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Thaumatomyrmex workers are among the most morphologically derived of all ponerines, and would be difficult to confuse with those of any other genus. Their pitchfork-like mandibles and widely separated frontal lobes are autapomorphic within Ponerini and immediately identify them as Thaumatomyrmex. Belonopelta and Emeryopone also have mandibles with long attenuated teeth, but their teeth are shorter than those of Thaumatomyrmex and their frontal lobes are closely approximated as is typical for Ponerini. [From Schmidt & Shattuck (2014)].// Distribution
Thaumatomyrmex is a strictly Neotropical genus whose known range extends from Mexico to Brazil on the mainland and also includes some islands of the Caribbean (Kempf, 1975). [From Schmidt & Shattuck (2014)].
Thaumatomyrmex displays an unusual suite of morphological, ecological and behavioral traits. Brandão et al. (1991) examined the feeding habits of T. atrox and T. contumax and found that they are highly specialized predators of polyxenid millipedes (confirmed by Delabie et al., 2000; see also the account in Hölldobler & Wilson, 1995). Polyxenids are covered with protective hooked setae which hunting Thaumatomyrmex workers must deal with before consuming their prey. The ants deal with the polyxenids by grasping them with their pitchfork mandibles, stinging them (presumably to minimize defensive struggles), and finally scraping off the defensive setae using their modified front tarsi, rendering the millipedes palatable (Brandão et al., 1991). Given the highly specialized mandibular structure present in all Thaumatomyrmex species and the observation of millipede predation in two different species groups, polyxenid predation is probably universal in the genus. Thaumatomyrmex workers forage individually in leaf litter and feign death when disturbed (Brandão et al., 1991). Though Thaumatomyrmex were long considered to be rare (Longino, 1988), improved sampling methods have demonstrated that their colony density can be very high (Delabie et al., 2000). Given the cryptobiotic foraging habits of Thaumatomyrmex, the function of the large well-developed eyes in the workers is a mystery (Baroni Urbani & de Andrade, 2003).
[From Schmidt & Shattuck (2014)].
Worker: Small (TL 3.3–5.0 mm; Kempf, 1975) ants with the standard characters of Ponerini except that the antennal sockets are very widely separated by a broad posterior extension of the clypeus.
Mandibles pitchfork-like with three very long and attenuated teeth, the mandibular articulations located on narrow anterolateral projections of the head. Clypeus generally greatly reduced except for a broad posterior extension. Frontal lobes of moderate size, semi-vertical, reaching or surpassing the anterior clypeal margin. Eyes large and very convex, located anterior of head midline. Metanotal groove absent to shallowly impressed. Propodeal dorsum moderately narrowed but rounded. Propodeal spiracles round. Metapleural gland orifice with a U-shaped cuticular flange posteriorly and a shallow groove laterally. Metatibial spur formula (1p). Petiole ranging from a thick broad scale with sharp lateral margins to a cuboidal node. Gaster with only a weak constriction between pre- and postsclerites of A4. Pretergite of A4 with a distinct stridulitrum. Head and body with variable sculpturing, ranging from smooth and shiny to finely shagreened to finely punctate and rugulose. Head and body with scattered pilosity and no pubescence. Color black.
Queen: Kempf (1975) mentioned the existence of an alate queen of T. zeteki (= T. atrox), but it has neither been described nor confirmed. Gamergates occur in at least two species (Jahyny et al., 2002).
Male: See description by Kempf (1975).
Larva: Discussed in Kempf (1975) and described for T. mutilatus by Kempf (1954) and Wheeler & Wheeler (1964).
[From Schmidt & Shattuck (2014)].
Baroni Urbani, C.; De Andrade, M. L. 2003B. The ant genus Thaumatomyrmex in Cuba (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) with description of two new species. Mitteilungen der Schweizerischen Entomologischen Gesellschaft 76:263-277.
Brandão, C. R. F.; Diniz, J. L. M.; Tomotake, E. M. 1991. Thaumatomyrmex strips millipedes for prey: a novel predatory behaviour in ants, and the first case of sympatry in the genus (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Insectes Soc. 38: 335-344.
Delabie, J.H.C., Fresneau, D. & Pezon, A. 2000. Notes on the ecology of Thaumatomyrmex spp. (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Ponerinae) in southeast Bahia, Brazil. Sociobiology 36: 571-584.
Hölldobler, B. & Wilson, E.O. 1995. Journey to the Ants. Belknap Press, Cambridge, Mass., 228 pp.
Jahyny, B., Delabie J. & Fresneau, D. 2002. Mini-sociétés sans reine chez le genre néotropical Thaumatomyrmex Mayr, 1887 (Formicidae: Ponerinae). Actes des Colloques Insectes Sociaux 15: 33–37.
Kempf, W.W. (1954) A descoberta do primeiro macho do gênero Thaumatomyrmex Mayr (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Revista Brasileira de Entomologia 1: 47-52.
Kempf, W. W. 1975. A revision of the Neotropical ponerine ant genus Thaumatomyrmex Mayr (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Studia Entomologica 18:95-126.
Longino, J. T. 1988. Notes on the taxonomy of the neotropical ant genus Thaumatomyrmex Mayr (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Pp. 35-42 in: Trager, J. C. (ed.) Advances in myrmecology. Leiden: E. J. Brill, xxvii + 551 pp.
Schmidt, C. A.; Shattuck, S. O. 2014. The Higher Classification of the Ant Subfamily Ponerinae (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), with a Review of Ponerine Ecology and Behavior. Zootaxa 3817(1):1-242.
Wheeler, G.C. & Wheeler, J. 1964. The ant larvae of the subfamily Ponerinae: supplement. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 57: 443-462.