Pachycondyla striata, Brazil

When I first saw the following figure, presented by myrmecologist Chris Schmidt at a social insect conference, the whole room broke into laughter:


Multi-locus Bayesian phylogeny of Ponerinae, adapted from Schmidt (2013), with Pachycondyla colored in red.

Pachycondyla, among the most common ants in tropical regions worldwide, turns out to be a motley assortment of unrelated species. While the taxonomy of the world’s 12,000 or so ant species is obviously still a work on progress, I don’t think any of us had seen a case where ant names showed such a non-relationship to their genealogy. We knew before that Pachycondyla wasn’t really a natural group. But this? This was bad.

I’m writing this post because Chris has just published his study in Zootaxa, and while the paper is behind a subscription barrier, the data and tree are available for free on Treebase. A follow-up paper is also in the works to bring the taxonomy into line with what is known from ant phylogenetics. Most Pachycondyla will likely revert to older names (NeoponeraBothroponera, etc.), with only a handful of Neotropical species- including P. striata, above- remaining in a reduced Pachycondyla.

source: Schmidt, C. 2013. Molecular phylogenetics of ponerine ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Ponerinae). Zootaxa 3647 (2): 201–250.