Here’s why you should be careful when using to identify ants

And now, a public service announcement.

I have photographed less than half of all ant genera; only 132 of 299.

As much as I am flattered that people make use of my photographs (especially, these photographs) to put names to their mystery ants, I caution against relying too heavily on them.

According to Ant Cat our planet hosts about 300 living genera of ants, give or take a few depending on how much you agree with Barry Bolton’s sense of lumping and splitting. I have managed, over the past 10 years, to photograph 132 of these. That’s less than half. Many genera- even some common ones in Asia & Africa- are not represented in my galleries. Be aware, then, that more identification possibilities exist than what’s on, especially outside of the Americas where I have concentrated my efforts.

At the level of species the situation is even more skewed: I have only photographed about 5% of the world’s ant species. At my current rate, I won’t have imaged all ant species until, oh, about the year 2203.

Also, I have not intended many of my photographs to serve a taxonomic function. Sure, some were planned to illustrate diagnostic features, but most weren’t. The photographs are taken from different angles, at different magnifications, and using different lights, and many do not show the relevant taxonomic characters.

If you are serious about accurate identifications, then, I recommend the tried-and-true combination of primary taxonomic literature used in conjunction with well-curated natural history collections.

Carry on.

4 thoughts on “Here’s why you should be careful when using to identify ants”

    1. I wonder how that photo metric is at antweb or the ant section of EOL

      Considering larva, queens, and males, I am sure there is plenty of room for more photo-documentation.

  1. Mike from Ottawa

    I don’t mean to be depressing, but when you estimate you’d be done in 2203, does that take account of the rate at which new ant species are being discovered or described? 🙂

    I will echo the first comment that having 5% of ant species illustrated by you is A Good Thing despite it being a drop in a bucket of ants. Fabulous photos.


    1. You know, I thought about that. But then I had the equally depressing thought that by 2200 species might actually go extinct at the same rate we describe them. So I consider it a wash.

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