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Extant: 3 valid subspecies
Anoplolepis custodiens, the Common Pugnacious Ant, is a robust reddish-brown formicine native to Sub-Saharan Africa where it is considered a major indigenous pest. Although A. custodiens is not known to have established populations outside of its native range, the species is occasionally intercepted at ports of entry in the United States. A suite of life-history traits suggest A. custodiens could become a serious pest if it were to establish outside of its native range.
The species is known from South Africa, Zanzibar and Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and the Ethiopian region (Addison & Samways, 2006; Prins, 1982), and determined specimens from Antweb are also listed from Swaziland.
Anoplolepis custodiens is a relatively well studied species because of its impact on agricultural systems (especially vineyards) in South Africa (Addison & Samways, 2006). In its natural habitat in the southern Karoo, this ant nests in open, well insulated soil and feeds on dead and live animal matter as well as honeydew and nectar (Dean, 1992). The species is polygynous, highly aggressive, and is known to exhibit extreme dominance over other ant species in agricultural landscapes (Samways, 1990), especially when honeydew food resources are available. The lack of intra-specific aggression among colonies has been noted in previous studies (Steyn, 1954; Way, 1953), and is thought to facilitate invasive expansions at the local scale. It has been suggested that A. custodiens has the potential to become a serious invader of open-canopy, subtropical countries outside Africa, and should receive quarantine attentiveness by non-African nations (Addison & Samways, 2006; Samways, 1999).
Polymorphic, colour yellowish-brown to reddish-brown or even somewhat darker with abdomen dark-brown to almost blackish-brown, therefore easily confused with workers of the black pugnacious ant. Separated from latter species by chequered pattern on abdomen, caused by reflection of light on pubescent hairs, which are arranged in two different directions on each side. Few pilose hairs also present, particularly on head, apical borders of abdominal segments and on femora. Anterior border of cypeus angular in the middle, acutely so in some specimens; in lateral view less convex than in black pugnacious ant. Scale of petiole rather flattened in larger workers and fairly deeply emarginate above; scale narrowed dorsally in minors and emargination generally almost obsolete. The chequered pattern on abdomen and form of the clypeus are not as distinct as in the majors or media and this caste is therefore difficult to identify in the absence of larger workers. The convex epinotum is characteristic of the workers of the subgenus Zealleyella, and seen from the side it is almost as high as the promesonotum in the majors; in the minors it may be much higher.Diagnosis among introduced and commonly intercepted species
Found most commonly in these habitats: 36 times found in Grassland, 5 times found in Heavily grazed grassland, 2 times found in Sekhukhune Montane Grassland, 7 times found in Lydenburg Thornveld, 2 times found in Sekhukhune Mountain Bushveld, 4 times found in Lydenburgia - Euclea Open Woodland (in Sekhukhune Mountain Bushveld), 2 times found in miombo woodland, 3 times found in Ohrigstad Mountain Bushveld, 2 times found in Protea - Tristachya Open Woodland (in Sekhukhune Mountain Bushveld), 2 times found in Coega Bontveld, ...
Found most commonly in these microhabitats: 6 times under stone, 5 times leaf litter, 3 times ground forager(s), 2 times ground nest, 1 times pitfall trap, 1 times soil, 1 times Animal rotten meat, 1 times on low vegetation, 1 times on ground, 1 times ex rotten log.
Collected most commonly using these methods: 51 times Pitfall trap, 24 times Hand collected, 6 times Winkler, 2 times direct collection, 3 times Pitfall trap, 5 days, 1 times pitfall trap, PF 25 cup sample transect, 10m, 1 times pooter, 1 times Rotten animal carcass, 1 times Coprofagus trap, 1 times Pitfall trap, 3 week, 1 times Human dung day trap, ...
Elevations: collected from 11 - 2250 meters, 1150 meters average