The Ants of China

Aenictus laeviceps

Benoit Guenárd and Rob Dunn have combed the technical literature to make a list of all the ant species known from China (pdf):

China is one of the largest countries in the world and offers an incredible diversity of ecosystems and species. However the distribution of many insect species in China is still poorly known. Here, through a bibliographical review, we synthesize a species list of native and exotic ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) for 23 provinces of the People’s Republic of China  and eight surrounding regions. To date, no fewer than 939 valid named species and subspecies within 103 genera are listed from China. However, comparisons with other regions suggest that this list is still incomplete at both provincial and national scales based on the diversity of surrounding regions and the number of undescribed species reported in the literature. Although the species list generated here is not and cannot be exhaustive, we hope that it will facilitate future discovery, revision and conservation of Chinese ants.

The list comes in just shy of 1,000 species, which is surely a gross underestimate given the immense size of China and the diversity of habitats. I’d bet a final accounting will amount to more than twice that.

Plus, hooray for open access! You don’t need a subscription to read the paper.

source: Guenárd, B., Dunn, R. R. 2012. A Checklist of the Ants of China. Zootaxa 3558: 1-77.

10 thoughts on “The Ants of China”

  1. James C. Trager

    Basically cool, but I have a problem with uncritical acceptance of literature records. To wit: Iberoformica subrufa! I seriously doubt that.

        1. It also seems that the authors are straightforward about the likely flawed nature of the species list:
          “The data presented here are based only on literature records and as such are dependant on the quality of the identification realized by the authors at the time the record was published. As such, these data should be considered as records of the potential (rather than certain) presences of the species indicated. … It is certain that some of the species records reported will be erroneous.”

          It’s certainly not “uncritical acceptance of literature records.”

        2. James C. Trager

          I admit, I was too critical in that wording. I simply found that example especially egregious, based on my own knowledge and peculiar interests within the Formicidae (inordinately fond of formicines).

          I hope you get to fulfill your goal of contributing to better knowledge of the Chinese ant fauna, formicidaefantasy.

        3. Let me explain the goal and the philosophy of this paper first before I respond more specifically on Iberoformica.

          When I started working on global ant biogeography a few years back, I realized that China (as many other regions of the world) was missing an updated ant species list. The 231 species presented in the 1995 Wu and Wang book were giving me only a taste of what should have been a very diverse ant fauna. I had then two choices, keep considering China as a “Terra incognita” of ant biogeography as it was considered by most ant biologists and move on, or try to improve this knowledge and make it available to many with the expectation that it could be helpful for future revisions or ecological work realized there. A third solution would have been to travel to China, collect myself, visit all the different collections, and revised the various specimens, and this would have been the work for at least 5 more years (probably more). The problem is that at that time I was finishing my PhD and had already too many things to do. Instead, I decided to compile the species that I could find from the literature, knowing that several identifications would be erroneous. As pointed by formicidaefantasy, we clearly state this in the article and we have tried to make it clear that it was a literature summary. I also like to thank the reviewers who reinforced this idea. In a few occasions, I was able to find articles that were discussing erroneous records and I have tried to present them along the article. So the term uncritical acceptance is not totally appropriate, but I understand what you meant.

          What to expect then? First I expect to work on ants for many more years and if this list of ants of China can enhance or help in some way the work of other ant biologists, then I think it will be useful to everyone. But really what I’d like to see in the coming years are biologists checking those records and telling me that I was wrong to believe them. Not on a blog (no offense Alex, you have a fantastic blog), but through publications or in a way that we could keep track of this information. I am amazed when I talk to my colleagues by the quantity of detailed information that most people have in their possession about new distribution records, erroneous records, sociometry … but sadly will never be published because of a lack of time. What I am trying to do now is to find ways for this information to be shared and useful to everyone. I will not develop this here, but I really think this is important, so young biologists will not repeat the mistakes by having too much confidence in the data they can find in literature or elsewhere.

          About Iberoformica now. I agree that it is likely to be an erroneous record however this type of distribution range presenting a large disjunction is not unusual in ants. Please take a look at the Rossomyrmex distribution ( or to a lesser extent Proformica, both also Formicinae; or even the surprising distribution of Perissomyrmex. Considering such precedents, I could not exclude entirely the possibility that it could be an actual record. Now, the best would be for someone to contact the authors of the study, or the authors themselves who identified this species to confirm or correct this record.

  2. I recall some discussion in grad school of the flora taxa parallels between southeastern USA and China. Perhaps the ant taxa follow suit, so Rob Dunn may perhaps feel at right at home.

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