Rhytidoponera violacea

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Rhytidoponera violacea
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Ectatomminae
Tribe: Ectatommini
Genus: Rhytidoponera
Species: R. violacea
Binomial name
Rhytidoponera violacea
(Forel, 1907)

Rhytidoponera violacea casent0217496 p 1 high.jpg

Rhytidoponera violacea casent0217496 d 1 high.jpg

Specimen Labels

Synonyms

Rhytidoponera violacea is a keystone seed disperser in many Western Australia habitats.


Photo Gallery

  • Rhytidoponera violacea from the white sands of Talbot Road Nature Reserve, Stratton, Perth, Western Australia. Photo by Farhan Bokhari, 19 March 2011.

Identification

Heterick (2009) - A small population of this species on the northern coast around Geraldton, WA lacks the usual iridescence, while specimens of R. violacea from more arid eastern and northern areas have a greenish-yellow rather than blue-purple iridescence on the head and mesosoma. Molecular or karyotype analysis of representatives of these populations may reveal that they are genetically distinct.

Keys including this Species

Distribution

Occurs in Western Australia and Northern Territory.

Distribution based on Regional Taxon Lists

Australasian Region: Australia (type locality).


Distribution based on AntMaps

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Distribution based on AntWeb specimens

Check data from AntWeb

Habitat

This species occurs in a wide range of habitats. The images below are of a WA Iron Ore Range hillside and Kwongan Heathland from the Enneaba Sand Plains.

Biology

In areas where R. violacea is found, it appears to be the dominant ant responsible for seed dispersal (Majer 1984; Gove et al. 2007; McCoy 2008).

Heterick (2009) - Abundant throughout WA, this is an important taxon for those using ants as bioindicators for environmental management purposes.

Lubertazzi et al. (2010) studied the biology of this species in two multi-hectare plots located just north of Eneabba and on opposite sides of the Brand Highway (29°37′33″S 115°12′59″E / 29.62583°S 115.21639°E / -29.62583; 115.21639). Both areas contained native Kwongan Heathland. Findings from this study include:

Foraging/Diet

The average number of successful foragers returning to the nest over a 30-minute period was 5 ± 0.5 (range = 1 - 14, n = 36). There there were typically between 10 to 15 return trips to the nest during 30 minutes of sampling, suggesting that approximately 30 – 50% of foraging bouts are successful. The majority of items captured (65%) were insects (either whole individuals or insect parts). Plant parts were more commonly collected (17%) than seeds (5%). In a few cases, foragers were observed subduing live insect prey that was then brought back to the nest. In addition, some insects (e.g., non-conspecific ants, small beetles, and termites) were often found to be alive when they were collected from the foragers.

The average foraging distance from the nest was 3.5 ± 2.2 m, with a maximum distance of 10.4 m. These distances are similar to those previously observed in the same study region for R. violacea carrying seeds back to the nest (Gove et al. 2007; McCoy 2008).

Majer et al. (2010) monitored 5 nests in southwestern WA for a full year and found 91% of the collected forage was invertebrates. The remainder were seeds (6%) and plant parts (3%). Seeds were more or less prevelant in their diet during different times of the year. The ants do not appear to have a dependance on seeds, gathering them opportunistically and not storing them for long periods, i.e., large seed caches were not found. Foraging occurred throughout the year with much greater activity in the summer months. During the warmer parts of the year foraging activity peaks in the morning and in cooler times is restricted to the warmest part of the day.

Colony Attributes

The average number of workers in a colony was 190 ± 23.5 (range = 47 - 474, n = 22). All of the colonies excavated contained pupae (mean = 83 ± 13.4, range = 2 - 293) and many contained larvae (mean = 22 ± 3.8, range = 0 - 85). Small larvae (< 3 mm) and eggs were either uncommon or entirely absent. A total of seven males were collected from two colonies.

Majer et al. (2010) found an average of 173 workers per nest (n=5) in Karragullen in southwestern WA.

Nesting Habits

All the excavated nests were located under plants. The nests were either supported in part by a large mass of roots from a plant or, less commonly, incorporated a larger root of a shrub into their structure. The mean (n = 14) size of the nest entrance was 4.0 ± 0.58 cm (longest axis) by 2.1 ± 0.29 cm (perpendicular to widest axis). The number of nest openings varied (9 nests with 1 opening, 3 nests with 2 openings, 1 nest with 3 openings, and 1 nest with 4 openings). When present, multiple nest openings were located within a few centimeters of one another and coalesced into a single chamber or tunnel 1 - 2 cm below ground. A mound of nest spoil was found around most, but not all, nest entrances.

Mounds were typically oval in shape, approximately centered on the nest opening, and often obscured by the stems and shoots of the vegetation of the overlaying plant. The average longest axis width of a mound was 21.0 ± 1 cm, the width perpendicular to the longest axis averaged 15.7 ± 1.4 cm, and the average mound height was 5.4 ± 0.7 cm.

Nests were centered under nest entrances and had an average depth of 23.0 ± 1.6 cm (N = 19 nests). The upper portion of the nest (the first 4 to 5 cm below ground) was a collection of small chambers, side by side, that were often supported by many fine roots. These chambers were between 1 and 2 cm deep and collectively filled an area from 5 to 10 cm in diameter.

A number of distinctive chambers were located below this area and were found at depths ranging from 8 - 43 cm. The sides of these chambers had an average width of 4.3 ± 0.6 cm, an average height of 1.6 ± 0.2 cm, and were roughly ovoid in shape. These were connected to the central shaft at one side of their longest axis, but were not directly connected to any other chambers. Each chamber was offset in a vertical plane from any chambers that were directly above or below.

Nests may be quite variable, depending on the habitats. Below are some nest entrances from the above mentioned study and two nest entrances from an Banded Iron Ore hillside (Extension Hill, WA).

Majer et al. (2010), sampling in laterite soils in southwestern WA, found ground nests that averaged 22 cm in depth. The nest structure was typically a broad vertical shaft, often associated with and spiralling around buried woody material.

Association with Other Organisms

  • This species is a host for the eucharitid wasp Stilbula cyniformis (a parasite) (Universal Chalcidoidea Database) (primary host).
  • This species is a host for the eucharitid wasp Tricoryna sp. (a parasite) (Universal Chalcidoidea Database) (primary host).

Castes

Nomenclature

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

  • gemma. Ectatomma (Rhytidoponera) convexum var. gemma Forel, 1907h: 269 (w.m.) AUSTRALIA. Combination in Rhytidoponera: Emery, 1911d: 37. Junior synonym of violacea: Clark, 1936: 87.
  • violacea. Ectatomma (Rhytidoponera) convexum subsp. violaceum Forel, 1907h: 269 (w.m.) AUSTRALIA. Combination in Rhytidoponera: Emery, 1911d: 38. Raised to species: Brown, 1958g: 205. Senior synonym of gemma: Clark, 1936: 87; of opacior: Brown, 1958g: 205.
  • opacior. Rhytidoponera convexa subsp. opacior Clark, 1936: 86 (w.) AUSTRALIA. [First available use of Rhytidoponera convexa subsp. violacea var. opacior Crawley, 1925b: 583; unavailable name (Taylor, 1986: 34).] Junior synonym of violacea: Brown, 1958g: 205.

Type Material

  • Ectatomma (Rhytidoponera) convexum gemma Forel, 1907: Syntype, 1 worker, York, Western Australia, Australia, <collector unknown>, ANIC32-011945, Australian National Insect Collection.
  • Ectatomma (Rhytidoponera) convexum gemma Forel, 1907: Syntype, workers, Yarloop, Gooseberry Hill and York, Western Australia, Australia.
  • Ectatomma (Rhytidoponera) convexum violaceum Forel, 1907: Syntype, 1 worker, Mount Helena (as Lion Mill), Western Australia, Australia, <collector unknown>, ANIC32-011944, Australian National Insect Collection.
  • Ectatomma (Rhytidoponera) convexum violaceum Forel, 1907: Syntype, 1 worker, Mount Helena (as Lion Mill), Western Australia, Australia, Western Australian Museum.
  • Ectatomma (Rhytidoponera) convexum violaceum Forel, 1907: Syntype, 1 worker, York, Western Australia, Australia, Western Australian Museum.
  • Ectatomma (Rhytidoponera) convexum violaceum Forel, 1907: Syntype, worker(s), Northampton, Western Australia, Australia.
  • Rhytidoponera convexa opacior Clark, 1936: Syntype, 2 workers, Jigalong, Western Australia, Australia, Museum of Comparative Zoology.
  • Rhytidoponera convexa opacior Clark, 1936: Syntype, worker(s), Jigalong, Western Australia, Australia, Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

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

Description

Worker

Crawley (1925) - Length 6 mm.

Dark ferruginous; gaster with a faint metallic-blue tint, mandibles dark castaneous, apical joints of funiculus castaneous.

Scapes and legs less pilose than in the type.

The node of the petiole in profile is thinner, especially at the top, and the eyes slightly less prominent. The sculpture differs from that of convexa, s.sp. violacea and var. subumbrata, as follows: —the punctures are decidedly less shilling, giving the whole insect a duller appearance. On the head the punctures are smaller, shallower, and further apart, showing more striation and reticulation; similarly on dorsum of thorax. On the pronotum there is a larger space in front which is transversely striate and not punctate, and on the epinotum: the transverse striae are more distinct and not broken by punctures; a good deal of the meso- and epinotum is transversely striate. Striation on postpetiole and gaster finer.

References

  • Brown, W. L., Jr. 1958g. Contributions toward a reclassification of the Formicidae. II. Tribe Ectatommini (Hymenoptera). Bull. Mus. Comp. Zool. 118: 173-362 (page 205, Raised to species, Senior synonym of opacior)
  • Clark, J. 1936. A revision of Australian species of Rhytidoponera Mayr (Formicidae). Mem. Natl. Mus. Vic. 9: 14-89 (page 87, Senior synonym of gemma)
  • Crawley, W. C. 1925b. New ants from Australia. - II. Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. 9(16): 577-598.
  • Emery, C. 1911e. Hymenoptera. Fam. Formicidae. Subfam. Ponerinae. Genera Insectorum 118: 1-125 (page 38, Combination in Rhytidoponera)
  • Forel, A. 1907j. Formicidae. In: Michaelsen, W., Hartmeyer, R. (eds.) Die Fauna Südwest-Australiens. Band I, Lieferung 7. Jena: Gustav Fischer, pp. 263-310. (page 269, worker, male described)
  • Gove AD, Majer JD, Dunn RR. 2007. A keystone ant species promotes seed dispersal in a “diffuse” mutualism. Oecologia 153: 687-697.
  • Heterick, B. E. 2009. A guide to the ants of South-western Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement 76:1-206.
  • Lubertazzi D, Lubertazzi MAA, McCoy N, Gove AD, Majer JD, Dunn RR. 2010. The ecology of a keystone seed disperser, the ant Rhytidoponera violace. Journal of Insect Science. 10(1). doi:10.1673/031.010.14118
  • Majer, J., A. Gove, S. Sochacki, P. Searle, and C. Portlock. 2011. A comparison of the autecology of two seed-taking ant genera, Rhytidoponera and Melophorus. Insectes Sociaux. 58:115-125.

References based on Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics

  • Bisevac L., and J. D. Majer. 1999. Comparative study of ant communities of rehabilitated mineral sand mines and heathland, Western Australia. Restoration Ecology 7(2): 117-126.
  • Clark J. 1936. A revision of Australian species of Rhytidoponera Mayr (Formicidae). Memoirs of the National Museum of Victoria 9: 14-89
  • Gunawardene N. R. and J. D. Majer. 2005. The effect of fire on ant assemblages in the Gibson Desert Nature Reserve, Western Australia. Journal of Arid Environments 63: 725-739.
  • Heterick B. E., B. Durrant, and N. R. Gunawardene. 2010. The ant fauna of the Pilbara Bioregion, Western Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement 78: 157-167.
  • Majer J. D., and O. G. Nichols. 1998. Long-term recolonization patterns of ants in Western Australian rehabilitated bauxite mines with reference to their use as indicators of restoration success. Journal of Applied Ecology 35: 161-182.
  • Majer, J.D. and O.G. Nichols. 1998. Long-Term Recolonization Patterns of Ants in Western Australian Rehabilitated Bauxite Mines with Reference to Their Use as Indicators of Restoration Success. Journal of Applied Ecology 35(1):161-182