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Species: Anoplolepis custodiens   (Smith, 1858) 

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Current Valid Name:

Taxonomic History (provided by Barry Bolton, 2022)

Extant: 3 valid subspecies

Formica custodiens Smith, 1858a PDF: 33 (w.) SOUTH AFRICA. Afrotropic. Primary type information: Primary type material: holotype worker. Primary type locality: South Africa: Port Natal (= Durban) (no collector’s name). Primary type depository: BMNH. AntCat AntWiki HOL

Taxonomic history

[Misspelled as cutodiens by Santschi, 1926a PDF: 14.]
Mayr, 1895 PDF: 148 (m.); Emery, 1895i PDF: 44 (q.); Wheeler & Wheeler, 1953c PDF: 135 (l.).
Combination in Plagiolepis: Emery, 1892: 117.

Taxon Page Images:

Photo by Wynand Uys; Hoedspruit, Mpumalanga


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.

// Distribution


  Geographic regions (According to curated Geolocale/Taxon lists):
    Africa: Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe
  Biogeographic regions (According to curated Bioregion/Taxon lists):
  Native to (according to species list records):
    Afrotropical bioregion

Distribution Notes:

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).


Redescription from Prins 1982
TL 3-10 mm; L 2.0-5.0 mm; HL 0.76-2.2 mm; ED 0.48-1.64 mm; CL 0.24-0.80 mm; SL 0.96-2.44 mm; WL 1.08-3.30 mm; MFL 0.80-2.56 mm; HFL 1.02-3.0 mm; PL 0.16-0.40 mm; CI 94.7-104.5; SI 133.3-106.1; CLI 200.0; CTI 70.4-66.7; TI 44.4-44.8; PI 125.0-190; HFI 94.4-90.9.

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
Antenna 11-segmented. Antennal club indistinct. Antennal scape length less than 1.5x head length. Eyes large; do not break outline of head. Antennal sockets and posterior clypeal margin separated by a distance equal to or greater than the minimum width of  antennal scape. Dorsum of mesosoma with metanotal impression, but never with a deep and broad concavity. Propodeum and petiolar node both lacking a pair of short teeth. Propodeum lacking posteriorly projecting protrusion. Metapleuron with a distinct gland orifice. Propodeal declivity less than twice length of propodeal dorsum. Waist 1-segmented. Petiole upright and not appearing flattened. Gaster armed with acidopore. Distinct constriction not visible between abdominal segments 3+4. Hairs not long thick and produced in pairs. Reddish-brown with a darker gaster.


Caste of types: (w)


Addison, P. & Samways, M.J. (2006) Surrogate habitats demonstrate the invasion potential of the African pugnacious ant. Biodivers. Conserv., 15, 411-428.

Dean, W.R.J. (1992) Temperatures determining activity patterns of some ant species in the southern Karoo, South Africa. J. Entomol. Soc. South. Afr., 55, 149-156.

Prins, A.J. (1982) Review of Anoplolepis with reference to male genitalia, and notes on Acropyga (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Ann. S. Afr. Mus., 89, 215-247.

Samways, M.J. (1999) Managing insect invasions by watching other countries. In: Sandlund, O.T., P.J. Schei & Viken, A. (Eds.) Invasive Species and Biodiversity Management. Kluwer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.

Steyn, J.J. (1954) The pugnacious ant (Anoplolepis custodiens Smith) and its relation to the control of citrus scales at Letaba. Mem. Entomol. Soc. South. Afr., 3, 1-96.

Way, M.J. (1953) The relationship between certain ant species with particular reference to biological control of the coreid, Theraptus sp. Bull. Entomol. Res., 44, 669-691.

Specimen Habitat Summary

Found most commonly in these habitats: 46 times found in Grassland, 11 times found in Camdeboo Escarpment Thicket, Acacia thicket., 5 times found in Heavily grazed grassland, 3 times found in Miombo woodland/forest, 5 times found in Camdeboo Escarpment Thicket. Acacia thicket., 6 times found in Camdeboo Escarpment Thicket, Open habitat, low shrubs & mat forming wild carnation, scattered grass., 5 times found in Camdeboo Escarpment Thicket, Open habitat, low shrubs & mat forming wild carnations, scattered grasses., 8 times found in Pediment grassland, 8 times found in Valley Bushland (goat trashed), 7 times found in Valley Bushveld, ...

Found most commonly in these microhabitats: 6 times leaf litter, 6 times under stone, 3 times ground forager(s), 2 times ground nest, 1 times pitfall trap, 1 times Animal rotten meat, 1 times soil, 1 times ex rotten log, 1 times on low vegetation, 1 times on ground.

Collected most commonly using these methods: 156 times Pitfall trap, 26 times Hand collected, 23 times By Hand, 7 times Winkler, 11 times Turning over rocks, 7 times Nest, 2 times direct collection, 3 times Pitfall trap, 5 days, 1 times pitfall trap, PF 25 cup sample transect, 10m, 2 times Winkler Bag, 3 times Yellow Pan Trap, ...

Elevations: collected from 11 - 2300 meters, 1064 meters average

Collect Date Range: collected between 1886-12-31 00:00:00.0 and 2022-02-11 00:00:00.0

Type specimens: Holotype of Anoplolepis custodiens: casent0903233; Paratype: sam-ent-011868

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