); Wheeler, G.C. & Wheeler, J. 1977a: 584 (l.).
    • Combination in Stenamma (Ischnomyrmex): Forel, 1907e: 14;
    • combination in Aphaenogaster (Deromyrma): Forel, 1913b: 350; Emery, 1921f: 65;
    • combination in Deromyrma: Santschi, 1915c: 250.
    • Status as species: Emery, 1888a: 532 (footnote key); Forel, 1891b: 167 (redescription); Dalla Torre, 1893: 107; Forel, 1907e: 14; Forel, 1907g: 83; Santschi, 1911e: 123; Santschi, 1915c: 250; Emery, 1915d: 71; Emery, 1921f: 65; Wheeler, W.M. 1922a: 1017; Bolton, 1995b: 73.
  • clara. Deromyrma swammerdami var. clara Santschi, 1915c: 250 (w.) MADAGASCAR.
    • Combination in Aphaenogaster (Deromyrma): Emery, 1921f: 65; Wheeler, W.M. 1922a: 1017.
    • Subspecies of swammerdami: Emery, 1921f: 65; Wheeler, W.M. 1922a: 1017; Bolton, 1995b: 68.
    • Junior synonym of swammerdami: Csősz et al., 2021: 26.
  • curta. Aphaenogaster (Ischnomyrmex) swammerdami var. curta Forel, 1891b: 169 (w.) MADAGASCAR.
    • Combination in Aphaenogaster (Deromyrma): Emery, 1921f: 65.
    • Subspecies of swammerdami: Dalla Torre, 1893: 107; Emery, 1921f: 65; Wheeler, W.M. 1922a: 1017; Bolton, 1995b: 69.
    • Junior synonym of swammerdami: Csősz et al., 2021: 26.
  • spinipes. Aphaenogaster (Ichnomyrmex) schwammerdami var. spinipes Santschi, 1911e: 123 (w.) MADAGASCAR.
    • [Ischnomyrmex misspelled as Ichnomyrmex.]
    • Combination in Aphaenogaster (Deromyrma): Emery, 1921f: 65.
    • Subspecies of swammerdami: Emery, 1921f: 65; Wheeler, W.M. 1922a: 1017; Bolton, 1995b: 73.
    • Junior synonym of swammerdami: Csősz et al., 2021: 26.


Syntype Specimen Labels


References based on Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics

  • Blaimer B. B., S. G. Brady, T. R. Schultz, and B. L. Fisher. 2015. Fucntional and phylogenetic approaches reveal the evolution of diversity in a hyper diverse biota. Ecography 38: 001-012.
  • Branstetter M. G. 2012. Origin and diversification of the cryptic ant genus Stenamma Westwood (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), inferred from multilocus molecular data, biogeography and natural history. Systematic Entomology 37: 478-496.
  • DeMarco B. B., and A. I. Cognato. 2016. A multiple-gene phylogeny reveals polyphyly among eastern North American Aphaenogaster species (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Zoologica Scripta DOI: 10.1111/zsc.12168
  • Fisher B. L. 1997. Biogeography and ecology of the ant fauna of Madagascar (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Journal of Natural History 31: 269-302.
  • Fisher B. L. 2003. Formicidae, ants. Pp. 811-819 in: Goodman, S. M.; Benstead, J. P. (eds.) 2003. The natural history of Madagascar. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, xxi + 1709 pp.
  • Fisher, B.L. and H.G. Robertson. 2002. Comparison and Origin of Forest and Grassland Ant Assemblages in the High Plateau of Madagascar (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Biotropica 34(1):155-167.
  • Forel A. 1886. Diagnoses provisoires de quelques espèces nouvelles de fourmis de Madagascar, récoltées par M. Grandidier. Annales de la Société Entomologique de Belgique. 30: ci-cvii.
  • Forel A. 1887. Fourmis récoltées à Madagascar par le Dr. Conrad Keller. Mitteilungen der Schweizerischen Entomologischen Gesellschaft 7: 381-389.
  • Forel A. 1897. Ameisen aus Nossi-Bé, Majunga, Juan de Nova (Madagaskar), den Aldabra-Inseln und Sansibar, gesammelt von Herrn Dr. A. Voeltzkow aus Berlin. Mit einem Anhang über die von Herrn Privatdocenten Dr. A. Brauer in Marburg auf den Seychellen und von Herrn Perrot auf Ste. Marie (Madagaskar) gesammelten Ameisen. Abhandlungen der Senckenbergischen Naturforschenden Gesellschaft 21: 185-208.
  • Forel A. 1907. Ameisen von Madagaskar, den Comoren und Ostafrika. Wissenschaftliche Ergebnisse. Reise in Ostafrika 2: 75-92.
  • Forel A. 1907. Formiciden aus dem Naturhistorischen Museum in Hamburg. II. Teil. Neueingänge seit 1900. Mitt. Naturhist. Mus. Hambg. 24: 1-20.
  • Ravelomanana A., and B. L. Fisher. 2013. Diversity of ants in burned and unburned grassland , and dry deciduous forest in the Beanka Reserve, Melaky Region, western Madagascar. Malagasy Nature 7: 171-183.
  • Wheeler W. M. 1922. Ants of the American Museum Congo expedition. A contribution to the myrmecology of Africa. IX. A synonymic list of the ants of the Malagasy region. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 45: 1005-1055