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Subfamily PONERINAE
Tribe PONERINI

Hypoponera opaciceps (Mayr, 1887)

Authors: Joe A. MacGown and Ryan J. Whitehouse
Uploaded 2009; last updated 4 March 2016

Hypoponera opaciceps, full face view of a worker (MS, Noxubee Co.) (photo by James G. Lewis and Joe A. MacGown)

Hypoponera opaciceps, lateral view of a worker (MS, Noxubee Co.) (photo by James G. Lewis and Joe A. MacGown)
Hypoponera opaciceps, dorsal view of a worker (MS, Noxubee Co.) (photo by James G. Lewis and Joe A. MacGown)
Hypoponera opaciceps, full face view of a female (MS, Jackson Co.) (photo by Ryan J. Whitehouse and Joe A. MacGown)
Hypoponera opaciceps, lateral view of a female (MS, Jackson Co.) (photo by Ryan J. Whitehouse and Joe A. MacGown)
Hypoponera opaciceps, dorsal view of a female (MS, Jackson Co.) (photo by Ryan J. Whitehouse and Joe A. MacGown)
Hypoponera opaciceps, lateral view of a female (MS, Jackson Co.) (photo by Ryan J. Whitehouse and Joe A. MacGown)
Hypoponera opaciceps, full face view of a male (MS, Jackson Co. ) (photo by James G. Lewis and Joe A. MacGown)
Hypoponera opaciceps, lateral view of a male (MS, Jackson Co. ) (photo by James G. Lewis and Joe A. MacGown)

Hypoponera opaciceps, lateral view of a worker showing petiole (MS, Noxubee Co.) (photo by James G. Lewis and Joe A. MacGown)

Introduction
Hypoponera ants can be found around the world and are considered to be the most common and diverse Ponerinae ant species worldwide with 177 species. They can be found on the ground or just under the surface and nest in leaf litter, rotten wood and the soil. Some Hypoponera species are known to have unique reproductive strategies including ergatoid males and females and male mate competition.

Hypoponera species can be identified by having a waist with only one distinct segment; gaster being narrowly connected to the waist; presence of a stinger; apex of gaster pointed downwards or posteriorly; frontal lobes covering base antennal insertion point; head and body relatively smooth; mandibles triangular; only one pectinate spur on hind tarsi; and subpetiolar process simple and not toothed.

Hypoponera opaciceps is an introduced medium sized, uniformly dark brown to brownish black species that greatly resembles the related native Ponera pennsylvanica. This species is native to South American and is considered to be an introduced species in the US.

Taxonomic History (Bolton 2016)
Ponera opaciceps Mayr, 1887: 536 (w.q.) BRAZIL. Neotropic. Smith, 1929: 545 (m.); Wheeler & Wheeler, 1964: 453 (l.). Combination in Hypoponera: Taylor, 1967: 11. Senior synonym of Hypoponera perkinsi (and its junior synonym Hypoponera andrei):Wilson & Taylor, 1967: 28; of Hypoponera postangustata: Wild, 2007: 54. Current subspecies: nominal plus Hypoponera opaciceps cubana, Hypoponera opaciceps gaigei, Hypoponera opaciceps jamaicensisHypoponera opaciceps pampana. See also: Smith, 1936: 428; Wheeler, 1937: 59; Kempf, 1962: 7.

Identification
Worker: HL 0.08-0.83mm, HW: 0.67-0.72mm, SL 0.60-0.64mm, EL 0.04-0.06mm, MeSL 1.04-1.07mm (n=5). Color varies from a light reddish-brown to a dark reddish-brown body with lighter colored appendages. Head covered in short, appressed setae giving it a velvety look; frontal lobes prominent, covering the antennal insertion when viewed from the front; eye reduced and located laterally on anterior 1/4 of the head; mandibles with outer boarder more or less straight. Mesosoma covered with short, hair-like setae with a smooth, glabrous patch by the spiracle; pronotum texture and not shining. Waist is single segmented; petiole relatively tall and approximately the same width throughout its height; subpetiolar process simple, lacking teeth or a fenestra (as in Ponera). Gaster covered with short hair-like setae with a mixture of long, erect setae that become more conspicuous near apex; first two segments elongate and about twice the size of the remaining segments or longer; prominent sting present.

Queen: HL 0.82-0.86mm, HW 0.72-0.76mm, SL 0.64-0.68mm, EL 0.18-0.20mm, MeSL 1.16-1.28mm (n=5). Color reddish brown. Head covered with numerous short, appressed setae; frontal lobes prominent, covering the antennal insertion when viewed from the front; three ocelli present; eyes larger and situated on anterior 1/3 of head; mandibles with outer boarder more or less straight. Mesosoma is enlarged and covered entirely by short, appressed setae with a small glabrous patch directly around the spiracle; four wings in alate queens or wing scars in dealate queens. Waist is single segmented; petiole relatively tall and approximately the same width throughout its height; subpetiolar process simple. Gaster covered with short hair-like setae with a mixture of long, erect setae that become more conspicuous near apex; first two segments elongate and about twice the size of the remaining segments or longer; prominent sting present.

Male: HL 0.63-0.69mm, HW 0.5-0.59mm, SL 0.11-0.12mm, EL 0.30-0.33mm, MeSL 1.12-1.23 mm (n=5). Color orangish-brown. Head with short hair-like setae that are more conspicuous on the lateral parts of the head; clypeus with three long medial setae projecting anteriorly; eyes are large and taking up almost half of the length of the head; three large ocelli medially present on the posterior apex of the head; antennae are filiform and 13 segmented without a club. Mesosoma is enlarged, sub-trapezoidal, and covered with short, repressed setae; four wings are present. Waist single segmented with roughly triangular petiole. Gaster covered in short, pressed setae; aedeagus present at apex.

Hypoponera opaciceps can be separated from similar species in the southeastern US by the presence of a simple, rounded subpetiolar process that lacks teeth, dark color and the petiole staying the same width throughout its height. Similar species include H. opacior, which differs by having the petiole (of workers) in profile gradually tapering apically; and Ponera pennsylvanica, which differs (in workers and queens) by the subpetiolar process with two distinct teeth posteriorly and with a circular fenestra present anteriorly. Other species of Hypoponera and Ponera in the Southeast are much smaller in size.

Biology and Economic Importance
Not much is known about Hypoponera opaciceps’s behavior and biology. It is commonly found in leaf litter and suspected to forage on leaf mold. It is rarely found foraging in the open and has not been reported at baits. Based on MEM records, H. opaciceps specimens are often collected in disturbed open and wooded habitats such as in open wooded areas at recreational parks, nesting between shells on shell middens, in disturbed bottomland forest sites, in open fields with cogon grass, in disturbed mixed pine/hardwood forests, and nesting in piles of pine bark left over from logging pine trees. This species has been found nesting in potted plants. Colonies will produce alate queens and males for reproduction.

Hypoponera opaciceps is considered an economically important species. It has spread across the Nearctic and Neotropical regions quite efficiently. Colonies can commonly be found in potted plants and soil and it is suspected that Florida’s plant nurseries have inadverttantly aided in H. opaciceps spread. Soil ballasts used by ships taken from infested beaches probably also played a part in the spread of this species. This species is not agressive, but has a sting, and may sting if disturbed.

Distribution
Native Range: Central and South America
U.S. Distribution: Southeastern and Southwestern U.S. including Southern California
Southeastern U.S.: AL, AR, FL, GA, LA, MS, NC, SC

Acknowledgments
Funding for the ant work being done by the MEM in Alabama and Mississippi is from several sources including the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, United States Department of Agriculture, under Project No. MIS-012040, the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station at Mississippi State University, with support from State Project MIS-311080, NSF Grants BSR-9024810 and DFB-9200856, the Tombigbee National Forest (U.S. Forest Service), the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge, Mississippi Natural Heritage Program Research Grant, USDA Forest Service Agreement No. 08-99-07-CCS-010, the William H. Cross Expedition Fund, and primarily by the USDA-ARS Areawide Management of Imported Fire Ant Project. Additionally, special cooperation has been provided by State Parks, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, the Natchez Trace Parkway, and from various private landowners in both Alabama and Mississippi.

Literature Cited

Bolton, B. 2016.  Bolton World Catalog Ants. Available online: http://www.antweb.org/world.jsp. Accessed 9 March 2016.

Kempf, W. W. 1962. Miscellaneous studies on Neotropical ants. II. (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Studia Entomologica 5:1-38.

Mayr, G. 1887. Südamerikanische Formiciden. Verhandlungen der Kaiserlich-Königlichen Zoologisch-Botanischen Gesellschaft in Wien 37:511-632.

Smith, M. R. 1929. Descriptions of five new North American ants, with biological notes. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 22:543-551. 

Smith, M. R. 1936. Ants of the genus Ponera in America, north of Mexico. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 29:420-430.

Taylor, R. W. 1967. A monographic revision of the ant genus Ponera Latreille (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Pacific Insects Monograph 13:1-112.

Wheeler, G. C.; Wheeler, J. 1964. The ant larvae of the subfamily Ponerinae: supplement. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 57:443-462.

Wheeler, W. M. 1937. Mosaics and other anomalies among ants. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 95 pp.

Wild, A. L. 2007. A catalogue of the ants of Paraguay (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Zootaxa 1622:1-55.

Wilson, E. O.; Taylor, R. W. 1967. The ants of Polynesia (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Pacific Insects Monograph 14:1-109.

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