ID guide | introduced ants

Pheidole indica

General description: 

The following account is from Sarnat et al. (2015).

Pheidole indica is a medium to large reddish brown species with relatively long limbs. It belongs to the P. fervens clade along with its Australasian congeners P. cariniceps, P. fervens, P. hospes, P. impressiceps, and P. oceanica (Economo et al. 2015, unpublished data). The major and minor workers are distinguished from those of P. megacephala by the lack of a swollen postpetiole. The majors are also easily separated from those of P. megacephala by the strongly sculptured head. The minors can be confused with those of P. megacephala because both have glossy heads. However, the minors of P. fervens can be separated from those of P. megacephala by the relatively longer antennal scapes and the presence of a promesonotal prominence. Pheidole indica is broadly sympatric with P. noda and P. fervens. It is easily separated from the former by the lack of a swollen postpetiole. Separation from P. fervens is quite difficult, and readers are referred to corresponding section under that species for distinguishing characters. Readers are referred to Eguchi (2004b; 2008) for characters used to separate P. indica and P. fervens from their Asian congeners.

Pheidole indica was originally described from India. Eguchi (2004b) synonymized several other Asian congeners under P. indica and discussed taxonomic differences used to distinguish it from P. fervens and other morphologically similar species. We synonymize P. teneriffana under P. indica based on morphological analysis of the type specimens and genetic analysis of previously determined specimens (unpublished data). Forel, in his original description of P. teneriffana, noted the similarity between it and P. striativentris [= indica].

The biogeographical origin of P. teneriffana has been a minor mystery of the past century, as revealed by the recent review of the species by Wetterer (2011). There appeared to be general consensus that P. teneriffana was native to at least some portion of North Africa, Arabia, the Middle East or the Mediterranean. Santschi (1918), suggested the upper Nile area (South Sudan). Wilson (2003) suggested North Africa and potentially the Canary Islands. Collingwood et al. (2004) suggested it was native throughout northern Africa and observed it to be, “spreading over a wide front in the Middle East, Arabia and the Mediterranean countries.” Wetterer (2011) found the distribution of P. teneriffana enigmatic, “Curiously, most Old World records of P. teneriffana are subtropical, but all New World records are tropical, except one from California…If P. teneriffana is truly native across North Africa, it is remarkable how few records I found from any North African country other than Egypt.”


In Asia P. indica is known to nest in soil or under stones in open and dry habitats (Eguchi 2004b). It is among the most widespread Pheidole species in Asia. In the Caribbean Wetterer (2011) found P. indica [as P. teneriffana] almost exclusively on beaches and at highly disturbed urban sites, particularly in waterfront areas. In northern Africa, Santschi (1908) noted the tramp-like distribution of what he treated as P. teneriffana, “This species, described by Forel on samples from the Canary Islands, was sent to me from Cairo. I discovered it most recently in Sousse [Tunisia], in the park, near the port. As it does not exist in the interior, I think it is one species cosmopolitan tendencies. It nests in the ground and under stones.” Santschi (1934) later reported the species from Alexandria, Egypt, and noted that P. teneriffana was rarely reported far from seaports. Collingwood et al. (1997) reported that in the United Arab Emirates, P. indica [as P. teneriffana] was populous in irrigated gardens and along the coast where it appeared to be spreading rapidly, possibly to the detriment of local species. The species has also been reported from urban areas of the Balearic Islands where it is common in the gardens and trees and on sidewalks near the harbor (Gómez and Espadaler 2006). Fischer and Fisher (2013) reported P. indica [as P. teneriffana] from the Malagasy region. It was collected on the Comoros, Mauritius, the Seychelles, and from coastal towns in Madagascar, usually from under stones, ground nests, or foraging on the ground or lower vegetation in urban or garden habitats at elevations below 300 m. It was also found on Mayotte in native littoral and secondary forest below 10 m.

Perhaps the most detailed study of P. indica in the New World comes from the account of Martínez (1992) who reported a vigorous population, represented by a putatively single polydomous colony spanning several hectares, that was discovered in Long Beach, California in 1989. Martínez (1992) reportedly observed 23 inseminated queens from a single colony that was changing nest sites (although no details are given for how he knew the queens were inseminated). He described the colony nests as low mounds on the soil, along curbs or sidewalks, at the edges of lawns, in cracks in pavement, and at the bases of trees. New colonies were started by budding. Workers foraged night and day unless temperature exceeded 26° C, taking seeds and scavenging dead or dying insects. They were observed feeding on sweet or greasy foods, but were not seen tending aphids. Martínez (1992) observed the species attacking native ants, including Pogonomyrmex californicus (Buckley). More remarkably, he reportedly observed P. indica destroying colonies and taking over nest sites of Linepithema humile. Despite the purported success of these battles, P. indica must have lost the larger war against L. humile, as the eventual extirpation of the Californian population was attributed to the Argentine ant (Gulmahamad 1999).

Risk statement: 

Pheidole indica is not considered to be a major pest to either agriculture or native ecosystems. Although the species is tolerant of disturbed and urban areas, we found no reports of it infesting structures. Few studies have measured the effect of P. indica on ecosystem health, but we predict that it could negatively impact native arthropods. The species is continuing to spread across the globe and further studies are required to test its ecological and agricultural impact outside its native range. 

Diagnostic description: 

Diagnosis among introduced Pheidole. Light to dark reddish brown. Major | HW 1.32–1.74, HL 1.31–1.76, SL 0.73–0.91, CI 94–117, SI 47–62 (n=22). Head subquadrate; rugoreticulate on posterolateral lobes and laterad of frontal carinae, but frons dominated by long, well-organized and parallel longitudinal rugae. Frontal carinae extend 3/4 distance of head before terminating. Antennal scrobes indistinct to moderately impressed, but frontal carinae always forming a border capable of accepting the antennal scape. Hypostoma with weakly produced median tooth and submedian teeth. Promesonotum in profile with two convexities, the large anterior dome in addition to a distinct mound or prominence on the posterior slope. Postpetiole not swollen relative to petiole (Fig. 3). Minor | HW 0.50–0.65, HL 0.60–0.74, SL 0.64–0.81, CI 72–90, SI 120–149 (n=20). Head predominantly glossy, lacking punctation and or rugae above eye level. Posterior head margin weakly convex to flat in full-face view. Antennal scapes long, but not surpassing the posterior head margin by more than 2x eye length. Promesonotum in profile with two convexities, the large anterior dome in addition to a distinct prominence on the posterior slope. Promesonotal prominence relatively convex. Metanotal depression relatively shallow. Petiole and postpetiole glossy to very weakly sculptured laterally. Postpetiole not swollen relative to petiole. 

Look alikes: 

Pheidole fervens


We treat all occurrence records from the regions of Indomalaya west of the Korean Peninsula as native. The Korean and Japanese populations are considered introduced (Choi and Bang 1993; Choi et al. 1993a; Choi et al. 1993b; Terayama 1992), and additional portions of the range in Asia might also have resulted from anthropogenic transport. Pheidole indica has been introduced to scattered localities across the globe, although the vast majority of these records were attributed to its junior synonym, P. teneriffana. Introduced populations have been reported from the Mediterranean, northern Africa, the Malagasy region, Western Australia, Peru, the Caribbean, and southern California.

Taxonomic name: 
Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith