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Ophthalmopone berthoudi
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Ponerinae
Tribe: Ponerini
Alliance: Odontomachus genus group
Genus: Ophthalmopone
Forel, 1890
Type species
Ophthalmopone berthoudi
6 species
(Species Checklist, Species by Country)

Pachycondyla berthoudi sam-hym-c007394a profile 1.jpg

Pachycondyla berthoudi sam-hym-c007394a dorsal 1.jpg

Specimen labels

Ophthalmopone is a small genus (6 species) restricted to Sub-Saharan Africa. It is notable for its polydomous colonies, specialized termite predation, and reproduction by gamergate workers.

At a Glance • Gamergate  • Termite specialist  


Schmidt and Shattuck (2014) - Diagnostic morphological apomorphies of Ophthalmopone workers include very large eyes located at or posterior to the head midline and a hypopygium armed with stout spines. This combination of characters is unique to Ophthalmopone. Ophthalmopone is similar to Megaponera but lacks the preocular carinae of that genus. Large eyes also occur in Harpegnathos, but those of Harpegnathos are even larger and located at the extreme anterior end of the head, rather than at or posterior to the head midline. Stout hypopygial spines occur in several other ponerine genera, but these groups lack Ophthalmopone’s combination of slender build, dense pubescence, large eyes, nodiform petiole, and obsolete gastral constriction.

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Keys including this Genus



Ophthalmopone is restricted to Sub-Saharan Africa. Ophthalmopone berthoudi has the widest range of any member of the genus, occurring from Sudan to South Africa (Weber, 1942; Prins, 1978). Other species are restricted to southern Africa (Ophthalmopone hottentota), south-central Africa (Ophthalmopone depilis and Ophthalmopone mocquerysi), or eastern Africa (Ophthalmopone ilgii).

Distribution and Richness based on AntMaps

Species by Region

Number of species within biogeographic regions, along with the total number of species for each region.

Afrotropical Region Australasian Region Indo-Australian Region Malagasy Region Nearctic Region Neotropical Region Oriental Region Palaearctic Region
Species 7 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total Species 2841 1736 3045 932 835 4379 1741 2862


Schmidt and Shattuck (2014) - Due to its unusual suite of characteristics, Ophthalmopone has drawn considerable attention from ecologists and ethologists. Ophthalmopone berthoudi is by far the best studied species in the genus, and most of what is known about Ophthalmopone ecology and behavior derives from observations of that species.

Ophthalmopone berthoudi colonies are polydomous, with from two to seven nests located up to 75 m apart in open ground or in abandoned termitaria (Arnold, 1915; Peeters, 1984; Peeters & Crewe, 1987). Ophthalmopone hottentota nests are also located under stones or in open ground (Dean, 1989). Workers regularly transport brood, other workers, and even males between the nests (Peeters & Crewe, 1985a; Peeters & Crewe, 1987; Sledge et al., 1996). Nests of O. berthoudi have from 20 to 800 workers (mean = 186 workers; Peeters & Crewe, 1987; mean = 89 workers for four excavated nests of O. hottentota; Peeters & Crewe, 1985b; Dean, 1989). A highly variable proportion of workers in each nest are mated (1.4–66% for O. berthoudi; Peeters & Crewe, 1985; Sledge et al., 1996 and 2001), and these gamergate workers perform all reproduction for the colony.

Males enter foreign colonies and mate preferentially with the younger workers (Peeters & Crewe, 1986). There is apparently no social regulation over which or how many workers mate. Sledge et al. (2001) found no evidence of aggressive dominance interactions among gamergates or between gamergates and unmated workers in O. berthoudi, though they found clear evidence that gamergates chemically suppress haploid egg production in virgin workers. The fecundity of gamergates is low (fewer than one egg per gamergate per day; Peeters & Crewe, 1985a), which is offset by the presence of multiple reproductives per colony. Sledge et al. (1999) studied the division of labor in O. berthoudi colonies and found that as the percentage of gamergates in a colony decreases over a season, the fecundity of the gamergates increases and their range of activities becomes more restricted. Gamergates are never found outside the nest except during nest transfers (Peeters & Crewe, 1985a).

Like workers of their sister genus Megaponera, Ophthalmopone workers are specialist termite predators, though they are not polymorphic as in Megaponera. It appears that the workers of some species forage in organized raids, like Megaponera, while others forage singly. Arnold (1915) observed irregular columns of the exceptionally fast-running foragers of O. berthoudi, and Forel (1928) reported foraging columns of Ophthalmopone ilgii. On the other hand, more recent studies of foraging behavior in O. berthoudi (Peeters & Crewe, 1987) and O. hottentota (Dean, 1989) failed to observe group foraging in these species. Neither study found any evidence of recruitment or of chemical trails, as the workers of both species hunted termites singly. Dean (1989) observed caches of hundreds of paralyzed termites in nests of O. hottentota; prey caching has not been observed in O. berthoudi. Foragers of both species return repeatedly to harvest a single termite source.

A worker of Ophthalmopone berthoudi captures termites and stings them one by one. Then up to 10 termites are retrieved in a single trip. From Mkhuze, Kwazulu-Natal province, South Africa. Photo by Christian Peeters.

Duncan (1999) discussed the energetic challenges facing an Ophthalmopone colony, which depends on an unpredictable and scattered food source (foraging termites), and the paradoxical observation that only a small percentage of workers in a colony forage (Peeters, 1984). She found that foraging workers of O. berthoudi are exceptionally energy efficient, and hypothesized that this, along with the polydomous nature of the colonies, resolves the apparent paradox.

Life History Traits

  • Queen type: gamergate (Peeters, 1997)
  • Mean colony size: 20-800 (Greer et al., 2021)
  • Compound colony type: not parasitic (Greer et al., 2021)
  • Nest site: hypogaeic (Greer et al., 2021)
  • Diet class: predator (Greer et al., 2021)
  • Foraging stratum: subterranean/leaf litter (Greer et al., 2021)
  • Foraging behaviour: solitary (Greer et al., 2021)


Unlike various other genera in which gamergates reproduce as well as dealate queens, a queen caste is completely unknown in this genus. Workers are monomorphic. All workers have 6 ovarioles and a functional spermatheca.



Worker Morphology

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 • Eyes: >100 ommatidia • Pronotal Spines: absent • Mesonotal Spines: absent • Propodeal Spines: absent • Petiolar Spines: absent • Caste: none or weak • Sting: present • Metaplural Gland: present • Cocoon: present



Platythyrea  (40 species, 6 fossil species)

Pachycondyla group
⊞(show genera)
Ponera group
⊞(show genera)

Harpegnathos  (13 species, 0 fossil species)

Hypoponera  (177 species, 1 fossil species)

Plectroctena group
⊞(show genera)
Odontomachus group
⊞(show taxa)

See Phylogeny of Ponerinae for details.


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

  • OPHTHALMOPONE [Ponerinae: Ponerini]
    • Ophthalmopone Forel, 1890b: cxi. Type-species: Ophthalmopone berthoudi, by monotypy.
    • Ophthalmopone junior synonym of Pachycondyla: Brown, in Bolton, 1994: 164.
    • Ophthalmopone revived from synonymy: Schmidt & Shattuck, 2014: 122.

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


Schmidt and Shattuck (2014):


Large (TL 8–13.5 mm; Emery, 1886, 1902) slender ants with the standard characters of Ponerini. Mandibles triangular and long. Eyes very large, located at or posterior to the head midline. Frontal lobes small, widely separated anteriorly by a triangular extension of the clypeus. Metanotal groove shallowly impressed. Propodeum moderately narrowed dorsally. Propodeal spiracle slit-shaped. Metatibial spurs formula (1s, 1p). Tarsal claws unarmed or armed with a single preapical tooth. Petiole nodiform. Gaster without a girdling constriction between pre- and postsclerites of A4. Stridulitrum present on pretergite of A4. Hypopygium armed with a row of stout setae on either side of the sting. Head and body finely punctate, largely devoid of pilosity but with a dense pubescence. Color black.


See descriptions in Emery (1911) and Arnold (1915).


Larvae of Ophthalmopone berthoudi were described by Wheeler & Wheeler (1971a).