It reads like a detective novel. After finding the ants in his Lakeside garden, Mr Slingsby posted the find on the citizen scientist site www.ispot nature.org/node/764855.
At first he thought it was a local ant that is common a few blocks from him, but two weeks later he found where the newcomers were nesting. Getting worried, he posted another observation on iSpot.
He eliminated the local small black ant, Lepisiota capensis, because they were simply too small and not shiny enough. He also eliminated the alien Argentine ant, Linepithema humile, because they are much too small and dark, although they are the same shape and run in a very similarway.
But the new small ants, all work- er ants, are female and look- ed dark to almost-black. Argentine ants are a massive pest world- wide.
Having caught a few ants he posted them to a local expert, Melanie de Morney, who lives in Sedgefield on the Garden Route. She looked up the subfamily, popularly known as the “Odorous” or simply “Smelly” ants, and hit on one saying she thinks they are a Pacific region genus known as Ochetellus.
Ms De Morney was not certain of the species, but guessed glaber.
Meanwhile, she suggested that Mr Slingsby send some ants to Philip “Flippie” Herbst, a cardiologist at the Stellenbosch University Medical School, who takes the most amazing macro-photos of very small things.
Live ants were soon on their way to Bellville, travelling by courier. Mr Herbst photographed them and back came his great pic- tures.
Mr Slingsby then emailed them to the three world experts – Brian Fisher and Barry Bolton from California, and Vincenzo Gentile in Italy.
Within hours they returned the identification Ochetellus glaber, which he named the “Copper-bellied ant” from the lustrous dark coppery sheen of its abdomen.
The interesting thing is that copper-bellies are a worldwide invader but have never been recorded anywhere in mainland Africa before.
Five principal ants that invade houses and gardens in the Cape Peninsula:
Ochetellus glaber, Copper-bellied ant joins South Africa’s other four most common invaders found in houses and gardens.
The Technomyrmex pallipes (pale-footed ant) might be indigenous; the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) was first reported in South Africa in 1860; the big-headed ant (Pheidole megacephala) which is indigenous but a worldwide pest; and the small black ant (Lepisiota capensis) which is in- digenous but have become in- vasive household pests in some areas. The copper-bellied ant is dull black with a dark coppery abdo-men, but appears black.
The abdomen is oval and the ant resembles the Argentine, but is smaller and darker. It is less than 2mm long. The ants run in trails, are usually sparse and are active in daylight only above 20C.
They are more common in the garden than indoors. They nest in pot plants and walls. The pupae are naked with no cocoons.