I was fifteen when a perceptive uncle gave me a copy of Skaife’s ‘The Study of Ants’. I was quite a nerdy teenager and IT hadn’t been invented yet, so in no time at all I had colonies of restless goggas installed in the box-room under the stairs. I tried most of the species that Skaife recommended, but giant Spotted Sugar ants (Camponotus maculatus) were my favourite. A year or so later I was physically (but certainly not spiritually) nabbed by the SADF, and sent off to Pretoria to learn how to play cards in between mindless marching. The ants had to go; and I was privileged to have my ants accepted by the great Skaife himself, giving me the opportunity to spend days in his lab at Tierboskloof, in Hout Bay, before the khakis got me.
Twenty years later everything that Skaife had taught me became crucially important when, with William Bond, we discovered the importance of myrmecochory [ant distribution of seeds] in fynbos ecology. Sometimes being an amateur works well, and I do not heed the advice of the scruffy old Prof who commented that you can’t rely on amateurs to ID ants. The taxonomy of many genera, especially Pheidole and Camponotus, is in such a mess that you can’t, apparently, rely on the academics either.
That said, whether amateur or professional, your inputs towards mapping the poorly-known distribution of our ant species, especially the invaders who threaten the ecology of much of the fynbos, will be of huge value. Merely recording a few key ant species when you are resting during a hike, taking a lunch break, or chasing ants out of the kitchen of your holiday house will help provide key data that we simply do not have at present. Please feel free to comment freely on this site, or contact us through www.slingsbymaps.com/contactus.aspx .