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Hypoponera punctatissima (Roger, 1859)

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

Hypoponera punctatissima, full face view of a worker (FL, Jefferson Co.)
Photo courtesy of

Hypoponera punctatissima, lateral view of a worker (FL, Jefferson Co.)
Photo courtesy of
Hypoponera punctatissima, dorsal view of a worker (FL, Jefferson Co.)
Photo courtesy of
Hypoponera punctatissima, full face view of a queen (MS, Jackson Co.) (photo by Ryan J. Whitehouse and Joe A. MacGown)
Hypoponera punctatissima, lateral view of a queen (MS, Jackson Co.) (photo by Ryan J. Whitehouse and Joe A. MacGown)
Hypoponera punctatissima, dorsal view of a queen (MS, Jackson Co.) (photo by Ryan J. Whitehouse and Joe A. MacGown)

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 with 5 species in the U.S. They can be found on the ground or just under the soil 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 sting; apex of gaster pointed downwards or posteriorly; frontal lobes covering 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 punctatissima is possibly one of the most widespread tramp ants in the world. Colonies can be found in a variety of locations including leaf litter, soil and green houses. Even though it is so widespread, H. punctatissima’s cryptic nature and small size make it rarely encountered.

Taxonomic History (Bolton 2016)
Ponera punctatissima Roger, 1859: 246, pl. 7, fig. 7 (w.q.) POLAND, GERMANY. "Poland, Rauden, Opole Province; Germany, Berlin, coll. Roger." Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France (MNHN). CASENT0915490.
Combination in Hypoponera: Taylor, 1967: 12. Senior synonym of Hypoponera androgyna: Emery & Forel, 1879: 455, Seifert, 2003: 69; of Hypoponera tarda: Dalla Torre, 1893}: 41, Seifert, 2003: 69; of Hypoponera kalakauae, Hypoponera mina, Hypoponera mumfordi: Wilson & Taylor, 1967: 29 (in text); of Hypoponera ergatandria: Smith, 1979: 1343; of Hypoponera mina: Taylor, 1987: 30; of Hypoponera exacta: Atanassov & Dlussky, 1992: 71, Seifert, 2003: 69; of Hypoponera jugata: Seifert, 2003: 69; of Hypoponera aemula, Hypoponera argonautorumHypoponera bondroiti, Hypoponera brevicepsHypoponera brevis, Hypoponera cognata, Hypoponera durbanensis, Hypoponera incisa, Hypoponera mesoepinotalis, Hypoponera petri, Hypoponera schauinslandi, Hypoponera sordida, Hypoponera sulcitanaHypoponera ursoidea: Bolton & Fisher, 2011: 87. Current subspecies: nominal plus Hypoponera punctatissima indifferens. See also: Emery, 1916: 110; Wheeler, 1937: 59; Collingwood, 1979: 30; Seifert, 2013: 189.

Worker: (Measurements from Bolton and Fisher 2011, description from Bolton and Fisher 2011 and from photos of specimens on HL 0.56–0.72mm, HW 0.46–0.60mm, SL 0.35–0.48mm, PrW 0.33–0.43mm, WL 0.70–0.90mm (60 measured). Overall color yellowish brown to dark brown. Head longer than wide; shiny integuent somewhat dulled by numerous piligerous pits; entire head with numerous short hair-like setae that becomes more apparent on the lateral edges; eyes are small and located laterally on the anterior 1/4 of the head; mandibles triangular in shape; antennae twelve segmented with a three segmented club; scape does not reach posterior margin of the head. Mesosomal dorsum mostly flat in lateral view, promesonotal and metanotal sutures present; dorsum with dense, short semi erect to erect setae; mesopleuron and sides of pronotum and propodeum smoth and shining, mostly glabrous. Waist single segmented; petiolar node subrectangular with a rounded apex, with numerous short, erect setae present anteriorly, dorsally, and posteriorly and glabrous and shiny laterally; subpetiolar process simple, rounded, without adorment. Gaster with numerous setae including a mixture of short hair-like setae and longer erect setae; definite constriction between segments one and two; first two segments twice the length or longer than the remaining segments; sting present.

Queen: (MEM measurements) HL: 0.62-0.66mm, HW: 0.51-0.53mm, SL: 0.37-0.42mm, EL: 0.13-0.15mm, MeSL: 0.84-0.92mm (n=5,). Color is an orangish-brown with lighter appendages. Head covered in short, hair-like setae; eyes well developed and situated laterally on the anterior 1/3 of the head; three ocelli present; mandibles triangular in shaped and lighter color than the rest of the head; antennae twelve segmented with a three segmented club. Mesosoma covered in short, hair-like setae; enlarged to support four wings, which may or may not still be present; mesopleuron shining and smooth; dorsal surface relatively flat. Waist single segmented; setae short and hair-like with some longer, erect setae on the posterior edge of the apex of the petiole; the length of the petiolar segment is subequal to the height of the petiole; subpetiolar process simple and unhooked. Gaster with a mixture of short, hair-like setae and longer erect setae; first two segments elongated and longer than the preceding segments; defined constriction between the first and second segment; sting present.

Male: (from Bolton and Fisher 2011) Ergatoid males are produced and fall into two categories with one group being larger, brown and with small eyes present and the second group being smaller, yellow and eyeless (Yamauchi, et al. 1996). These ergatoid males are very worker-like, especially in head structure, but have shorter scapes (SI 68–72), only 12-segmented antennae (as do workers, intercastes and queens), and fully developed male genitalia. Alate males have never been observed, and it is assumed that they do not exist.

This species can be separated from similar ants in the area by the presence of a simple untoothed, subpetiolar process, mesopleuron that is shiny and lacks sculpturing and a relatively short petiole.

Biology and Economic Importance
Hypoponera punctatissima is a widely distributed Ponerine ant and possibly the most successful Ponerinae tramp ant species. H. punctatissima can be found nesting in soil, rotting wood, gardens and other types of disturbed habitats. Closely associated with humans, H. punctatissima has spread throughout the world following the spread of humans. H. punctatissima seems to prefer habitats where the temperature is around 21˚C, but has adapted to seek heat sources associated with human habitation such as, hothouses, compost piles and horse manure, which has permitted this species to form colonies in areas with temperatures lower than their preferred. In fact, though it may be locally rare or infrequently found, due to its cryptic nature, H. punctatissima can generally be found anywhere that frequently used horses in the past and can often be found in stables (Delabie and Blard, 2002). Colonies have ergatoid males that mate with alate queens who then disperse and it is during their dispersal swarms when this species is most frequently encountered.

This species is not considered to be economically important, but definitely has a cosmopolitan distribution. H. punctatissima can be considered a nuisance because they have been known to sting when agitated or trapped in clothing and are most often encountered in large numbers during flight swarms. This species has also been found in hospitals in cold weather climates such as Wisconsin and Connecticut.

Native Range: Possibly Central Asia (the native place of the domestic horse (Delabie and Blard, 2002).

Australian: Australia, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Guam, Hawaii, Marshall Islands, New Caledonia, New guinea, New Zealand, Niue, Norfolk Island, Northern Mariana Island, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Wallis and Fortuna Islands (
Ethiopian: Angola, Benin, Botswana, Central African Republic, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mayotte, Nigeria, Reunion, Rwanda, Saint Helena, Seychelles, South Africa, Sudan, Sao Tome and Principe, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe (
Nearctic: Canada, United States ( and MEM).
Neotropical: Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Galapagos Islands, Greater Antilles, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (
Oriental: Philippines (
Palearctic: Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Balearic Islands, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canary Islands, Cape Verde, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iberian Peninsula, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Malta, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Tunisia, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (

U.S. Distribution: AL, AZ, CA, FL, HI, IA, LA, MS, NC, NM, SC, TX, WA ( and MEM).
Southeastern U.S. Distribution: Al, FL, LA, MS, NC, SC ( and MEM).

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 (2001-2014) and USDA-ARS Areawide Management Invasive Ants 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: Accessed 9 March 2016.

Atanassov, N.; Dlussky, G. M. 1992. Fauna of Bulgaria. Hymenoptera, Formicidae. [In Bulgarian.]. Fauna na Bûlgariya 22:1-310.

Bolton, B.; Fisher, B. L. 2011. Taxonomy of Afrotropical and West Palaearctic ants of the ponerine genus Hypoponera Santschi (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Zootaxa 2843:1-118. 

Collingwood, C. A. 1979. The Formicidae (Hymenoptera) of Fennoscandia and Denmark. Fauna Entomologica Scandinavica 8:1-174.

Dalla Torre, K. W. 1893. Catalogus Hymenopterorum hucusque descriptorum systematicus et synonymicus. Vol. 7. Formicidae (Heterogyna). Leipzig: W. Engelmann, 289 pp. 

Delabie, J.H.C. & Blard, F. (2002) The tramp ant Hypoponera punctatissima (Roger) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Ponerinae): new records from the Southern Hemisphere. Neotrop. Entomol., 31, 149-151.

Emery, C.; Forel, A. 1879. Catalogue des Formicides d'Europe. Mitteilungen der Schweizerischen Entomologischen Gesellschaft 5:441-481.

Emery, C. 1916 ("1915"). Fauna entomologica italiana. I. Hymenoptera.-Formicidae. Bullettino della Società Entomologica Italiana 47:79-275.

Roger, J. 1859. Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Ameisenfauna der Mittelmeerländer. I. Berliner Entomologische Zeitschrift 3:225-259. 

Seifert, B. 2003. Hypoponera punctatissima (Roger) and H. schauinslandi (Emery) - two morphologically and biologically distinct species (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Abhandlungen und Berichte des Naturkundemuseums Görlitz 75(1):61-81.

Seifert, B. 2013. Hypoponera ergatandria (Forel, 1893) - a cosmopolitan tramp species different from H. punctatissima (Roger, 1859) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Soil Organisms 85:189-201.

Smith, D. R. 1979. Superfamily Formicoidea. Pp. 1323-1467 in: Krombein, K. V.; Hurd, P. D.; Smith, D. R.; Burks, B. D. (eds.) 1979. Catalog of Hymenoptera in America north of Mexico. Volume 2. Apocrita (Aculeata). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, pp. i-xvi, 1199-2209.

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

Taylor, R. W. 1987. A checklist of the ants of Australia, New Caledonia and New Zealand (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) Division of Entomology Report 41:1-92.

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

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

Yamauchi, K., Kimura, Y., Corbara, B., Kinomura, K. & Tsuji, K. 1996. Dimorphic ergatoid males and their reproductive behavior in the ponerine ant Hypoponera bondroiti. Insectes Sociaux 43: 119-130