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Fabrizio Rigato


One of Europe's largest countries, Italy consists of a narrow peninsula stretching in a southeastern direction into the Mediterranean Sea. It lies between 47° N (northernmost Alto Adige Alps) and 35°30' N (southernmost point of Lampedusa Island), corresponding to a distance of more than 1000 km. The country is largely surrounded by the sea, and encompasses the two largest Mediterranean islands, Sicily and Sardinia, in addition to many smaller islands. Italy also has two important mountain ranges: the Alps, which help form its northern boundary, and the Apennines, which run along Italy's peninsular axis. The highest peak in the Italian Alps is Mount Blanc, which reaches 4810 m; in the Apennines, the highest mountain is Gran Sasso, which approaches 3000 m. The large Padan Plain in the north and several other lowlands add further variety to this landscape.

Italy's wide range of elevation and latitude has produced several different climatic zones. As a result, the Italian myrmecofauna is most similar to that of central Europe in the north and the Mediterranean Basin in central and southern regions of the country. Nevertheless, a number of seemingly euryoecious ant species are both very widespread and often locally common. These include Ponera coarctata, Formica cunicularia, Lasius emarginatus, Crematogaster scutellaris, Temnothorax unifasciatus. In addition, some species living in the northern hills or lowlands reach progressively higher elevations in the south.

Ants from northern regions are better known than those from southern areas, where some new discoveries can be expected. The present knowledge of Italian myrmecofauna is moderately good, although no revisions to the ca. 250 species as a group for almost a century. As a consequence, those with an interest in Italy's ant fauna must to refer to a number different and often obsolete papers.

Those seeking to identify Italian ants can consult keys written by Kutter (1977), Collingwood (1979), Seifert (2007) and Czechowski et al. (2012) concerning the ants of Switzerland, Scandinavia, Central Europe and Poland, respectively. All are largely useful for northern Italy only. Existing keys to Balkan ants provided by Agosti and Collingwood (1987), are also relevant though somewhat less useful.

The last updated list of Italian ants was published in 1994 by Poldi et al. Though relatively recent, this contribution is outdated in many respects. Since the list's publication, there have been several taxonomic changes, along with an overall increase in the number of species.

The Italian myrmecofauna features several noteworthy peculiarities. For example, some Balkan species occur in northeast areas near the boundary with Slovenia (e.g. Crematogaster schmidti and Aphaenogaster epirotes), while some widespread west European taxa extend no farther eastward than western Liguria, as with Camponotus cruentatus and Messor barbarus. On the other hand, Sicily shares several species with Tunisia (e.g. Camponotus barbaricus, C. micans and Aphaenogaster sardoa), though Sardinia has a myrmecofauna with few endemics but including some species of North African origin like Aphaenogaster sardoa and A. senilis.

European taxonomists have recently reviewed several difficult genera, including species occurring in Italy (e.g. Seifert dealt with Lasius, some Formica, and Bothriomyrmex, and Radchenko with Myrmica). However, a good deal of work remains to be done, especially among the myrmicine Temnothorax, Aphaenogaster and Tetramorium as well as some less speciose genera.

Almost paradoxically, the nomenclature of the ca. 20 Italian species of Camponotus, usually one of the most difficult genera, seems rather solid in spite of the absence of any recent revision.

Several records concerning exotic ants in Italy were published by Jucker et al. in 2008. However, most of these species, whose stable presence in Italy cannot be ascertained, are not listed here.

The most renowned Italian myrmecologist has been Carlo Emery (1848-1925) who, in 1916, published the only comprehensive revision of Italian ants to date. Although obsolete, that paper is still somewhat useful for well-trained taxonomists concerned with Italian ants.

In subsequent decades, Bruno Finzi (1897-1941) and Carlo Menozzi (1892-1943) were the most active Italian myrmecologists, publishing several papers featuring descriptions of some new taxa as well as some reviews. More recently, Bruno Poldi (1920-2002) and, especially, Cesare Baroni Urbani (1943-present) have been the most active Italian myrmecologists. While Poldi wrote a few minor papers, Baroni Urbani published many works dealing with several aspects of Italian ants, including taxonomy, ecology and biogeography, and also published the "Catalogo delle specie di Formicidae d'Italia" in 1971. This work reported all original descriptions of species-level taxa occurring in Italy, including quadrinomial ones, as well as a detailed account of synonymies, localities, references, and short notes for each species. Finally, the author has contributed to the taxonomy of Myrmecina in 1999 and Stenamma in 2011.


Fabrizio Rigato

Author Bio:

Italy Ant Curator