A Personal Guide to various Subgenera of Camponotus!
Updated: Oct 18, 2022
"Carpenter ants" and "sugar ants" - everyone is familiar with these!
These two are the most popular common names for the very widespread and extremely complex genus Camponotus. Carpenter ants are generally known for their great appetite for sugars. However, the genus Camponotus is far too frequently generalised by the media as the annoying pest which causes damage to wooden structures. This is mostly the case for some species from the subgenus Camponotus. Other species of other subgenera are generally harmless and many are not yet well known. I would like to change that.
And yes, you read it right: the subgenus Camponotus, being a subgenus of the same name within the genus itself. But what does that mean exactly? And what even is a subgenus? In this article I will cover a couple subgenera of Camponotus in simple terms. This article may serve as a guide for identification too!
Chapter 1. Taxonomy
Each living organism is categorised into a scheme of numerous classification terms. Ants are categorised into subfamilies, tribes, genera, subgenera sometimes, species groups, species and sometimes even subspecies. Let's take a look at an example below.
Categorising Camponotus barbaricus xanthomelas, which is a subspecies of C. barbaricus native to Northern Africa, will give the following:
Family: Formicidae (= Ants)
Species: Camponotus barbaricus
Subspecies: Camponotus barbaricus xanthomelas
Shortly: C. barbaricus xanthomelas
"At present, more than 1500 species and nearly 500 subspecies belonging to 45 subgenera are described (Bolton, 2012) and it could well be the largest ant genus of all." (Source: Antwiki) - referring to Camponotus
Information in this post is based on my point of view from knowledge I gained from trusted sources being Antwiki and Antweb. This article is made as a basic guide for Camponotus identification with the goal of sharing useful knowledge for the general public. Any individual has the right to disagree with some points mentioned. But I would like to keep things friendly and discuss improvements privately. Thank you for your time. Now let's start!
Major worker of Camponotus vagus
The first subgenus of the genus Camponotus, which is also referred to as Camponotus sensu stricto, is commonly known as the "true carpenter ants". Most species of this subgenus prefer to nest in wood, therefore the common name. A couple of species in USA for example are a major pest, causing big property damage to wooden structures (see image below). Mature colonies are generally big.
Most species of this subgenus are big in size and generally bulky. Majors and queens have big rounded heads. Queens, e.g. those of C. novaeboracensis in the example below, are pretty chunky and generally monogynous.
Queen of Camponotus novaeboracensis
Nest entrance of Camponotus compressus
Commonly known as "slim carpenter ants", this subgenus may cover most species from the genus Camponotus. Species of this subgenus nest in soil, sometimes partially in wood. Mature colonies of a lot of species are known to be large in size. Species of this subgenus vary from small to big in size and are slim with long legs and antennae. Majors and queens have big traingular heads. The minors are elongated, often with a small oval or diamond shaped head. Queens, like C. consobrinus in the example below, are slighlty less bulky than those of Camponotus sensu stricto. They are generally monogynous. One of the exceptions is C. nicobarensis, which can tolerate a few queens in some localities of its distribution. Many species of Tanaemyrmex are notorious for being xerothermic (= adapted to / benefitting from heat), very colourful