Naturalist Ant Collectors
This page is a place for stories, tales and reports about obscure ant collectors that are not ant taxonomists. Some were biologists that perhaps studied other taxa but did, for various reasons, collect some ants. Others were naturalists or curious travelers that had cause to communicate with an ant taxonomist. Somehow it was arranged that ants were collected, sent off with some notes and from this the ants were described.
There are more than a few people that come up time and time again as the collector of specimens of ants from what used to be the parts of the world that were far removed from the centers of modern science - where ever that might have been at the time. In most cases these names are pondered over because the collector's name is attached to numerous type specimens.
Who were these obscure people? Why were they collecting ants in such and such a place? Why were they even at the places the collected? .... curious myrmecologists want to know.... and sometimes they are able to find out......
As reported by Longino (2013) for Octostruma balzani:
This ant was named for Luigi Balzan, for whom Emery wrote this moving and poignant tribute: After a long journey across Bolivia, made very uncomfortable for lack of funds, Luigi Balzan returned to Italy a few months ago, bringing important zoological and anthropological collections. His sturdy physique, that had resisted the hardships and tropical climates, surrendered to a pernicious fever this past 20 September, in Padova, his homeland. For many years I was in correspondence with Balzan, who came to see me in Bologna before leaving; his unexpected death at a young age deeply saddened me.
Hans Friedrich Overbeck, 1882-1942.
Prior the First World War Hans Overbeck was a manager at the German trading house Behn Meyer and Company based in Singapore. He was then incarcerated as an enemy alien by the British authorities from 1914 to 1919, first in Singapore and then at Holsworthy (Liverpool) and Trial Bay internment camps in Australia. After the war he returned to Behn Meyer, and was later based in Java in the Dutch East Indies. He retired in 1931 to live in Jogjakarta (Java, Indonesian).
Overbeck was incarcerated again in 1942 in Sumatra, during WW2, by the Dutch. He was unfortunately placed aboard the ship Van Imhoff, a Dutch ship loaded with German prisoners begin taken to India to evade advancing Japanese forces. The ship was nonetheless bombed by the Japanese. Slowly sinking, the crew left the ship in lifeboats and abandoned the prisoners. Most, including Overbeck, drowned.
He was a prominent Malayologist, talented linguist and expert photographer. Overbeck's Malayology research resulted in the publication of several books and over 60 scientific articles, many in the Journal of the Straits (and Malayan) Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. He was a member of the society from 1913 until his death. His work in this area is still very significant to researchers.
Prior to WWI Overbeck collected ants in Singapore for Hugo Viehmeyer. He also collected other insects as well. The first ant named for him was Pseudolasius overbecki. Overbeck also reported he began working on rearing experiments with queens captured at lights but this work was brought to a halt by the WWI.
Overbeck was an opportunistic collector of ants and other insects at both Australian prison camps were he was held. In addition to the ants Viehmeyer described from specimens Overbeck found in Singapore, Johore and Java between November 1912 and June 1914, Viehmeyer also described 45 new species or subspecies in 20 genera (including the new genus Peronomyrmex) from Overbeck’s Australian ant accessions. Trial Bay is the type-locality for 24 taxa and Liverpool for 19. When Viehmeyer died in 1921, Forel was able to continue describing ant species Viehmeyer had obtained from Overbeck. Heinrich Kutter also worked with Overbeck ant specimens (Camponotus javaensis).
From 1919 to 1938, museum records (specimen data and correspondence) indicate that Overbeck regularly contributed Indonesian insect and other specimens to the Museum für Tierkunde, Dresden. These included new species of cockroaches, ants, beetles and grasshoppers, with many in the latter part of this time collected from Overbeck’s house and garden at Yogyakarta. It was presumed his sending of specimens with the Dresden museum was first began through Viehmeyer. It later surely continued with the encouragement of the curator and entomologist Karl Heller.
Patronymic insect names include the ant genus Overbeckia and a number of ant and other insect species.
This overview is based on a written summary by Robert Taylor, who also published a more detailed account of Overbeck in 2014. (Taylor, Robert W. 2014. The Orientalist Hans Friedrich Overbeck 1882–1942: His Entomological Work, Prisoner-of-War Experiences and Known Photographic Images. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. 87(1):37-51. doi:10.1353/ras.2014.0005.
Radchenko and Elmes (2010) reported the following regarding Myrmica pachei:
Dedicated to the collector, the Swiss climber Alexis Pache who was killed in an avalanche in July 1905 while attempting to climb Kangchenjunga (the World's third highest mountain). The expedition was led by the controversial occultist and black magician Aleister Crowley and the Swiss doctor Jules Jacot-Guillarmod. Forel had given Pache tubes to collect high altitude ants, eventually Pache's brother-in-law returned two tubes found in his belongings, one of which contained the three castes of this species.
Details of the ill fated Kangchenjunga expedition can be found here: 1905 Kanchenjunga expedition
Longino (2009) provided these details in his description of Pheidole synanthropica:
The syntype series of Pheidole indistincta was comprised of two different Tonduz collections later associated by Forel. The labels are spare, just "Costa Rica, Tonduz," but the minor worker series has a number 1 on the label and the lectotype major worker has a number 3 on the label. These are probably different collection events and are definitely two different species. The minor workers are P. synanthropica and the lectotype major is Pheidole pubiventris, another widespread and highly synanthropic species.
Tonduz was one of the early naturalists in Costa Rica, working with Anastasio Alfaro at the National Museum and sending abundant ant collections to taxonomists in Europe. Most of his collections are species of forested habitats, but it is perhaps telling that what might be his first collections, with collection numbers 1 and 3, are two ant species common in urban areas in the Central Valley. I have collected P. synanthropica in city parks just a few blocks from the National Museum where Tonduz worked. I can imagine a young Tonduz being sent out behind the museum to collect his first ants.
- Longino, J.T. 2009. Additions to the taxonomy of New World Pheidole. Zootaxa 2181: 1-90. PDF
- Longino, J. T. 2013. A revision of the ant genus Octostruma Forel 1912 (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Zootaxa. 3699:1-61. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.3699.1.1
- Radchenko, A.G. & Elmes, G.W. 2010. Myrmica ants of the Old World. Fauna Mundi 3: 1-789.