Cephalotes kukulcan

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Cephalotes kukulcan
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Myrmicinae
Tribe: Attini
Genus: Cephalotes
Species: C. kukulcan
Binomial name
Cephalotes kukulcan
Snelling, R.R., 1999

Cephalotes kukulcan P casent0627953.jpg

Cephalotes kukulcan D casent0627953.jpg

Specimen Label

Specimens have been collected in dead stems of mangrove and dead stems at the beach edge.


A member of the pinelii clade superficially similar to other species from which it differs as follows: from Cephalotes scutulatus, in the worker, by the frontal carinae weakly upturned above the eyes and, in the soldier and gyne, by the dense, deep, irregular and contiguous foveae on the disc; from Cephalotes liepini, in the worker and soldier, by the pointed petiolar and postpetiolar spines. (de Andrade and Baroni Urbani 1999)

Keys including this Species


Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and possibly Costa Rica.

Distribution based on Regional Taxon Lists

Neotropical Region: Belize (type locality), Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico.

Distribution based on AntMaps


Distribution based on AntWeb specimens

Check data from AntWeb


The biology of many Cephalotes species is not known. Ants in this genus are common in the New World tropics and subtropics and are especially abundant and diverse in the canopies of Neotropical forests. The majority of species are arboreal. Species that live in other strata inhabit smaller trees, bushes or grass stems. These noon-arboreal species, due to their accessibility, are among the better studied members of the genus. There are also species that can be found in downed wood but it is likely the wood housed the colony before it fell to the ground. Soil nests are not known for any species nor do most species appear to extensively excavate plant tissue. They nest instead in preformed cavities. Overall, ants in the genus utilize a wide range of plants. Some species are predictable in their plant use but none appear to have evolved specialized mutualisms with particular plant species.

Worker castes typically include two forms, a worker and soldier, but there are a few species that are monomorphic. The larger soldier caste typically has an enlarged head disk. In some species the head of the soldier is very different from the worker while in others these differences are less pronounced. Queens and soldiers tend to share similar head morphology. Soldiers use their heads to plug the nest entrance. This can be very effective in excluding potential intruders. Other morphological differences between the worker castes are present but these differences have not been studied as well as head moprhology.

The behavioral repertoire of Cephalotes varians has been examined in great detail (ethograms from Wilson 1976, Cole 1980 and Cole 1983). Soldiers do little else besides defend the nest. This specialized soldier behavior is presumed to be the norm for most species. An especially interesting behavior occurs when workers are dislodged from trees: they "fly" towards the tree, often grabbing the trunk well above the ground (video).

Mature nest size varies, by species, from less than a hundred to many thousands of workers. Available evidence suggests most species are monogynous. Queens may mate with multiple males.

The proventriculus of the Cephalotes is peculiar relative to other ants. The morphology of the structure suggests it serves as a powerful pump and filter. This does not appear to lead these ants to have a highly specialized diet as most species appear to be general scavengers. Foragers have been observed feeding on carrion, bird feces, extrafloral nectaries and even tending membracids. Pollen feeding has been observed in some species, and this is somewhat specialized for ants, but it is not evident that any species restricts its diet to this resource in any significant way. Evidence for pollen feeding in Cephalotes has accumulated, in part, via finding digested pollen grains seen in infrabucal pellets. It has been suggested that the morphology of the proventriculus is a specialization for processing pollen.

More research examining all aspects of the biology of Cephalotes is needed. Our present understanding of these ants is largely based on species that live in locations other than the forest canopy, which is where Cephalotes are most common and diverse.



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

  • kukulcan. Cephalotes kukulcan Snelling, R.R. in De Andrade & Baroni Urbani, 1999: 402, figs. 181-185 (s.w.q.m.) BELIZE.

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



Snelling (in de Andrade and Baroni Urbani 1999) – Measurements (mm): HW (greatest head width below the eyes) 0.83 - 0.95, HL (greatest length from the lower margin of the frontal lobes to the highest level of the margin of the vertex) 0.94-1.03, TL 3.2-3.7.

Head about 1.10 (1.07-1.13) times as long as broad; lateral margins very weakly divergent above, dorsolateral corners weakly crested; vertexal margin thin, cariniform and weakly concave in frontal view. Front of head gently convex; disc dull and very shallowly reticulate-foveate, each fovea with appressed, glittering scale-like seta. Side of head densely covered with appressed, glittering, scale-like hairs. Gular area dull, contiguously micropunctate and with scattered foveae, each with appressed scale-like seta.

Mesosoma. Anterior margin of pronotal disc without humeral angle; lateral margin with narrow lamelliform crest that is irregular but not denticulate; side of mesonotum with short, acute tooth; propodeum with irregular lateral crest continuous to petiolar insertion; entire dorsum reticulate-foveate, foveae larger and more distinct than those of frons and eaeh with appressed, scale-like glittering seta. Side of mesosoma dull and finely granulo-punctate; mesepisternum and side of propodeum with appressed, glittering scale-like setae on lower one-half or more. Legs as in soldier.

Petiole and postpetiole about as in soldier but spines less robust.

Metasomal tergum 1 invaginated at postpetiolar insertion; anterolateral corner narrowly marginate and slightly reflexed; disc granulose and dull, with dense appressed, glittering scalelike setae and sparse, short, erect, stout setae scattered across preapical margin; disc with scattered fine appressed hairs.

Color. Frontal lobes, mesosomal lamellae, spines of petiole and postpetiole, and large anterolateral spots of metasomal tergum 1 translucent yellowish; legs variably dull yellowish to reddish; remainder of body dark reddish brown to blackish.

Measurements (in mm) and indices: TL 3.24-4.05; HL 0.80-1.00; HW 0.84-1.08; EL 0.21-0.30; PW 0.72-0.95; PeW 0.48-0.56; PpW 0.56-0.71; HBaL 0.28-0.32; HBaW 0.07-0.08; CI 105.0-108.3; PI 113.0-116.7; PPeI 150.0-167.3; PPpI 12 8.6-146.0; HBaI 25.0-25.8.


Snelling (in de Andrade and Baroni Urbani 1999) – Measurements (mm): holotype HW ((greatest head width below the eyes)) 1.41, HL (greatest length from the lower margin of the frontal lobes to the highest level of the margin of the vertex) 1.60, TL 5.4. Paratypes: HW 1.24-1.41; HL 1.28-1.51; TL 4.3-5.1.

Head with complete frontal shield, about 1.10 (1.03-1.14) times a s long a s wide; margins of shield strongly elevated, straight or weakly concave across middle one-third of vertex margin; dorsolateral corners of head fully visible in frontal view, thin and elevated, margins irregular; disc anteriorly distinctly sloping towards clypeus, center of disc slightly convex; entire disc, from rim to rim, sharply and coarsely reticulate-foveate, each fovea with erect, short, capitate or pyriform seta; rim with appressed, spatulate setae internally and with erect capitate to spatulate setae externally. Side of head and vertex coarsely reticulose and with subappressed, scale-like glittering setae. Gular area slightly shiny, irregularly more or less longitudinally rugulose with some reticulate laterad and scattered fine, setose foveae.

Mesosoma. Transverse pronotal carina distinct, narrowly interrupted in middle, its dorsal margin irregular; lateral margin with one or two short denticulae anteriorly, posteriorly confluent with transverse carina; disc reticulate-foveate, each fovea with appressed, glittering scale-like seta. Mesoscutum with short, blunt lateral lobe; sculpture similar to pronotum, but reticulae finer. Basal face of propodeum similar to sculpture of mesonotum, laterally without spines or teeth, but posterolateral angle prominent; side of declivity narrowly lamellate; disc of declivity without striae, shallowly and contiguously punctate. Side of mesosoma dull, contiguously micropunctate, with scattered irregular rugules, lower mesepisternum and side of propodeum with setiferous foveae, setae appressed, glittering and scale-like. Procoxa, in profile, without basal coniform process. Dorsal margin of profemur subangulate at about midlength; meso- and metafemora angulate at midlength of dorsal face, all femora beyond middle with appressed, glittering scale-like setae.

Petiole with declivitous anterior face; lateral spines stout, flattened and slightly curved caudad; postpetiolar spines slightly stouter and longer; dorsal faces of both segments dull, with appressed, glittering, scale-like setae.

Metasoma elongate, tergum 1 about 1.2 times as long as wide; tergum 1 dull, granulo-punctate and with well separated appressed, glittering, scale-like setae that become sparser and narrower toward posterior margin. Disc of sternum 1 shiny and weakly sculptured, becoming minutely and contiguously punctate at extreme sides.

Color. Frontal shield and dorsum of pronotum largely dull reddish, usually with dark brownish above mandibles; some reddish color often also present on side of mesonotum and propodeum base; legs variable, tibiae and tarsi always light to dark reddish, often legs almost entirely reddish; gaster varying reddish and blackish, but tergum 1 yellow marked with prominent anterolateral spot, sometimes with anterior and posterior marks confluent so that tergum 1 is largely pale but with large dark median stripe that is broadest anteriorly."

Measurements (in mm) and indices: TL 4.48-5.60; HL 1.16-1.44; HW 1.20-1.44; EL 0.29-0.32; PW 1.24-1.40; PeW 0.51-0.64; PpW 0.60-0.74; HBaL 0.28-0.35; HBaW 0.08-0.12; CI 100.0-103.4; PI 96.7-102.8; PPeI 218.7-243.1; PPpI 189.2-206.7; HBaI 28.6-34.3.


Snelling (in de Andrade and Baroni Urbani 1999) – Measurements (mm): HW (greatest head width below the eyes) 1.31-1.38, HL (greatest length from the lower margin of the frontal lobes to the highest level of the margin of the vertex) 11.55-1.58; TL 6.5-6.7.

Head more slender than that of the major, 1.13-1.18 times as long as wide, otherwise about as described for soldier. Each ocellus placed in deep pit; distance between lateral ocelli about 1.3 times distance between anterior ocellus and either lateral ocellus; lateral ocelli removed from vertexal margin by about twice their diameter.

Mesosomal segmentation normal for Cephalotes females; pronotum about as described for major but transverse carina less distinct; mesoscutum and scutellum flat, reticulate-foveate, each fovea with appressed, glittering scale-like seta; basal face of propodeum angularly produced on each side; sculpture of basal face like that of mesoscutum; declivity dull and granulopunctate. Side of pronotum about as in major; mes- and metepisterna and side of propodeum dull and granulopunctate; anepisternum with abundant appressed, glittering, scale-like setae; katepisternum with anterior tooth-like tubercle; patches of appressed, glittering, scale-like setae on katepisternum above and along posterior margin and along posterior margin of metepisternum. Legs as in soldier.

Petiole with lateral spine very short and acute; otherwise petiole and postpetiole about as described for major.

Metasomal tergum 1 about 1.4 times as long as wide; gaster otherwise as described for major.

Color about as in major but frontal disc with large dark brown to blackish infuscation in center and mesosoma almost entirely blackish (except pronotum variably marked with reddish)."

Measurements (in mm) and indices: TL 6.52-7.24; HL 1.40-1.48; HW 1.36-1.40; EL 0.32-0.36; PW 1.32; PeW 0.54-0.57; PpW 0.71-0.77; HBaL 0.40-0.44; HBaW 0.12-0.13; CI 94.6-97.1; PI 103.0-106.1; PPeI 231.6-244.4; PPpI 171.4-185.9; HBaI 29.5-30.0.


Snelling (in de Andrade and Baroni Urbani 1999) – Measurements (mm): HW (greatest head width above the eyes) 0.76-0.79, HL (greatest length from the lower margin of the frontal lobes to the highest level of the margin of the vertex) 0.67-0.71; TL 4.1-4.2.

Head 1.07-1.19 times as broad as long; in frontal view vertex strongly elevated above level of upper eye margin; distance between inner eye margins about 1.8 times eye length; inner eye margins convergent below. Interocellar distance about 1.5 diameter of anterior ocellus; ocellocular distance about 2 times diameter of anterior ocellus. Antennal scape slightly longer than broad; third antennal segment about twice as long as broad and about 1.3 times length of fourth. Clypeus moderately convex; apical margin broadly, shallowly concave. Mandible with one distinct preapical tooth and 3-4 minute denticles basad of preapical tooth. Entire head contiguously micropunctate and dull, with widely scattered shallow foveae, especially on gular area, the bottoms of which are shiny.

Mesosoma normal for Cephalotcs and without spines or tubercles. Dorsum of pronotum slightly shiny and moderately tessellate. Median lobe of mesoscutum mostly smooth and shiny, but distinctly tessellate anteromedially and with sparse, shallow, coarse foveae; posterior lobes dull and roughened between shallow, irregular foveae. Scutellum finely lineopunctate and slightly shiny. Metanotum and basal face of propodeum slightly shiny and contiguously micropunctate, propodeum also with several widely spaced, fine, longitudinal rugulae. Side of mesosoma shinier, very weakly and shallowly micropunctate and with extensive smooth areas, especially on mesepisternum.

Petiole and postpetiole nodes very low, petiole with short anterior face; discs of both segments smooth and shiny.

Metasoma shiny, segments smooth to superficially and irregularly tessellate."

Measurements (in mm) and indices: TL 4.14-4.26; HL 0.65; HW 0.80; EL 0.35-0.36; PW 0.96; PeW 0.26-0.29; PpW 0.34-0.35; HBaL 0.42; HBaW 0.06-0.07; CI 123.1; PI 83.3; PPeI 331.0-369.2; PPpI 274.3-282.3; HBaI 14.3-16.7.

Type Material

Holotype soldier from Belize, Stann Creek District, Twin Cays, 16 Jan. 1987, J. F. Lynch (Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History); paratypes (all Belize and all collected by J. F. Lynch): 2 gynes, 12 soldiers and 22 workers, same data as the holotype; 3 soldiers and 3 workers, 3 males, Man-O-War Cay, 3 June 1985; 1 gyne, 1 worker, 1 male, Ragged Cay, 25 June 1985; 2 soldiers and 7 workers, "Jellyfish Cay", Blue Ground Range, 31 May 1 985; 4 soldiers and 8 workers, "Beetle Cay", Blue Ground Range, 3 1 May 1 985; 1 gyne, 2 soldiers and 18 workers, North Grand Bogue Cay, Turneffe Atoll, 29 March 1993. Paratypes in The Natural History Museum, LACM, Museum of Comparative Zoology, and National Museum of Natural History.


This species is named for Kukulcan, the Mayan equivalent to the "Feathered Serpent", Quetzalcoatl, of the Aztecs. The name is a noun in apposition.


  • de Andrade, M. L.; Baroni Urbani, C. 1999. Diversity and adaptation in the ant genus Cephalotes, past and present. Stuttgarter Beitrage zur Naturkunde Series B (Geolgie and Palaontologie). 271:1-889. (page 402, figs. 181-185 soldier, worker, queen, male described)

References based on Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics

  • Branstetter M. G. and L. Sáenz. 2012. Las hormigas (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) de Guatemala. Pp. 221-268 in: Cano E. B. and J. C. Schuster. (eds.) 2012. Biodiversidad de Guatemala. Volumen 2. Guatemala: Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, iv + 328 pp
  • Castano-Meneses, G., M. Vasquez-Bolanos, J. L. Navarrete-Heredia, G. A. Quiroz-Rocha, and I. Alcala-Martinez. 2015. Avances de Formicidae de Mexico. Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.
  • Dattilo W. et al. 2019. MEXICO ANTS: incidence and abundance along the Nearctic-Neotropical interface. Ecology https://doi.org/10.1002/ecy.2944
  • Fernández, F. and S. Sendoya. 2004. Lista de las hormigas neotropicales. Biota Colombiana Volume 5, Number 1.
  • Longino J. T. 2013. Ants of Honduras. Consulted on 18 Jan 2013. https://sites.google.com/site/longinollama/reports/ants-of-honduras
  • Reynoso-Campos J. J., J. A. Rodriguez-Garza, and M. Vasquez-Bolanos. 2015. Hormigas (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) de la Isla Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico (pp. 27-39). En: Castaño Meneses G., M. Vásquez-Bolaños, J. L. Navarrete-Heredia, G. A. Quiroz-Rocha e I. Alcalá-Martínez (Coords.). Avances de Formicidae de México. UNAM, Universiad de Guadalajara, Guadalajara, Jalisco.
  • Vásquez-Bolaños M. 2011. Lista de especies de hormigas (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) para México. Dugesiana 18: 95-133
  • de Andrade, M.L. & C. Baroni Urbani. 1999. Diversity and Adaptation in the ant genus Cephalotes, past and present. Stuttgarter Beitrage zur Naturkunde Serie B 271. 893 pages, Stuttgart